Volunteering with Kākāpō on Whenua Hou Island

A blog post by Emma

Parenthood, work and life have been keeping us very busy. So much so that it has taken a pandemic and a countrywide lockdown to get Tom and I back in front of the computer again! We hope that everyone is keeping safe. We are well, but it looks like we’ll be spending the next year here in New Zealand and missing this year’s UK ecology season, but that is for the best. How are you all doing?

This next series of posts will be about our time as kākāpō supplementary feed-out volunteers on Whenua Hou Island during their last breeding season. We’ll write about our trip, as well as about some of the flora and fauna we encountered.

Tom and Emma on Whenua Hou, off on a kākāpō feed-out run.

Volunteering with Kākāpō

We have always wanted to work with kākāpō, but the opportunity doesn’t come along often as the birds only breed during a mast year when there is an abundance of food. These mast years come around approximately every three to four years. The breeding season is the time when this critically endangered species needs the most help to insure the highest number of their chicks survive, hence the need for volunteers.

The kākāpō (Strigops habroptilus) is a species of large, flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling parrot endemic to New Zealand

The summer of 2018/2019 was a mega mast year, so the Department of Conservation were calling for volunteers on the Kākāpō Recovery Programme. As I was pregnant that summer, we decided to stay local making it the perfect time for us to apply. We applied through their website here. Whilst there aren’t always volunteering positions open, you can still check out their site for other ways to get involved.

We applied to volunteer to help with the supplementary feed-out. During the two weeks we were on Whenua Hou, we tramped around the island each day cleaning and refilling feed stations to ensure that all the birds were getting suitable nutrition for breeding.

Whenua Hou

Whenua Hou, also known as Codfish Island, is a small island off the coast of Rakiura/Stewart Island, New Zealand. It is 1396 hectares in size and rises to a height of 250 metres above sea level. The island is a predator-free sanctuary for many native New Zealand species, and holds the majority of the kākāpō breeding population.

There is no public access to Whenua Hou. As predators have been eradicated on the island, the quarantine procedure is very strict to ensure no stowaways are transported accidentally. Getting there is also a challenge and requires either a helicopter flight or a journey on a small plane or both!

Being so isolated, you really sensed a feeling of what New Zealand may have been like before humans began altering the environment. Once the busy day had come to an end, this was the time when we noticed it most: The island silhouetted at dusk; the inky-black night sky and stars; the cacophonous birdsong chorus of dawn.


During our feed-out runs, we had many encounters with a range of amazing species. The following photos are of just some of the species that we managed to capture on camera. Our next blog posts will cover a few of these in more detail – links to come!




Read more about kākāpō in our blog post here.


A leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) resting on the beach



I am still reeling with excitement as I recount this experience. This was definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

As we write our Whenua Hou species-centric blog posts over the coming days, we will link to them in this blog.

References and Further Reading

Department of Conservation – 2.3 Codfish Island/Whenua Hou Place https://www.doc.govt.nz/about-us/our-policies-and-plans/statutory-plans/statutory-plan-publications/conservation-management-strategies/stewart-island-rakiura/section-one/part-two-places/2_3-codfish-island-whenua-hou-place/
(Retrieved 9 May, 2020)

Department of Conservation – Get involved with Kākāpō Recovery – https://www.doc.govt.nz/our-work/kakapo-recovery/get-involved/
(Retrieved 9 May, 2020)

Department of Conservation – Mega mast confirmed for New Zealand forests – https://www.doc.govt.nz/news/media-releases/2019/mega-mast-confirmed-for-new-zealand-forests/
(Retrieved 9 May, 2020)

IUCN Red List – Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) – https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22685245A129751169.en
(Retrieved 9 May, 2020)

New Zealand Birds Online – Kakapo – http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/kakapo
(Retrieved 9 May, 2020)

Science Learning Hub Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao – Mast year – https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/2776-mast-years
(Retrieved 9 May, 2020)

Notornis – The timing of breeding in the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) –https://notornis.osnz.org.nz/system/files/Notornis_53_1_153.pdf


21 Comments Add yours

  1. blhphotoblog says:

    Great to see you guys back on line and what a marvelous adventure!
    Due to lockdown restrictions here we are not allowed to visit other areas so all sightings come from in and around gardens unless you can walk or cycle somewhere (one chap I know has been cycling 30+ miles to visit some butterfly sites!).
    A lot of reserves are closed anyway but I’ve had fun in the garden.
    Glad everyone is ok, you’re probably in the safest part of the world right now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zoomology says:

      Thank you, Brian! It is good to hear that you are doing well also. We do feel very safe here in NZ.

      There has never been a better time to explore one’s own garden. 🙂 In fact, Tom, baby Ezra and I have weeded, explored, and tended to every square inch of our garden over the last couple of months thanks to the lockdown. 😛 How lucky we are to have gardens!

      I am very impressed by your friend’s commitment biking such a distance. I’ve just been having a catch-up on some of your latest blog posts – you’ve had so many great observations, too, despite being stuck closer to home!

      Looking forward to reading more!


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you are both doing well durying these very strange and difficult times. Lovely to have you back, and seeing your wonderful posts with such fantatstic photography! Stay well and keep safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zoomology says:

      Aw, thank you, Pete! Tom and I had such a great time exploring the island – what a treasure! It was also really nice re-living it as we collated our photos and wrote this post.

      I’ve just been having a little look through some of your recent observations – such gorgeous photography over on your page, too! Looking forward to reading more soon.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. It sounds a like a dream adventure for you both! You are welcome, and many thanks, Emma.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Christie says:

    Such an amazing experience, and place to be! I have a friend who is running a Sanctuary in North of NZ, and I know the whole country has so much to offer!! Looking forward to see your next posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zoomology says:

      Thank you, Christie! 🙂 Oh, wow, that’s awesome that your friend runs a sanctuary over here. Do you know the name of it, or whereabouts it is? I wonder if I have visited there before…


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Christie says:

        Pupu Rangi is the name, I’ve heard it can gets really busy🙂
        All the best Emma!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Zoomology says:

        I’ve just looked it up and Pupu Rangi sounds wonderful. What an awesome job they’re doing. We’ll definitely have to visit the next time we’re up North!



  4. Ms. Liz says:

    Awesome! Waiting with much anticipation for your posts – this one’s amazing! May I use your kakapo photo in order to do a post recommending your blog to my followers?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zoomology says:

      Hi Liz! So lovely to hear from you. We are glad to hear that you are well. 🙂 Yes, of course – you are welcome to use our photo.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. naturebackin says:

    What a fantastic experience on the island and your photos are great. I particularly enjoyed your bird photos. I had never heard of the kākāpō before. What an extraordinary bird. Nice to see you blogging again and stay safe.
    We are okay here and so lucky to have a garden. SInce first of May we are permitted to walk (or cycle or jog) outside one’s place of residene between 6 and 9 am each morning.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Zoomology says:

      Thank you, Carol! It is good to hear that you guys are doing okay, too, despite everything that’s happening in the world at the moment. I’m sure you’ll be enjoying your mornings out now!

      I’m happy we could introduce you to the kākāpō. They’re amazing birds, aren’t they? I’m just writing up our next blog post and it will be focused on the kākāpō. I hope we can share some more interesting details for you!

      Looking forward to catching up on your posts.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. naturebackin says:

        Thanks Emma. Glad to hear that you are doing okay too and still able to be involved in interesting projects. I look forward to hearing more about the amazing kākāpō.
        Take care.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. restlessjo says:

    What an amazing opportunity! I’m a long way from New Zealand and unlikely ever to visit but it looks so beautiful. Thanks for sharing 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zoomology says:

      Thank you for your comment, Jo! You’re more than welcome. The internet can really take us places, can’t it? Reading your latest blog post, I’ve just walked vicariously through your stunning town. The vibrant colours of the flowers have brightened my morning!


      Liked by 1 person

  7. Platypus Man says:

    What a wonderful opportunity … I’m insanely jealous, and look forward to enjoying your adventures vicariously through this blog. Unsurprisingly we didn’t encounter a kakapo during our NZ trip last year, but for me they are one of that country’s iconic birds and it’s good to know that so much is being done to protect them. I shouldn’t worry about missing the “UK ecology season” … things aren’t great here right now, so you’re definitely in the right place!


  8. Nico says:

    Thhanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

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