Orokonui Wildlife

2024 Sanctuaries Conference at Orokonui

Orokonui Ecosanctuary – Te Korowai o Mihiwaka is excited to be hosting the 2024 Sanctuaries of New Zealand (SONZI) conference in August 2024. This annual meeting is a great opportunity for conservationists around the motu to come together to discuss shared wins, challenges, and aspirations.

The meeting will be held over three days from 13th-15th August 2024, with the venue being the Orokonui visitor’s centre.

Tuesday 13th August: Science Day – A curated collection of talks of sanctuary relevant conservation science.

Wednesday 14th August: SONZI Day – Presentations and discussions on governance, finance, relationships, and sanctuaries. As well as soapbox sessions from those working in the sanctuary space.

Thursday 15th August: SONZI AGM & Field trips – Fields trips at Orokonui to support a range of interests and fitness.

The programme and other details including a link to register can be found here

To register use this link


#KākāCam now live

Ever thought your favourite reality TV show could do with more screeching and flapping? We are super excited to announce #KākāCam is now live!

Port Otago and Orokonui Ecosanctuary are this week launching Kākā Cam, a 24/7 camera situated deep in the sanctuary and focused on a busy feeding station.

A kākā gets up close and personal to check out the new camera.

The camera is a sister to Valley Cam, which is attached to the ecosanctuary’s visitor centre and overlooks the Orokonui Valley towards the mountain Māpounui.

Setting up this camera wasn’t without its challenges though. This launch itself was delayed by the kākā deciding the camera and transmitter were new toys put out just for them. Unfortunately, the same beak that makes them so great at ripping up trees seems to be also useful and camera dismantlement.

The feeding station is one of five within the 307-hectare fenced ecosanctuary and is designed especially so kākā and nectar-feeding birds can access it, but blackbirds and sparrows cannot. The stations contain a special parrot pellet, replenished daily, and act as a hub of social activity.

Acting Port Otago Chief Executive Grant Bicknell* says it’s great to see the second camera up and running. “We had a clear goal to deploy livestreaming technology that could take the Orokonui experience out into the wider community. It’s been worth the wait, to ensure the streaming is reliable and bulletproof – or, in this case, kākā proof. We predict Kākā Cam will become a popular source of entertainment for adults and children, alike. The bird song alone is worth a listen.”

GPD Productions Director George Dawes has led the work. “Bringing the Kākā Cam to life has been a fantastic project, and after a few teething problems, or maybe pecking problems, we’re ready to go live. It’s great to help showcase Orokonui’s work and make it available to a wider audience.” 

Thank you to fellow Orokonui sponsor Unifone, which generously increased the bandwidth capacity to the ecosanctuary at no extra cost, enabling the livestream to be possible.

Check out the Kākā Cam here, and share it with your friends and whānau.

Orokonui Wildlife

Help Count Kākā this Feb

Hundreds of hours of staff and volunteer time go towards caring for kākā at Orokonui. From keeping the sanctuary mammalian predator free, checking nest boxes, filling and cleaning feeders, banding and surveying, and educating people. It’s suffice to say these charismatic taoka keep us busy. But is all this mahi working? Are kākā numbers on the increase? We need your help to learn more about the population.

For the week of the 26th February to 3rd March we are asking anyone and everyone around Ōtepoti/Dunedin to report all kākā they see, every day this week to the kākā database. Whether you see it in your backyard, the sanctuary, or local park we want to know when, where and the bands(if possible) of every kākā spotted.

Why is this so important?

South island kākā are classed as threatened – nationally vulnerable. Meaning they are vulnerable to further decline if nothing is done. A small population of kākā were established at Orokonui, starting in 2008. Before this kākā were lost from this area for around 150 years. While this population is thought to be growing, surveying kākā can be tricky as they are highly mobile. By getting everyone involved for a week we will get a better understanding of how many kākā are in the population, and how far from the sanctuary they are being sighted. This information will help us at Orokonui manage their population better, but will also help guide predator control and habitat enhancement efforts outside the sanctuary.

What to do if you see or hear a kākā

Whenever you see or hear a kākā during the count you can report it straight away to the kākā database here. Or write down the details somewhere and report it later. Photos and videos can be really useful if you have a camera nearby. They can be especially useful for helping to read leg bands.

If you have any trouble reporting kākā, or identifying individuals send through any photos or videos to

How do I know if it’s a kākā?

Most of the time kākā are quite obvious but their can be times where they can be a bit more tricky. The easiest time to confuse kākā for other birds is in flight. You can see in the image below the characteristic red can be hard to make out against the light from above. Kākā have shorter wings and flap more than a kāhu/harrier, their wings don’t come to a sharp point like a kārearea/falcon, and their undersides do not appear pale like a kererū.

South island kākā from below. Oscar Thomas.

Another give away of a kākā in any situation are their calls, they are vocal and social birds. So listening out for their calls can be a great way to tell where they are, especially at dawn and dusk when they tend to be most vocal. You can listen to a variety of calls on the birds NZ website

If you want to confirm what you heard, or saw are kākā you can always send a photo, video, or audio recording through to

How to read leg bands?

To help us gain more knowledge and manage this population, most of the kākā are banded. Each banded kākā will have a series of bands that create a unique colour combination for that individual. To read the leg bands start on the left leg (from the kākā’s perspective) and read top to bottom, then the same on the right leg. Reading leg bands can be tricky but provides great information

I saw a kākā with no leg bands!

There are always a few kākā in the population without leg bands. They may not have been banded as chicks in the sanctuary because the nest was inaccessible, or they may have been born in a nest outside the sanctuary. Recording unbanded kākā is just as important as recording banded ones, just select the unbanded category when reporting the sighting.

I am not in Dunedin but I saw a kākā

Awesome! It is always special to see a kākā wherever you are in Aotearoa/NZ. However, this project is focused on the kākā found around Dunedin. You can still help scientists in other parts of the country by making an observation of your kākā sighting using iNaturalist or eBird.


Orokonui #ValleyCam now live

Wherever you are in the world you can now see whats happening in the Orokonui valley using our new live #ValleyCam. This feed looks across the Orokonui valley towards one our our mauka/mountains Māpounui.

This live camera looks across the Orokonui valley to Māpounui, from it we will be able to watch birds fly, plants flower, and the valley change with the seasons.

Kā mihi a huge thanks to Port Otago for sponsoring, setting up, and providing technical support for this camera. A massive mihi to Unifone NZ as well for providing our connection free to allow us to stream the Orokonui valley to the world.


Walking towards our conservation goals

The name Orokonui is used for the sanctuary but for hundreds of years before it has been the name of the valley our reserve nestles into. Given this the best way to explore all of Orokonui would be to travel from the top of the valley to the bottom (and back again), and that is exactly what participants of the 2023 Orokonui Walk for Wildlife did on Sunday October 1st.

With promise of a sunny day around 50 walkers from 8 to 80 years old gathered at the Orokonui visitor’s centre before opening, to venture down the valley. Trickling out in groups, walkers began their adventure from mountains to sea. Our trails follow the valley centre, and the stream. Winding through regenerating bush, ancient forest giants like rimu, totarā and miro, and through the tallest forest canopy in Aotearoa New Zealand thanks to the eucalypts.

After reaching the valley floor guided by the calls of our native birds. Walkers exited the sanctuary to head further towards the sea looping around the Orokonui estuary. This part of the walk took participants, along boardwalks, past mudflats and right to sea level enjoying a different suite of wildlife that inhabits these parts.

After circumnavigating the inlet, it was time for walkers to head back through the fence to climb up the robin valley track towards the visitor’s centre and lunch. After some amazing efforts up the hill by all, but particularly those with youngest legs. Everyone arrived back at the top of the valley to be re-fuelled by a specially prepared lunch from our café team and with support of Bidfood and Goodman Fielder to supply the ingredients needed to cater everyone with delicious kai. Given the hot day we were also glad we also had some great drinks kindly supplied by Phoenix Organics and StrangeLove Soda on hand for those that took part.

Before everyone carried on further exploring or recovering, we were able to reward the efforts of participants with some great spot prizes from Bivouac Outdoor Dunedin, Night ‘n Day, Four Square Port Chalmers, Anytime Fitness, and Tea Total.

Thanks to everyone who took part we had a great time and were able to raise some funds towards supporting conservation at Orokonui and helping to help wildlife thrive!

Another enormous thanks to all the business who supported us to run this great event. Bidfood, Phoenix Organics, StrangeLove Soda, Goodman Fielder, Bivouac Outdoor Dunedin, Night ‘n Day, Four Square Port Chalmers, Anytime Fitness, and Tea Total.

If you missed out this year, we will bring back the walk in 2024. But we also have the Orokonui challenge coming up, our 18.7km running race is the ultimate way you can support conservation while challenging yourself. Learn more about it here.

Orokonui Uncategorized

Getting groovy for conservation

Recently the visitor’s centre played host to a gathering of a different sort of wildlife, with the St Margarets College disco themed ball. After some research online the organising students found that no other venue stood our quite like Orokonui.

Over the years Orokonui has hosted everything from weddings and concerts, to corporate meetings and birthdays. But we believe this may be the first ever event at Orokonui to have a light up disco floor.

With the café chairs cleared out there was plenty of space for the 180 students to dance, chat, and hang. The use of the classroom also allowed for a dedicated photo space, perfect for capturing the variety of incredible outfits.

While the light up dance floor and other decorations made the space look amazing, students noted that nature had done the best job decorating. There were even times when the sunset over the valley and silver peaks even upstaged the disco floor.

Most importantly as with any good party, there was abundant delicious food to keep dancers fuelled into the night. All the kai for this event was crafted by our stellar café team. They worked hard and managed to pull off an amazing spread with not just enough food for all, but with something for every dietary requirement as well.

Despite the size of the event the student organisers were able to focus on enjoying the evening thanks to our events team taking care of everything else. After the event they had this to say about the experience.

“Amazing service! From the initial visit, to the ball day and, even post ball, 200% all throughout. It was super easy to work with the wonderful team at Orokonui they made things on my end so so much easier than I could’ve ever imagined. They helped facilitate and allow my vision to come to life.”

Attending the evening was also the funnest way the students could support conservation, with all proceeds of events like these going straight back to helping us help wildlife thrive.

To host your next event at Orokonui get in touch with us by emailing


Local Businesses Secure Future of Environmental Education at Orokonui

The future looks bright for school visits to Orokonui, thanks to a group of local corporate sponsors stepping up to fund the Ecosanctuary’s beloved environmental education programme.

Port Otago, Wenita Forest Products, Pioneer Energy, and Viridian Glass have all made multi-year commitments to support the programme, which delivers enriching wildlife experiences for more than 6,000 students, from early childhood to tertiary level, each year.

 Orokonui Ecosanctuary General Manager Amanda Symon says the funding means the ecosanctuary can continue providing accessible experiences to schools at a subsided rate and complements an existing sponsorship with Oceana Gold which provides free entry and transport to the ecosanctuary for 500 students each year. “We’re so pleased to have multi-year sponsorship agreements in place with these organisations. It gives the programme certainty for the future and allows us to focus on connecting young people with the environment, rather than worrying about money.”

The education programme at Orokonui Ecosanctuary was established in 2009 and more than 75,000 young people have participated in hands-on conservation experiences since then.  In 2022, long-term funding for the programme from the Ministry of Education unexpectedly ceased, leaving the programme hanging in the balance.  “We were really disappointed by that, particularly in the light of the biodiversity and climate crises that we’re facing. It’s more important than ever to ensure young people are connected to nature and empowered to care for the environment. They’re our next generation of conservation heroes.”

Port Otago Chief Executive Kevin Winders says getting in behind the education programme is a good fit for the company, given its focus on supporting local community activity, particularly those involving young people, and awareness around climate change. “The education team at Orokonui do a fabulous job – and on the smell of an oily rag. Our contribution helps them get out with the students, delivering their highly valued programme to our local schools.”

For David Cormack, Wenita Forest Products Chief Executive, the new sponsorship is a great addition to the local environmental initiatives that the company already supports.  “Wenita’s sponsorship of the Orokonui education programme reflects our commitment to backing local biodiversity initiatives and environmental education – it’s a natural fit.”  

When the opportunity to support Orokonui arose, Pioneer Energy CEO Fraser Jonker felt that it aligned well with their vision. “Our goal is to create a better future through sustainable energy. We look to achieve this not only by developing sustainable energy assets but by feeding profits back into our communities through our owners the Central Lakes Trust. Our focus is on long term benefits, and this starts with investing in our youth and our communities.”  

Viridian Glass has contributed to the wider work of the sanctuary for several years now, but GM Matt Kearsley says he is happy to focus their sponsorship on education, where the funds were currently needed most. “We are happy to be a part of such a valuable place that offers amazing learning opportunities for our tamariki and whānau. We want to see Orokonui Ecosanctuary prosper for many years to come.”

Ms Symon said that while the ecosanctuary covered a significant portion of its conservation work from visitor revenue, it was still reliant on grants, donations, and local sponsorships to fund the remainder.  “As a not-for-profit organisation, we are extremely fortunate to have such strong support from our local community. They believe in what we do, and we’re humbled by their generosity, every day.”


Māori Hill School Taonga of Orokonui Series

When ākonga/students from room 5 at Māori Hill School visited in May, they were amazed by the incredible taonga/treasures that live in Orokonui. They wanted to share what they learned during their visit and researching at school, so others could learn about and be inspired by the taonga of Orokonui as well.

They worked to produce this amazing series of recordings about five of the taonga that call Orokonui home. You can listen to them all here.


Taking time to learn more about tuatara

The warm summer nights provided the perfect opportunity for tuatara monitoring to take place. Tuatara were first re-introduced to roam freely in Orokonui in 2012 as part of a partnership with Ngāti Koata, kaitiaki of the tuatara on Takapourewa/Stephen’s Island in the Marlborough Sounds, and with the support of mana whenua of Orokonui, Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki. Since then, we have had several exciting milestones, from finding tuatara spreading through new parts of Orokonui, to the first sightings of hatchlings in early 2020. 

Researcher Scott Jarvie and Orokonui Educator Taylor try to pattern match one of the Orokonui tuatara to identify the individual.

Monitoring the tuatara population is an important part of understanding how these precious taonga are going at Orokonui and what work needs to be done to facilitate their return to this landscape. Orokonui has been lucky to have the support and expertise of the University of Otago, and now the Otago Regional Council, in monitoring these incredible reptiles. 

On one warm night in late January 2023, 17 individuals were captured and measured, a new record for a single night at the sanctuary! Some of the individuals measured have doubled in weight since release, an encouraging sign.  

With tuatara though, conservation requires patience. Despite breeding occurring it will be a long time before tuatara could be considered common in Orokonui. Requiring 10-20 years to reach breeding age, with eggs that can take longer than 18 months to hatch, growing a tuatara population is a marathon rather than a sprint. 

A tuatara tick sits on the skin of an Orokonui tuatara. A long shared evolutionary history has made these ticks as vulnerable as their hosts. 

One cool observation was the presence of tuatara ticks on several individuals. These specialist parasites are rarer than their already rare hosts. In some other translocations ticks have been lost, but only time will tell if they establish in Orokonui. This is a good reminder of the need to protect all wildlife, not just our beautiful birds. 

You can read more about the history of Tuatara at Orokonui in this article written by researcher Alison Cree

To see tuatara at Orokonui it is still best to visit the grasslands enclosure on a warm day.


A cacophony of kākā chicks

If you’ve visited Orokonui lately you may have noticed the cacophony of young kākā playing and making a racket across the sanctuary. This is a result of another successful kākā breeding season at Orokonui.

This season 15 chicks fledged from five known nests within the sanctuary. Three of these were in our special nest boxes and three in the cavities of large kāpuka/broadleaf trees.  There may also be nests that we didn’t detect; these could be in cavities near the tops of trees, or in less frequented areas of the sanctuary. An increasing number of sightings of unbanded birds suggests at least a few chicks were fledged from these hidden retreats. 

A measurement of the upper beak of the kākā tells us the sex of the bird

It can be up to 81 days from the time a kākā hatches to when it leaves the nest, so we are sure many kākā parents are feeling a deep sense of relief at this time of year!

One set of caring kākā parents has quite a remarkable story. The two kākā, known as Mr and Mrs Willowbank, spent 10 years in an aviary in Christchurch before being released at Orokonui. During their time in captivity they had stopped breeding and it was thought best to give them a taste of the wild life. This year they raised two chicks in a tree cavity near the Pōkākā Loop Track in the sanctuary. With lifespans of 30 years or longer, hopefully they will have many more sets of chicks in the future. 

Bands help us identify kākā, and facilitate research

Look out at the feeders for birds marked with red primary leg bands as this is the colour that designates this year’s cohort of chicks. You can help us monitor that kākā population by recording your kākā sightings (at Orokonui, home, or elsewhere) in the Orokonui kākā database.

To report sightings head here

Remember, too, if any of these cheeky rascals turn up to your place please avoid feeding them human foods like nuts as these can make them very unwell, and teach them bad behaviours. Trust us, they don’t need anymore help with that!

After a short excursion being banded, weighed, measured and checked over. Young kākā are out back in the nest to finish their development.