Moa

New Zealand's giant flightless bird

moa

Photo by Sciencemag.org

New Zealand’s largest birds probably became extinct within one hundred years of humans first arriving in New Zealand, around 1300 A.D.. However, there were unsubstantiated sightings of moa by whalers and sealers into the 18th and even 19th centuries. Moa were a family of eleven species of flightless birds that were only found within New Zealand. The largest species grew up to 3.7 m (12 ft) tall and weight up to 230 kg (510 lb) – no wonder they were hunted by Maori! They were the only wingless birds known to have existed – even their cousin the flightless kiwi still has little vestigial wings hidden under its feathers. Prior to their extinction, they were the dominant plant-eater in New Zealand’s forests and only had one predator, Haast’s Eagle; the largest eagle ever known to exist and also the victim of extinction following the demise of the moa to hunting by Maori.

Kiwi were long regarded as the closest relative to the moa, but recent studies suggest that either the Australia emu and cassowary or tinamous birds from South America are likely the closest cousins. Female moa grew considerably larger than their mates and weighed almost three times as much, in some cases. Although most images of reconstructed moa skeletons or artists’ impressions of the birds show them standing upright, it is likely that they actually moved along with their head out in front, just like a kiwi does. Despite almost always being portrayed as giants, some species of Moa were actually significantly smaller, much shorter than the height of a person, and some possibly as small as chickens!

Of course, completely lacking wings the question has been asked “how did the moa get to the islands of New Zealand”. It’s thought most likely that moa were already roaming New Zealand prior to it breaking away from the super-continent of Gondwana about 80 million year ago.

Many moa bones, eggs (including over 30 whole eggs), feathers, dehydrated skin and nesting materials have been found from a number of caves and other locations around New Zealand, in particular from the dry Central Otago region.

A preserved Moa (Megalapteryx) foot from the Natural History Museum (photo courtesy Ryan Baumann)

 

Trip Reviews

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    This trip exceeded every expectation. Every activity was more exciting than the last, never was there a dull moment. The hikes, especially the hike to Cape Brett and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, were absolutely incredible. Andy and Jo were the perfect team. Andy always kept us occupied with good stories and always had a backup plan if we weren't able to do something on the itinerary. He took the time on hikes to stop and point out unique things that otherwise would have been missed. "Mama Jo" really looked after us and made sure we all had the most amazing time. I have no idea where she found the energy to always be the one running back up the mountain to help carry the backpacks of tired hikers and then get back to the accommodations and cook everybody a delicious dinner. They were more than just tour guides, they were our family. I highly recommend this trip!
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    – Vermont, United States
    Kauri, November 2016
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    Trip of a life time

    My wife and I planned this trip with some friends to try something new and to maximize the experience of New Zealand. We spent 8 days hiking, biking, and kayaking through the South Island. Every day was action packed with something different to do. We got to try new things, test a few of our limits that we wouldn't have normally done, and learn a few things about local culture along the way. I can't say enough good things about our guides Ben and Liana. They were enthusiastic about everything we did and full of information. They helped us push limits and get the most out of the experiences we had. Everyone I've told about our trip has been wowed by the awesome things we got to see and do.
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    – Pennsylvania, United States
    Tui, January 2018
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    Great trip

    My experience with Active Adventures in NZ was so fun! The guides were really nice and perfect to play games with. Steve was also really nice and funny. I had such a fantastic time and I'm glad I got to go with Active Adventures.
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    – California, United States
    Kea, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16212 reviews)

    Excellent way to see New Zealand

    My husband and I went on the Kauri trip in November 2017. This trip had been on our bucket list for a while and we decided to go with Active Adventures as they were offering the type of travel and activities we wanted to do in New Zealand. Our two awesome guides, Andy (encyclopedia of knowledge) and Jo (excellent cook) made us feel at home and have shown us the beautiful country of NZ while ensuring everyone had fun. We had an amazing time on the North Island and I highly recommend this trip if you enjoy outdoor activities.
    Claire Barrette-Remy Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Kauri, December 2017
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    – New York, United States
    Kiwi, March 2017

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