Image of the October 2017 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
October 2017 Issue
Home / Articles / See more

Wily weka

Weka on Kapiti Island. Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography
Watch your gear at these four places – there’s weka about

Explorer Charlie Douglas reckoned that weka, not kiwi, should have been our national bird. He considered the flightless rail highly intelligent: ‘Here is a bird full of good qualities and whose vices lean to virtue’s side…. an undying thirst for knowledge – unthinking people give it another name – which cause it to annex everything portable about a hut and carry it into the bush to study at leisure.’

For their goose-necking walk, guile and kleptomaniac tendencies, the weka certainly makes entertaining company. Once, at Welcome Flat, I came across a German hiker raking around in the ferns, looking for something. I asked him what he’d lost. “One of those brown birds stole my tent pole,” he replied, “but I found this,” he said, showing me a frisbee – presumably another of the weka’s acquisitions.

Maori and Pakeha explorers relied on the bird as an abundant and delicious food source (Europeans called them woodhen or Maori hen). Unfortunately, weka have disappeared from almost all of the North Island, though they have been released near Russell, on Kawau Island and in Whirinaki Forest Park.

Trampers who have visited the West Coast or the forests of Nelson will likely have seen the plump, brown birds, although it’s true their populations fluctuate wildly. They seemed to disappear from Abel Tasman National Park for some years, but have recently bounced back.

1. Kapiti Island, Wellington

Nature lovers must put a trip to Kapiti on their bucket-list. As well as weka, you’re likely to see all manner of rare birds, including tieke, kokako and hihi. Whether weka are native to Kapiti Island remains unknown; the bird’s population is likely to be hybrid descendents of both the North Island and western subspecies, which were introduced to the island late in the 1800s and early 1900s.

2. Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

One of the central beaches on the Coast Track, Bark Bay is home to a family of weka often seen skulking around in the forest fringing the hut. It’s an idyllic spot, with a golden sand beach, inlet and estuary; the latter most interesting when low tide reveals striking sand patterns.

3. Flora Track, Kahurangi National Park

The Flora Track to Salisbury Lodge is justifiably popular, with its fascinating array of rock shelters and huts, rolling tussock tablelands, limestone features and abundant wildlife. Friends of Flora run an extensive trapping programme in the area, which helps kaka, whio and weka thrive. Trampers are likely to see weka at Mt Arthur Hut, Flora Hut, Salisbury Lodge or at Dry Rock Shelter.

4. Welcome Flat Hut, Westland/Tai Poutini National Park

Welcome Flat Hut is a rewarding destination not just for the arresting views of the Sierra Range, but for its steaming hot pools. It’s also a favourite haunt of weka, where unwary trampers often leave an appealing array of likely items to thieve. Tramping to the hut takes 5-7hr from SH6.

Support Wilderness

Since 1991, Wilderness has had one simple goal: to help Kiwis ‘See more, do more, live more’ of New Zealand.

If you value our mission, please consider subscribing. As a loyal supporter, you’ll receive these benefits:

  • New Zealand’s best outdoor journalism We’ve won multiple awards for our journalism and magazine production.
  • NZ’s best trips. Browse more than 610 trips with downloadable maps and route notes.
  • Trustworthy gear reviews. Each month we review gear we’ve been bashing and thrashing for months so you can determine if its worth your money.
  • Web exclusives. Each week we publish stories you won’t find in the magazine. View our latest web exclusives.
  • Member benefits. Our WildCard provides discounts at more than 20 partners throughout New Zealand.
  • Your support goes a long way. Your subscription will help us fund NZ’s best outdoor journalists and writers and ensure Wilderness will be there to inspire the next generation of outdoor Kiwis.

A subscription costs as little as $7.00/month for instant access to all articles, trips, gear reviews and gear guides.

View all our subscription options and join the club.

Already a subscriber? Login Now.