Okarito Kiwi Tours
Kiwi are New Zealand’s national treasure. In spite of this, most of people will never see one in their lifetime. Okarito Kiwi Tours are the only operators approved to guide people deep into kiwi habitat in South Westland on the South Island’s West Coast, and show them real live kiwi.
The tours, led by Ian Cooper, focus on the rowi or Okarito brown kiwi - the rarest of all kiwi. Ian is an experienced kiwi tracker and guide. He started his interest with kiwi by volunteering for the Department of Conservation in 1999. During his time with DoC he worked with Okarito brown kiwi, great spotted kiwi, little spotted kiwi and the rarest parrot in the world, the kakapo. Ian found he had a natural ability to find kiwi at night and learn their habits and movements. He combines his tracking abilities with excellent people skills to create memorable and successful nocturnal tour.
Okarito Kiwi Tours offer an exciting and rewarding experience like no other. Small groups are guided deep into rowi habitat in Okarito State Forest, a part of the Tai Poutini National Park, and allowed close enough to see these spectacular birds firsthand.
Your tour takes place at night to give the best chance of spotting the nocturnal kiwi. It starts at the Okarito Kiwi Tours’ office about 35 minutes before sunset. Your guide, Ian Cooper, presents a 15-minute briefing and hands out night safety gear including torches, 2-way radios, fluorescent safety vests and safety whistles.
After the briefing, you will be driven ten minutes to Okarito State Forest where your kiwi searching begins. Under cover of darkness, using torches to guide the way, you work as a team with the rest of your group to locate these rare, elusive birds.
As the evening gets darker, the fun begins as you experience the excitement of nature at night. And it is not only kiwi you will enjoy. There is an abundance of native birds to be found on this trip including the rare fernbird, morepork, kea, long-tailed cuckoo, tomtits, South Island robins, fantails, grey warbler, kereru (wood pigeons).
Okarito brown kiwi, or rowi, are New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, with just 250 to 300 remaining. It was only in 1994 that they were found to be an entirely new species and given the name rowi.
Rowi survive in a 10,000 hectare site in Okarito State Forest in South Westland. The site is geographically significant in the development of the species. Many years ago this area was effectively a mainland island. It was squeezed on three sides by a wall of ice from Franz Josef and Whataroa glaciers, and on the other by the Tasman Sea. This left the bush isolated for millions of years - plenty of time to develop a distinctive array of wildlife, fauna and flora.
Rowi differ from other types of kiwi in a range of ways. The most obvious is that they are quite greyish in colour and often have patches of white feathers on their faces. They also feel soft to touch, whereas North Island brown kiwi feel quite coarse. Both male and female rowi take it in turns to look after the eggs, while in most other kiwi species the male sits on the egg.
(link to this film http://the-hub.tv/content/view/1322/77/)
Your guide, Ian Cooper, tracks nine rowi, or Okarito brown kiwi, within Okarito State Forest. They all have names and their birthdates, birth history and relationship status is recorded. The stars
1. Jim was born around 1998. He was found as an egg and released into the wild as an adult in 1999.
2. Beaumont, a female, was born around 2003 and is Jim’s partner.
3. CC, a male, was born on 19 September, 1996. CC paired up with Beaumont for a while. During a kiwi tour in November 2007, CC and Jim were seen fighting. Jim came out second best. CC has paired up with an unknown female.
4. Fancy, a male, was born on 25 October 1996 and released on 27 August 1997. He fell ill soon after his release and was taken back into captivity before being re-released on 10 July 1998.
5. Joeline, a female, was born on 15 October 1998. She was first spotted hanging out with Fancy on 1 July 2003. They officially became a pair on 16 November 2004 when their first egg was laid. By 2007, the couple had laid three eggs together. The first egg failed, the second chick died due to stoat predation, the third was taken into captivity for a year.
6. BQ, a female, was born on 24 November1996. She was taken as a chick into captivity and released just over a year later.
7. BZ is BQ’s partner. He was born on 25 October 1996 and taken as a chick into captivity before being released in February 1997. BZ and BQ were first seen together in 1999. While they tend to spend a lot of time together, they are not officially a pair as they have never been recorded to breed.
8 & 9. White Eyes is a male and the partner of Husky. Not a great deal is known about this pair. In June 2007 and June 2008 White Eyes disappeared for three months. There have been no calls or sightings, indicating the couple may have bred and the male is sitting on the egg for the duration. His disappearance coincided with the active breeding season. Both have since returned and are active on the tours.
While the main focus of your tour is the rowi or Okarito brown kiwi, a number of other birds are also encountered. The walk into the kiwi area, while it is still light, is a great chance to see a range of native bush birds. fernbirds can be heard and seen at the car park, just prior to heading off into the bush. The inquisitive South Island robin is often seen hopping along the track. Grey warblers are heard high in the canopy. Tomtits and fantails dance along the track in front and behind searching for displaced food. Kea screech from up high, tracking our path as we walk into the bush. Morepork, New Zealand’s owl, glide past calling in a confusing pseudo-kiwi voice.
During the summer months the long tailed cuckoo has arrived and is heard screeching in the quiet of the night. There is certainly a lot to see and hear.
Ian Cooper and Wendy Godfrey
Ian’s tours have a 90 percent success rate in viewing kiwi. Pre-booking is essential as groups are limited to just seven people per night to ensure the ongoing protection of these shy creatures. Ten percent of the company’s permit fee is donated to the national Kiwi Recovery Programm.
Tour fee is $75 per adult
- A tour briefing and in-depth information on Okarito Kiwi, other birds and their habitat
- Safety whistle
- 2-way radio
- Safety vest
- Mozzie hat
Transport from Okarito
Transport from Franz Josef by arrangement
- Warm clothes (please try not to wear waterproof clothing as this is very noisy and will reduce your chances to track and view kiwi)
- Sturdy walking boots/shoes
- Mosquito repellent
Site by Cabbage Tree Creative