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Former inhabitants of the Aorangi

Updated: Mar 16, 2018

A crevasse in the ground near Martinborough provides a glimpse of the birds and other animals found in prehistoric south-east Wairarapa. The cave, about 10m deep discovered over 100 years ago, is a depository of bones of thousands of animals that have fallen to their death over thousands of years.

The extinct flightless North Island adzebill Aptornis otidiformis and endangered tuatara Sphenodon punctatus.


The cave in the ground near the Wairarapa town contains one of the richest deposits of extinct bird bones ever discovered in New Zealand.

In 1920, the Dominion Museum gathered thousands of bone samples and its successor (The National Museum Te Papa Tongarewa) reported on a return visit in 2017 as this being one of the most important fossil sites in New Zealand, where there are still lots of bones packed into the mud at the bottom of the cave.

What’s been found include kiwi, North Island takahe, weka, kakapo, tuatara, frogs, moa, Finsch’s duck and adzebill. This latter flightless bird hunted a variety of prey such as tuatara, lizards and large invertebrates and is thought to have preferred drier open scrub or grassland habitats.


Te Papa wants to leave the site undisturbed as a future resource, as the bones found in the crevasse could provide further insight into what south-east Wairarapa formerly sustained.

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