Weka: New Zealand’s Flightless Bird, which isn't a Kiwi!

Weka (Gallirallus australis), a flightless railA Case of Avian Mistaken Identity
“I’ve just seen a kiwi outside my hotel room!” is one of the more common phrases you might hear from first-time visitors to New Zealand when they’re travelling down the northern half of the West Coast of the South Island – and 99.9999% of the time, they’re, unfortunately, wrong.

Walk like a Weka
The weka, a member of the rail family and known as ‘bush hens’ by early settlers to New Zealand, is a flightless bird about the size of a chicken or, yes, a kiwi. They’re a sturdy mottled brown bird about 50cm (20 inches) in length and they tend to scoot along with brief bursts of energy followed by cautious walking. (This funny movement is why we named our Weka cycling tour after these cheeky ground-dwellers.) 

Where to Find a Western Weka
The Western Weka is the subspecies that you’re most likely to see on our Rimu and Manuka trips or Weka cycling tours and one of the most common places to see them is around your lodgings or while hiking the trails in the rainforest near the seaside hamlet of Punakaiki, on the South Island’s West Coast. They’ll be searching for fruit and insects, but will eat almost anything, including mice, rats and even rabbits. Their call is a distinctive series of rapid whistled shrieks.

Watch out for Wekas
Wekas are classed as being a vulnerable species, so New Zealand’s Department of Conservation is making efforts to increase their numbers and reduce predation. Unfortunately, a common cause of death for wekas is being hit by motor vehicles. Although wekas do have reduced wings, they are flightless and are therefore obliged to walk everywhere, including across roads. Despite this awkward mode of transport, wekas have been recorded to walk distances of up to 130 km (80 miles).

So how do you tell the difference between a weka and a kiwi?
Well, kiwi are largely nocturnal for a start, so don’t expect it to be a kiwi if it’s daylight outside. The weka also has a more elongated body than the kiwi and a much shorter beak (about 5 cm long) that it uses as a weapon. And kiwis are extremely rare – most New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi in the wild, whereas if you travel down the West Coast, there is a pretty good chance you’ll see a cheeky weka outside your hotel room.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    Excellent NZ Adventures!

    My Rimu Active Adventure trip exceeded my high expectations. The hikes, backpacking, kayaking, and cycling adventures were thrilling, fun, and beautiful. Luckily for our group, we had absolutely perfect weather every day of the trip! Dani and Hilary were tremendous guides who taught me a lot about Kiwi life. Highlights for me were the 3-day backpacking tramp in Nelson Lakes National Park to Angelus Hut and kayaking in Milford Sound. I appreciated that we mostly stayed in local lodges, hotels, inns. I recommend this trip to anyone who wants to truly explore the stunningly beautiful South Island of New Zealand with wonderful friendly guides.
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    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    Joy Project; New Zealand's North Island

    The Tongariro Crossing was the highlight of my visit of the Northern Island. I felt as though we were trekking on another planet.

    Andrew and Claire shared their extensive knowledge of New Zealand’s culture, land, flora and fauna while offering great music on Dick, the bus and fabulous meals!

    I was asked about traveling to New Zealand alone. I explained I was not alone but traveling with twelve friends I had not met yet. This turned out to be factual.
    Lynn Marie
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    – Michigan, United States
    Kauri, August 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    Best family trip ever. The South Island of New Zealand is one of the most spectacular places on the planet and the Rimu trip takes you to all the highlights. Our group hit the jackpot with Koru and Ash. They were fabulous. This trip gets my highest recommendation all around.
    Hank Nayden Review Image
    – Maryland, United States
    Rimu, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    Rimu - South Island

    Great trip, full of discoveries away from big city centers, the kind of adventure nature lovers will appreciate to the fullest. We had a great two weeks of travelling through the real NZ landscaping natural beauty and 14 days is not enough to see or do everything. We enjoyed hiking, kayaking, biking, swimming in pristine water, caving, always surrounded by super guides who made us feel in goods hands at all time.
    Claude Remy Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    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

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