The story of Ngā Manu Nature Reserve

It started with a simple idea – create a place to preserve New Zealand’s native flora and fauna – and ended with the jewel in Kāpiti’s crown, Ngā Manu Nature Reserve, 14ha of thick native forest and wetlands that’s now home to more than 40 species of birds and more than 200 species of native fauna.




74 Ngā Manu Reserve Road


+64 4 293 4131

- Sharon Stephenson

A simple idea...

Drive to  Waikanae, into the driveway and you’ll be welcomed into Ngā  Manu Nature Reserve. Through the doors is a natural wonderland that starts with the forest gecko encounter, when you’ll see rare Wellington green geckos, some of which can live up to 40 years old.

Say hello to the many species of duck that call Ngā Manu’s three ponds home before visiting the eel pond where daily 2.00pm feedings bring these creatures of the deep to the surface. Some have been known to grow up to two metres long.  

Then wander along the specially-built walkways that encircle the reserve, brushing past one of the last remnants of low-lying swampland in the greater Wellington region, thought to be hundreds of years old. Don’t miss the lookout, which provides a panoramic view across the reserve. 

A key attraction is the Nocturnal House where a pair of Brown Kiwi live (another pair of Kiwi live in an outdoor enclosure where they can be viewed). Matu Booth, Manager of Ngā Manu, says the breeding pair is the star of the Kiwi Night Encounter which provides a rare opportunity for visitors to get up close and personal with our native bird.

Not only are we helping to preserve NZ’s native flora and fauna, we also play a key role in wildlife breeding programs, education and research

Matu Booth, Ngā Manu Manager

Conservation at the heart

“Overseas visitors love the chance to see the Kiwi in their natural habitat without walls or glass separating us from them,” says Matu. “But many New Zealanders have also never seen a Kiwi so they love it too.”

Come for the Kiwi, stay for the bird aviaries, the butterfly garden and the bush walks. Not to mention the tūī, kererū (wood pigeon), kākāriki, kākā, kea, scaup, pāteke (brown teal),  whio (blue duck) and many other native birds in the aviaries. And then there’s the green stuff: native grasses, orchids and silver ferns, along with swamp maire, pukatea, kohekohe and 400-year-old kahikatea.    

“Not only are we helping to preserve NZ’s native flora and fauna, we also play a key role in wildlife breeding programmes, education and research,” says Matu.

“Another important function is our breeding partnership with  DOC for Brown Kiwi, yellow-crowned kākāriki and reptiles such as Tuatara, green gecko and Whitaker’s skink, along with a partnership with the Wildbase Hospital at Massey University to provide recovery care for injured birds.”

Matu, who started working at Ngā Manu in 2016, following 15 years as a conservation worker at Wellington’s Zealandia, says the Waikanae sanctuary is an important community resource for the region, as well as a recreational reserve for families.

“We have lots of room for kids to run around and for families to picnic and see the ducks. There’s also BBQ island, where visitors can book the BBQ out, or the entire island. In that way, Ngā Manu feels like a small conservation project.”

A popular activity is the Ranger for the Day experience, where both young and old can shadow one of Ngā Manu’s rangers as they care for the reserve’s many feathered creatures (and reptiles). 

None of it would be possible without Peter McKenzie, says Matu. New Zealanders of a certain age will remember McKenzie’s department store, founded by Peter’s grandfather. In the 70s, Peter was working as a zoo keeper at Wellington Zoo when his grandfather gave him an inheritance. Having long been interested in New Zealand’s indigenous fauna, Peter decided to gift one-third of his  inheritance to create a ‘zoo’ of indigenous, rather than exotic, species.

In late 1977, the newly established Ngā Manu Trust found a block of land in Waikanae that contained everything they wanted, from water to native vegetation and accessibility to visitors.

And so was born Ngā Manu Nature Reserve, which opened in 1981. Peter McKenzie died in 2012 but his legacy lives on in the reserve which “not only encompasses a valuable and rare fragment of original lowland forest, it also symbolises a future where our indigenous natural heritage is not only valued and preserved, but is integrated back into our landscape, lives and consciousness”, says Matu.


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