Arthur's Pass Monster Sighting – Could a photo prove it still exists?

Scotland has Nessie, America - Sasquatch and the British have their Big Cats. Not to be outdone, little old New Zealand has a big foot too … But this one is a lot taller and has feathers not hair – and, we have a full skeleton!

The tallest and heaviest bird that ever lived was the Emu-like Moa of New Zealand, which grew to a dizzying height of 12-14 ft and weighed in at 600 pounds. It was thought to have been hunted to extinction by 1400 AD.

But some recent evidence suggests otherwise. Preserved foot of a Moa (Megalapteryx didinus) found near Queenstown in 1878 - The foot is currently held by the Natural History Museum, London. There were 11 species of these flightless birds endemic to New Zealand, ranging from 40 to 600 pounds. Early Maori settlement sites are littered with moa bones suggesting they were an important food of the first peoples.

Ready to see New Zealand's wildlife for yourself? Take a look at our self drive nature and wildlife tours and go Moa spotting for yourself!

These birds were the dominant herbivores in New Zealand's shrub-lands, forests and subalpine ecosystems for thousands of years. Up until the arrival of the Māori their only predator was the Giant Haast's Eagle. The first humans settlers are believed to have arrived from Polynesia around 1280 AD - no Moa bones are found in caves that were occupied after 1400 AD. But there have been persistent sightings of Moa - and books written about such claims - well after the Europeans settled here in the 1800s. When Moa bones were first discovered by Europeans  in the 1830s, the birds were instantly declared a scientific marvel. Once the largest bird to have existed, Moa briefly become a New Zealands national symbol, and New Zealand was called ‘the land of the moa’.  

Moa Height

Sightings: In January 1993, Paddy Freaney, hotel owner and well known mountaineer; claimed to have seen a Moa in the Craigieburn Range in Arthurs Pass Canterbury. Freaney’s claim was that he and two hikers spotted a 6-foot Moa – evidence he tried to support with this somewhat blurry photograph (Below) Paddy was a former member of the British elite SAS squad and an avid mountaineer, and was not thought of by his peers as a publicity seeker.

His Story: "The three claim the creature stood three feet off the ground, had a thin long neck, roughly three feet long, ending in a small head and beak. The bird had reddish brown and grey feathers that covered the entire body with the exception of its legs from below the knees. Seeing the men the Moa fled across the river, Freaney gave chase and was able to take a photograph of the Moa at a distance of nearly 115 feet”. The claim, because of who he was and because of the photo, meant the event was taken seriously at the highest levels of government. Many debunkers appeared and claimed Paddy's sighting was nonsense and that the photograph was everything from a fake to a small red deer. Paddy was upset and outraged and spent many years trying to regain his good name by launching expeditions to find proof that the Moa was out there unfortunately to no avail.

Despite scientific wisdom denying any evidence that Moas lived past the 1500s, the legend of the still-roaming Moa, so central to the life of early Maori persist - Here are a couple of the more credible reports. 

1) In 1880, at Martins Bay, 30km north of Milford Sound, in Fiordland Alice McKenzie (Age 7) describes in her meticulous diary jottings of everyday life how she saw a large blue bird under flax where the bush line met the beach. Alice describes touching the bird’s curved rump feathers and stretching out one of its dark-green, scaly legs. It was only when Alice tried to tether the bird with flax that it let out a “harsh, grunting cry” and chased her for a short distance. McKenzie described the bird as being pukeko blue, with legs as thick as her wrist and no noticeable tail. When it stood up, it seemed as tall as she was. 

2) In 2008, Rex & Heather Gilroy, Cryptozoologists have claimed to have taken casts of Moa footprints from the Ureweras range (Remote North Island) and made other claims about their current-day existence. Gilroy claimed these proved the later-day presence of the smaller scrub Moa's, measuring between 90 centimetres and about 1.5 meters.

 Here are a few great guided hikes into where, some believe, the Giant Moa still roams.

1) Three Day Hike into the Remote Hollyford Valley

2) A Day Hike into the Wild Arthur's Pass National Park

3) Three Day Lake Waikaremoana Walk in Te Urewera National Park     

New Zealand
Fascinating Facts
Brent Narbey
Submitted by
Brent Narbey

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