On a hot January afternoon, I took a stroll alongside Whakatāne’s river – and saw 10 kiwi. Small, dark brown, beautifully expressive birds, they were standing on rocks, by buildings, under seats. Tracking them down made for an entertaining hour.
Before you start Google searching the changing habits of wild kiwi, these Whakatāne birds aren’t alive – though they are life-size and certainly life-like. Cast in bronze, they’re rich in detail and character and, no surprise, since being installed in November 2018, they’ve been a hit with both visitors and locals of all ages.
In recent years, Whakatāne has become known as ‘Kiwi Capital of the World’, reflecting that many North Island brown kiwi live close to the eastern Bay of Plenty town, with scores of Whakatāne Kiwi Trust volunteers working tirelessly to monitor, protect and grow the precious population of kiwi and other indigenous birds.
Over 300 wild kiwi now live in three major reserves around Whakatāne (Ōhope Scenic Reserve, Mokorua Scenic Reserve, and Kōhi Point Scenic Reserve) plus on 143ha pest-free Moutohorā (Whale Island) which sits offshore from the town. A total of over 3000ha is now under predator control, with 84 kilometres of traplines checked by volunteers.
But, while kiwi are out wandering those Whakatāne–Ōhope hills – and sometimes backyards – they are usually unseen.
“Kiwi wander right into the Whakatāne urban area. They are intertwined with the urban area but are not often seen,” says Neil Hutton, a DOC employee and Whakatāne Kiwi Trust volunteer who helped to take the Kiwi Wandering project from loose ideas to reality.