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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)

A Rare New Zealand Bird — The Kakapo

page 47

A Rare New Zealand Bird
The Kakapo

The New Zealand Kakapo.

The New Zealand Kakapo.

The kakapo is one of New Zealand's rare and most interesting birds. Though larger than, it is similar to, the kaka, and its name in Maori means “kaka of night.” English names for this peculiar bird are the owl parrot or night parrot.

The bird is of the parrot species and is bigger than a hawk. Its colouring is protective, being green and brown on the upper parts, and yellowish green underneath, the whole presenting a mottled appearance which makes the bird difficult to see in the bush.

Although possessing large wings, it cannot fly, and walks with a clumsy wobble. The wings are used only when running fast or when soaring from a tree top to the ground. It can climb trees or steep slopes very rapidly, using its powerful beak and claws.

Like the owl, it is almost blind in the daytime, and lies under logs dozing until night comes, when the hunt for food starts. The food consists mainly of berries, seeds, honey and moss.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the kakapo is that they mate only every second year, and all mate in the same year. The mating call of the male bird is a deep bugle note similar to the boom of the bittern, and on a still night can be heard miles away. It nests in January and February in hollow logs, amongst roots, or in fissures in the rock. The eggs are large and white in colour. Many chicks die from want of food, and the female bird at this period is in very poor condition. The male bird, strange to say, has usually a well-fed appearance, and this, in addition to the fact that he is never seen near the nest, has led to the belief that he takes no responsibility for his family, leaving the entire feeding of them to their mother.

The kakapo, at one time fairly numerous about Lake Wairarapa and in the Tararua mountains, is now extinct in the North Island. They still exist in most parts of the West Coast of the South Island, but only in very small numbers.

About 1900 some were placed on Kapiti, and are reported to be holding their own. A similar attempt to establish them on Little Barrier was a failure.

The Maoris state that over a hundred years ago, kakapo were very numerous, and were frequently seen in large groups with a leader acting as sentry over them. Catch the leader before he sounded a warning, and the rest were easily captured, but let him sound a warning note and one and all wobbled rapidly to safety. Their tracks through the bush and along the ridges were as well defined as the deer tracks of today.

Wild cats, dogs, rats and man have slaughtered thousands of these innocent and guileless birds. Many of the early gold-miners ate kakapo until they tired of it.

The picture accompanying this article was taken in the Tutoko River Valley, Milford Sound, where the writer has frequently heard the deep boom of the male bird. It is interesting to note that recently two kiwis were caught in the same locality. Here also the kea, kaka and weka are fairly plentiful.

page 48 page 49

From Mine To Hearth—

(Continued from page 16).

drums round which the wire rope is coiled are connected by giant connecting rods to pistons where they have to work against water pressure.

The brakeman stands with his hands on a big operating wheel. He has a rough indicator on the wall which tells him where his trucks are, for, after the first few seconds he loses sight of the descending truck. He uses his judgment to slow this down as it passes the ascending empty, and then stops it with an allowable error of a few inches only when it reaches the bottom, half-a-mile away. His indicator is not accurate enough for this exacting job, but his judgment is equal to the task of sending a full truck down, and bringing an empty one up, in perfect safety, every two minutes.

The last truck is sent down the incline and the brakeman knocks off for the day. Now that the deafening roar of the brakes in action has stopped the exchange of conversation is possible. I am shown round the brakehouse and the operation of the machines, is explained to me. One could not but be impressed by the ingenuity and courage of the men who planned and pioneered this coal mine in the early days when transport was difficult and the place most remote. The use of water, too, as a braking system must have been the fruit of some fertile brain.

Although Denniston is on the top of a mountain a new tepid swimming bath has just been built—the warm water being supplied by the power house which is close by. New tennis courts have also been constructed and the game is most popular, despite the fact that the high altitude effects the bounce of the balls to a noticeable extent.

Another mining area of interest in this district is reached by travelling as far as Granity and then climbing the Millerton track (passing the Millerton mines by the way) and proceeding further up the hill to the left, to Stockton. Here the rakes of trucks are hauled by small electric locomotives drawing their power from overhead wires through trolley poles much the same as on a tram cat. The overhead wire is easily within reach of the raised hand but apparently no accidents occur.

A group of miners point our attention to a wisp of smoke rising from the hill above Millerton.

This mine has been on fire for some time now and has cost two of the mine managers their lives. Speculation amongst the miners reveals that in spite of attempts to restrain the fire it may take as long as forty years to burn itself out.

Still further north along the coast one comes to the Mokihinui district. In the early days this was the scene of a gold rush, there being about 2,000 of a population there in 1867. As the gold in the area was worked out interest in the coal seams became greater and with the completion of the railway from Mokihinui to Westport, in 1893, the area became of great importance.

One of the Railway Department's “Q” class wagons (8 ½ tons capacity) on the steep incline at the Denniston mine.

One of the Railway Department's “Q” class wagons (8 ½ tons capacity) on the steep incline at the Denniston mine.

At present, practically all the coal mined in the Buller district is railed to Westport where it is shipped to other parts of New Zealand or used for bunkering boats which have not been converted into oil burners.

The wharves at the mouth of the Buller River almost always present a very busy secne. Many boats come to Westport to be bunkered because it is the most northern port which they can enter on the Coast, and because the place has earned a reputation for speed in the handling of coal. It is common to hear the noise of the cranes still loading boats up to the hour of midnight. Tramp steamers of all kinds call, and considerable interest has been caused lately by the visits of French steamers engaged in the Pacific trade.