The Whenua Hou Ecosystem

Patricia Latas
April 30, 2014 share

Whenua Hou is the island home to the Kakapo. It was originally unhihabited, until the local Maori on the mainland gave the island to Maori-European couples to settle (and presumably to keep them separate and out of trouble). Sealing was the main interest, and life was rugged. Eventually the sealing trade diminished and the population of humans declined.


Approach to Whenua Hou, Sealer's Beach on the right



Eventually, it was made a scenic preserve, and finally a sancuary island for many threatened and endangered species.


The climate is not quite sub-antarctic, but it can be windy, rainy, cold and muddy at anytime of the year. The dense brush keeps the ground level quite nice and habitable; the kakapo love this kind of vegetation.


View from the loo!




It is also the home to other psittacines: Kaka, Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Kakarikis. Endemic skinks and geckos are hidden in plain sight. Many interesting insects and other invertebrates have specialized adaptions to this environment. A wonderland of plants: ferns, trees, lichens, moss, flowering plants.


The life zones go from littoral, intertidal and marine all the way through dense rainforest and ridge-top, wind adapted alpine-like vegetaion. Whenua Hou is a microcosm of what Southland and off shore islands were like before human colonization.

Sandy beach habitat

Tortured libs on the wind-swept summit

Alpine lichen and mosses





It is a large, 1400ha bush-covered island that provides kakapo with a  home that is similar to their original habitat of Stewart Island.

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou  has been used since 1987 for the Kākāpo Recovery Programme. Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is a highly significant place to Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe and Waitaha, as well as the wider Ngāi Tahu whanui who connect to this Island on a spiritual, physical and cultural level.

Here is an informative link to the Department of Conservation’s Management and history page:

Here is an excerpt from this page:

“Codfish Island/Whenua Hou has been the site of several successful introduced animal eradication programmes. For example, possums were introduced to the Island prior to 1925 and eradicated by the New Zealand Wildlife Service between 1984 and 1987. Weka were introduced to the Island sometime before 1894 and were well established by 1920. These were removed by a joint operation between the Wildlife Service and the Department of Lands and Survey from 1979 to 1984. Approximately 1000 weka were captured live and transferred to Stewart Island/Rakiura during the removal exercise up until 1982. Kiore were eradicated by the Department of Conservation in 1998. The Island has been free of the effects of possums for 21 years, rats for 10 years, and weka for 24 years. As such, it provides a significant sanctuary and breeding ground for the highly endangered kākāpo, mohua, and Campbell Island teal, all of which have been introduced to the Island.

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is important to other marine and land species, supporting breeding colonies of a variety of species including Cook’s petrel, mottled petrel, Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki, yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho, kaka, red and yellow crowned parakeets/kakariki and the endemic Codfish Island fernbird. The Island supports New Zealand’s only colony of the South Georgian diving petrel. It is also the stronghold of the southern lesser short-tailed bat. The Island fulfils an important habitat niche in the southern hemisphere for many migratory seabirds which nest and breed here before departing on their annual migrations.”






                                        Coastal vegetation



beach rocks and ferns


autumn squall


The view from Sealer’s Beach






          Wahine Kete, welcoming visitors














But the real magic is a spiritual feeling of place: the antipodean sunlight sparkling from the waves under a gliding albatross; eerie silent aurora australis over the tree tops; the singing wind stirring the calls of kaka and ruru. The frightening fierce autumnal storms that bring down crashing limbs and titi, which remind that magic is not always kind and gentle.


It is not a surprise that Whenua Hou is a spiritual place to Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe and Waitaha. Fresh water and an abundance of food from the sea, beauty and tranquility are only the physical manifestations of natural wealth on this lovely island.


Ko Whenua Hou te motu
Ko Waikoropūpū te whanga
Ko Puke Hou te maunga
Ko Waituna te awa
Ko Te Ara a Kiwa te moana
Ko Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tahu ngā iwi
Kei Ngāi Tahu Whānui
Te ihi, te wehi, te mana, te tapu
Tihei mauri ora!



view-from-the-loo  beautiful











Unsettled weather




Dune habitat, nesting area for the Hohio (Yellow-eyed Penguin)



View from the Summit




Scenic Observation Deck.




The ACTUAL Observation Deck, itself.




View of Rakiura (Stewart Island) from the Observation Deck.


Summit Trail steps. Yes. Steep.





Low tide




Codfish Island, Southland, NZ
New Zealand
| Print friendly Email to a friend | Add a Comment   | Subscribe: Subscribe to email notifications Subscribe to RSS feed
© Copyright 2020 Artists for Conservation Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. "Artists for Conservation", "AFC" and the butterfly logo are registered trademarks of Artists for Conservation Foundation, Inc. AFC International Foundation is a registered charity in Canada (860891761 RR 0001).