Return of the kuaka

Every year, around the second week of September, the first of the kuaka (godwits) arrive in Te Tau Ihu after their epic, non-stop 11,500km flight from Alaska. Kuaka continue to arrive until as late as December, and will live at the Motueka Sandspit, Farewell Spit and across Te Tau Ihu, until their journey back home for the summer in March.

The kuaka have been making this journey for thousands of generations, and their journey was well known to our tūpuna, with their annual arrival seen as a significant event.

As the kuaka breed in Alaska, their eggs were never seen here in Aotearoa, so they were seen as birds of mystery.

Kua kite te kohanga kuaka?
Who has seen the nest of the kuaka?

Ko wai kite i te hua o te kuaka?
Who has ever held the eggs of the kuaka?

Kuaka feature prominently in Māori mythology, and it was believed they came from or passed through Hawaiki – the ancestral home.

It is also believed that Kupe, the Great Chief of Hawaiki followed the path of the kuaka on his journey to Aotearoa. Seeing the kuaka migrate each year in a southerly direction, and returning to the same point showed evidence that land was to be found in that direction. This began the voyage to what was to become Aotearoa. During the voyage, the ancestors would follow the flight of the kuaka during the daylight and follow the cries of the kuaka in the night.


As the kuaka make their arrival back to Te Tau Ihu this spring, you can visit the Motueka Sandspit or Farewell spit to see them in their New Zealand home.