Stewart Island-Last Stop for Kiwis

New  Zealanders  love  their  national  bird, the kiwi; they even proudly refer to themselves  as  “kiwis”  from  time  to  time.  But these days it’s well-nigh impossible to see one  of  these  funny  little  flightless  brown birds in the wild—that is, except on Stewart Island.

New  Zealand’s  third  island  is  also  the farthest  south,  just  across  a  30km  (19-mile) strait from the South Island, with a  wonderful  temperate  climate  and  so much wildlife you won’t believe it. (Only 1% of the island is inhabited.) The Maori name for  it  is  Rakiura,  which  means  “Land  of Glowing  Skies,”  referring  to  the  vivid  colors of dawn and the twilight skies on this still-unspoiled island. Hiking, kayaking, and diving  are  the  main  forms  of  entertainment  here;  head  for  the  visitor  lodge  for Rakiura  National  Park, only a 5-minute walk up Main Road from the ferry terminal, to  get  trail  information  and  hut  passes. The  park  encompasses  85%  of  the  island,  which  means  loads  of  protected  wilderness  for  wildlife,  and  some  outstanding bird-watching:    You    can    easily    view uniquely  New  Zealand  species  like  the kaka,  tui,  weka,  kereru,  and  korimako, though you probably won’t be able to see the nearly extinct kakapo and kokako.

Frequent sightings of the famously shy kiwi are the icing on the cake. All it takes is a  little  luck—or  a  little  extra  effort,  like booking  a  nighttime  kiwi-spotting  boat tour   with   Bravo   Adventure   Cruises  or  Ruggedy  Range Tours.  Though  kiwis  were  not  originally a nocturnal species, they’ve come to prefer  nighttime  forays,  to  avoid  predators. Taking only 15 passengers at a time so as not to spook the kiwis, these 3-hour tours   involve   prowling   the   length   of remote Ocean Beach with flashlights. The plump, spiky-feathered kiwis can be found poking  around  the  washed-up  kelp,  sniffing  out  food  with  the  nostrils  located  at the end of their long pointed beaks. Darting  and  skittering  about  in  their  ungainly, comical way, the kiwis take a little patience to see, but they’re worth it.

Technically,  Stewart  Island’s  kiwi  is  its own  species,  slightly  different  from  the spotted  kiwis  and  brown  kiwis  found  on the  North  and  South  Islands  or  on  Kapiti Island        ;  the  Stewart  Island  kiwi  has larger  legs,  a  longer  beak,  and  slightly lighter-colored plumage. But on the mainland,  kiwi  populations  are  declining  at alarming rates, preyed upon by dogs, ferrets, stoats, and feral cats, while their natural   habitats—the   native   forest   and scrub—are  being  converted  to  pastureland and residential development.

Stoats and ferrets haven’t made it over to Stewart Island yet, though, and human settlement  is  still  sparse.  For  now,  the Stewart  Island  kiwis  still  have  a  stable population. Their cousins on the mainland should have it so good.