Up close with a Kiwi

Before we went out on our kiwi night walk in Okarito I could not have been less in the mood.

My body felt tired, ravaged by sand fly bites and aching from river rafting the day before. During the intro the guide told our group of ten that effort equals reward and we would only get out of the walk what we put into it. So I shook off my bad mood as we headed into the bush at dusk.

Okarito is one of five species of Kiwi in NZ and there are only 385 inhabiting 10-11,000 hectares. Pretty tricky to find then.

kiwi road sign

As we set off on the walk Rob was chosen and introduced as our co-guide. He was given a large red torch and radio and instructions on how to support our leader. We were walking through 3 separate territories, each occupied by only one pair of Kiwi. In the middle territory our guide picked up a signal for the female, Jolene. He located her to an area which he’d never known her to be in before on the edge of an overgrown track. We practiced walking through the grass making minimal noise but it seemed inevitable that ten people rustling around would frighten her away.

Although our guide had a 95% success rate, he did warn us that heaps of patience would be required and that nothing was guaranteed. He didn’t call or change the behaviour of the birds for our benefit. Instead he used a transmitter to track them down to a specific area of bush. From there we listened to the crunch made by their large feet and waited like statues for a glimpse. Just after it went dark Jolene emerged right onto the track. We were stood silently in a line and saw her long beak poke out from the bush. Rob was stood next to me on the end and the bird walked feet away from him; he could have knelt down and picked her up. Moments after she disappeared into the other side of the bush we heard her long and piercing call for her mate. She left a strong musty smell behind her.

We were unbelievably lucky. The previous night’s tour hadn’t heard any Kiwi until 10.30pm or seen one until 11.15pm and the night before they’d been out until 11.45pm and not spotted anything. Our guide went in search of other signals and Rob led the group through the dark back to the car park. We did push our luck as we raced down the road to rejoin our guide to try to catch a glimpse of another bird. We stood in a line on the road and listened to another female moving and feeding. The bush was thick so we were unlikely to see her and she was moving slowly. It was still wonderful to listen to her, especially as we were able to picture her.

A rare and successful night of Kiwi spotting.

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