The Kapiti Coast District is a narrow, flat, low-lying strip between the ranges and the sea, stretching from Paekakariki in the south to Otaki in the north. The vista to the west is constantly dominated and influenced by Kapiti Island. The island is 10km long and about 2km wide. It is steep, rocky and mostly covered with regenerating native forest.
The island has been ravaged in waves reflective of changing times on the mainland: it was the scene of bloody conflicts between Maori tribes before and in the early days of European settlement; whalers did their boiling down on its beaches; numerous people cut and burned the forest, tried to farm it and brought in all manner of animal pests; and finally, in 1897, responding to the urgings of conservationists and scientists, most of the island was purchased from its Maori owners by the government of the day and declared a nature reserve. And in the nick of time, too, because wealthy non-Maori settlers were beginning to acquire parts of the island by lending money to the Maori owners.
Only 30 acres at the north end remain in Maori ownership today. The owners are descendants of the Webber and Parata families.
At the time of the Crown purchase the island was over-run by wild goats, sheep, cattle, cats and rats; and later became infested with introduced possums (then protected by the Crown to try and establish a fur industry resource). The possum population numbered 20,000 in 1980 and after an intensive five year trapping and shooting campaign, the last one was killed in March 1987.
The Department of Conservation then began activating its plans to use the island as a sanctuary and breed multiplication base for endangered bird species. It soon found that two species of rat (native kiore and the Norwegian) were competing with the birds for food, and also eating eggs and young birds.
So in 1996, after 5 years of planning, the rats were attacked, with 32 tonnes of poisoned wheat, spread by helicopter. The initiative for this came from Shane Treadwell, a lanky former Government deer culler turned lawyer. In his position as manager of the Pharazyn Charitable Trust which is developing and selling prime beachfront real estate on the mainland opposite the island, Treadwell pledged $300,000 from the trust’s profits if the Government would match it, to fund the eradication project.
Kapiti was later declared free of rats and the vegetation has recovered dramatically.
The island is now playing a tremendously significant part in saving numerous threatened bird species. It is one of the world’s most successful island sanctuaries and is almost always on the itinerary of famous scientists like Sir David Attenborough and Dr David Bellamy when they visit New Zealand.
The island is administered by DoC jointly with the adjoining Kapiti Island Marine Reserve, which was created in 1991. This has also been successful in restoring a depleted fishery, but is under continual threat from poachers.
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