Leslie Adkin’s Excursion to Kāpiti Island

Leslie Adkin’s Excursion to Kāpiti Island

Leslie Adkin (1888–1964) was a farmer by profession, based in Levin. He pursued geology and archaeology and enjoyed exploring and tramping while photographing and diarising these adventures meticulously. A more detailed biography of Adkin can be found on Te Ara. Art intern Annie Barnard is an Art History student at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. Her internship was completed as part of her Honours year. Here she talks about her mahi working with some of his albums and diaries.

Te Papa holds an extensive collection of Adkins’ diaries and photo albums. One photo album in particular, ‘Kapiti Island’ is full of beautiful images of Adkin’s week-long trip to Kāpiti Island in 1921. After spending some time cataloguing the pictures, I investigated the corresponding diary. Out of curiosity, I began mapping the journey from Adkin’s rich descriptions and images. Here’s what I found.

A section of a map showing parts of a coastline and a small island with places marked out and names of beaches, huts, and other mapped points.
You can interact with this map on Google Earth. Tap on the “Slideshow” button (top right) and then tab through the table of contents (bottom left).

Day One – Wed 24th Feb

A black and white photo of three men sitting in a hut around a crate with drinks in front of them in enamel cups.
Leslie Adkin, We dine in the fishermen’s hut at Waikanae Beach, 23 February 1921, North Island. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.005832)

“Splendid rain during night, weather clearing in morning. Up early to prepare for excursion to Kapiti.”

Adkin’s trip begins by catching the 8.40am train to Paraparaumu, meeting his pals Elsdon Clark, E. S. Lancaster and Mr Toohill on the way—the novelty of a trainline from Levin to Paraparaumu is not lost on me!

In Paraparaumu, they are picked up by Bill Watson’s sprung cart. Deciding the sea was too rough to go over, they unload at the “Watson Bros cottages” and “dined sumptuously in shed” (see image).

Eventually, they head over the sea to the island. In Bill and Jim’s launch “Ripple”, they have a “lovely run over to the island, the sea calm, sky clear + moon full. Left mainland 8:45 pm + reached island at 9:18.”

Greeted by Mr Bennett—caretaker of the Island—they are led to the old caretaker’s house, located in the area called Rangatira Pt. Adkin is delighted by the open fireplace and the “plentiful” supply of driftwood to stoke it.

After fishing—catching “moki, teraki [sic], herring + barracuta [sic]” they had a “hearty supper at 1.am” and went to sleep under a “brilliant moonlit night, westerly wind + white clouds”.

Day Two – Thurs 25th Feb

a black and white photo of a man in a suit standing on a rocky outcrop above a coastal inlet.
Leslie Adkin, Looking down the 1700ft cliff to sea-level from Kapiti trig, 24 February 1921, Kāpiti Island. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.005929)
A satellite view of part of an island with an orange route mapped out on it.
The likely route the travellers took to and from the Kāpiti trig. Map created with Google Maps

Breakfasting on last night’s moki, the group leave for Kāpiti trig at 9am. It’s worth noting that Adkin was also carrying his heavy glass plates for his photographs on this trek!

Energised by the beginning of the adventure, the group climb the 521m (1709ft) to the trig before lunchtime. Adkin furiously photographs this adventure, and made sure to record plenty of geological and natural observations—including noting down every tree species he spots.

They lunched at the trig and “rolled boulders down cliff but the distance was so great that we could neither hear nor see them reach the beach”.

Reaching the bottom of the valley at 2:45pm Adkin notes that they “had a big drink”. At the northmost point of the journey, near Webber’s Homestead, they spot the shipwreck Lily…

Heading back down, they name the walk ‘Goat-walk Precipice’. The 45m cliff-side trek home becomes treacherous—“a false slip would precipitate the traveller on to the rock-slabs at the water’s edge”. Adkin makes an effort to describe their careful stepping, but notes that “Mr Toohill felt giddy + found it very trying”.

To everyone’s relief, they return to Mr Bennett’s camp at 4:45pm and go for a swim. The troop have a “big tea” and manage to catch a “barracouta 3ft 1inch in length”!

Adkin notes it was a “lovely fine night with rising moon. Wekas calling in bush + prowling around our diggings”.

Day Three – Fri 25th Feb

A satellite section of land with several different coloured lines and routes marked out on it.
Route to Tomato Beach. Map created with Google Maps

Mr Bennett visits the group for breakfast (the legendary barracouta) and “had a yarn”. Having lived on the island for 10 years, Mr Bennett has “shot 7000 of the goats” and told the group a dramatic story of a fisherman netting an electric skate, receiving a severe shock!

Today, the group venture southward at 9:35am (“on acc of the wind”). The path today is narrow, tussocky, and shrubby. On this journey, Adkin records pages of geological observations.

Eventually, they find a shingle beach and discover a tomato plant growing here. For this reason, they decide to call the beach “Tomato Beach”.

A black and white photo of three men lowering themselves down a ridge with a rope.
Leslie Adkin, Party crossing a razor-backed rock ridge by means of a rope – locality immediately north of fall at Te Minu o Rakopa stream, 25 February 1921, Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (B.022201)

Just when things couldn’t get more exciting, they find a waterfall, climb a rockface with a rope (!) and eat their lunch.

“We climbed further up the rocky spur + crossing the Te Mimi o Rakopa Stm. above the fall, we sidled round very steep bluffs to a lovely little dry gully with a whare + camping place in it.”

Arriving back at Rangatira Flat at 3:35pm, the group do some fishing. Mr Bennett pays the group another visit, bringing a “large scale map of Kapiti” and Leonard Cockayne’s “Botanical Report on Kapiti”.

Adkin notes that he “spent the evening enjoying these while the others played bridge”.

Day Four – Sat 26th Feb

A satellite view of part of an island with different routes mapped onto it. Map created with Google Maps
Boat trip to Hiko’s and Rauparaha’s Island. Map created with Google Maps
Black and white photo of two men sitting outside a hut with two very large fish hanging off a pole between them.
Leslie Adkin, The rival fishermen, 26 February 1921. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (B.022203)

Saturday, says Adkin, was a “lovely calm clear sunny day”.

The photo above depicts Elsdon Cark and Adkin himself with their morning snapper catches – it’s unclear if this was supposed to be a cheerful or a serious photo!

Mr Bennett came by again and offered to take the group to Wharekohu Bay in his boat. “Left boatshed at 9am + skirted coast of which we got a lovely panoramic view as we passed”.

After a considerable amount of geological measurements and comments, they land on “Hiko’s Island” – now known as Motungārara Island or Fishermans Island – and meet two Danish fishermen, “Messrs Neilson + Jenson” who offer them a cup of tea.

Crossing over to “Rauparaha’s Island” – now known as Tahoramaurea Island or Browns Island – they come across two more fishermen, “Messrs Andrews + Hurren”!

After explorations, they leave for home, “sea calm + weather bright”. On their arrival home they meet Mrs Bennett who Adkin describes as “a great invalid”.

Five acquaintances are more than one might expect to find during a day at Kāpiti Island!

A “sumptuous tea” of a leg of wild lamb and milk and a game of bridge closes the day off.

Day Five – Sun 27th Feb

A satellite view of part of an island with different routes mapped onto it.
The travellers investigate shipwreck Lily. Map created with Google Maps

A photo album page with three sepia-toned photos on it. Each of the photos has a handwritten label under it.
Page from album [Kapiti Island], 1920s, New Zealand, by Leslie Adkin. Gift of Adkin Family, 1997. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (AL.000134)
Thankfully, before the troop can attempt ‘Goat-walk Precipice’ again, Mr Bennett shows them a better track northward.

I’m unsure if Day Five of a trip is a universally delirious day, but a general sense of madness seems to settle on the group today. The captions of the above images are; “Father and “Son”, “Uncle” makes a prehistoric ? discovery and Crest of the great raised shingle beach with party in argument as to its origins. The photos are delightfully silly, and Adkin took a record-breaking number of images on Sunday.

They eventually find the shipwreck “‘Lily’, cast ashore in November last” and seem to have a wonderful time exploring it.

Arriving home at 1:40pm, the troop—once again!—did some fishing and “took it easy” until another night of bridge with Mr Bennett.

Day Six – Mon 28th Feb

Monday has a more restful pace.

First thing in the morning, Adkin, Lancaster and Toohill go for a wander around the back of the property, taking photos of karaka berries and trees. Inspecting the album, I noticed that Adkin chose to manually colour only one image – Karaka berries.

A sepia-toned photo that has been cropped from a photo album page of a bush with berries on it. Underneath there is a hand-written label with "Karaka berries" written on it.
Leslie Adkin, Karaka berries, 28 February 1921, North Island. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.005833)

Amazingly, the yellow additions are extremely accurately placed – the perfect white outline around the image and the little caption speak to Adkin’s extreme care for his photos.

After snoozing “most of the pm”, they assisted in salvage operations and helped to bring a boat ashore – a man was visiting to overhaul Mr Bennett’s launch engines.

Note the bottle of whisky front and centre in the image of the group’s Preparations for a return to civilisation!

A black and white photo of four men outside a hut. Two of the men are standing and wearing white aprons, while another is sitting in a tall chair, and the fourth is standing on a stool with a blade in his hand and shaving the sitting man.
Leslie Adkin, Preparations for a return to civilization, 28 February 1921, Kāpiti Island. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (B.022218)

Day Seven – Tues 1st March

A satellite view of part of an island with different routes mapped onto it.
Map created with Google Maps

Adkin’s journalism is minimal on Tuesday, “our last day + took it easy”. But he does appear to race around taking more photos of the place.

A particularly characterful portrait of Mr Bennett (featuring a beer bottle) commemorates the trip.

A black and white photo of a man in a cap and jacket standing outside a wooden hut with his hands on his hips. There is another man leaning in a doorway off to the left of the photo.
Leslie Adkin. Monarch of all he surveys – Mr JL Bennett, the caretaker of Kapiti Island, 01 March 1921, North Island. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.005910)

Seen off by Mr and Mrs Bennett, they depart in a Watson Bros launch at 2pm, “sea rather choppy on way over + rather exhilarating”.

On Adkin’s way home he visits a vinery and purchases some grapes. He catches the 6:10 p.m. train and is greeted by a drizzly Levin.

Day Eight – Weds 2nd March

Upon Adkin’s return to Chelsyn Rise, his diary entries come back down to earth – moving steers is the most important thing he recorded for Wednesday.

Adkin’s final note, “Successfully developed batch of Kapiti photos in evening.”

In his predictably deadpan manner, Adkin develops photos that will unpredictably be explored 100 years by an intern at a museum!

It was a pleasure joining this adventure, I hope you enjoyed reading along.

A black and white photo of three men sitting on branches of trees in a forest.
Leslie Adkin, In the bush on the spur below Kapiti trig, 24 February 1921, North Island. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.005790)


  1. Kia ora Annie

    I read your blog with great interest – as I know the sites mentioned and shown very well.

    There is still a rope just north of Te Mimi waterfall (I last used it in July, but other members of the Birds New Zealand monitoring team used it on our last visit to monitor birds on Kāpiti just 3 weeks ago). The rope is in the same location (I hope it is not the same one!) but the site looks quite different now as it is enclosed by forest.

    The building that they stayed in is still there – it is known as ‘The Whare’ and is managed as an historic building, with a verandah and French doors added to match the earliest photographs from 1890s.

    The Lands & Survey Ranger James Bennett died on the island during his tenure in 1923 is buried on private land at Waiorua Bay at the north end of the island, as the Department would not allow him to be buried within the reserve that he managed.

    Ngā mihi nui
    Curator Vertebrates, Te Papa

  2. A lovely piece of work connecting the photos to the place, situation, context. And the photos, what a lovely slice of the time.

  3. I really enjoyed reading about Kapati Island. Here at home in East Yorkshire England I am sat looking at a painting of the island which I purchased some years ago in Petone. We will be back to explore more.

  4. Very much enjoyed this, Annie. Now I want to go to Kapiti Island which would be a real adventure for this South Islander. Black and white photographs have a quite different “feel” from coloured ones. The “silly”photos remind me of similar ones from my parents’ collection taken on expeditions with the Christchurch Tramping Club in the 1930’s. Look at Mr Adkin’s writing under the karaka berries image.

  5. Deeply appreciated the story and the photographs of Kapiti. The group seemed a very congenial team who were happy to explore. Are there any comments on the geology of the island in the diary?

    1. Yes, there are. You can read the diary here: https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/253928

      You will need to scroll through to get to February 2021. There are comments on geology from 24 to 27 Feb, though not highly detailed ones. This was more of a holiday than a geological investigation, though Adkin was always looking at the geology of the country surrounding him.

  6. Thanks, Annie, I loved this account, having once trekked to the top through thick bush before overnighting and doing the lower northern climb, my whole family hosted by the hospitable Barretts.

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