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

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

Photo: The preserved foot of a Moa (Megalapteryx didinus) found near Queenstown in 1878 - The foot is currently held by the Natural History Museum, London.

A New Zealand Monster!

Scotland has Nessie, America - Sasquatch and the British have their Big Cats. Not to be outdone, little old New Zealand has a Bigfoot 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....


The Giant Moa

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. 

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 human's settlers are believed to have arrived from Polynesia around 1280 AD - no Moa bones are found in caves that were occupied after 1400 AD.

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 became a New Zealand's national symbol -  and New Zealand was called ‘the Land of the Moa’.  

The two largest species: Dinornis robustus and Dinornis novaezelandiae, reached about 3.6 m (12 ft) in height with neck outstretched, and weighed about 230 kg (510 lb). It is estimated that, when Polynesians settled New Zealand circa 1280, the moa population was about 58,000.

Moa Sightings

Despite scientific wisdom denying any evidence that Moa lived past the 1500s, there have been persistent sightings and books written about such claims, well after the Europeans settled here in the 1800s. But in our opinion only 3 are credible... 

1) Paddy Freaney - January 1993, Arthurs Pass

Hotel owner and well-known mountaineer Paddy Freaney 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.

Paddy's Photograph

2) Alice McKenzie 1880, Martins Bay

In 1876, 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. 

 The encounter with a large bird she believed for many years must have been a takahe. But when that bird was dramatically rediscovered in the 1940s, and Alice saw what it looked like, she realised she'd seen something else.

In 1959, she was interviewed by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service:

"It was lying on the sand, sunning itself.

"I got nearer and nearer until I sat down on the sand behind it. I remember stroking its back. It had no tail.

"It just lay there, it was quite quiet. So I put my hand underneath it and drew out one of its legs. It took no notice of me. I started to tie the flax around it, I thought I'd tie it up.

"Then it got up and made a harsh, grunting cry and bit at me. And I ran as hard as I could over the sandhills towards the sea. I thought if I went down to the sea it mightn't follow me into the water. I never looked behind, it never came very far with me.

"When I got home and told my father he came to have a look. But the bird was gone when he came. He saw its tracks where it had followed me from the top of the sandhills but it didn't go over them.

"He had a foot-rule in his pocket and he measured [the tracks]. From the heel to the middle toe was 11 inches."

3) Rex & Heather Gilroy Urewera Ranges 2008

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.

For Further Reading & Information


Brent Narbey
Brent Narbey
: 1 Feb 2011 (Last updated: 10 Jan 2019)

Subscribe to our blog

Sign up to our blog newsletter to get the latest updates.

*We will not spam your email, this newletter is sent once a month or so.

Blog archives

Pricing terms

The price is based on current exchange rates but is only an approximation. Please contact us for a final price