Alice McKenzie and the Moa
Alice McKenzie was born in 1873, and moved to Martins Bay in the late 1870's. It was there in 1880 at the age of 7 that she saw an odd bird.
Described as bluish in color, her height and with greenish legs the size of her wrists. The bird made a grunting cry as it moved through the scrub. Glanced again in 1889, Alice thought for years she had seen a takahe. Now the takahe was not rediscovered until the late 1940's.
In the New Zealand Journal of Ecology (volume 12, supplement 1989), Atholl Anderson wrote an entry entitled "On Evidence for the Survival of Moa in European Fiordland". In this entry, he outlines a letter written by Alice McKenzie to North Otago historian GB Stevenson in May 1948:
" I was very much interested in your description of the Moa's, and wish to tell you of a very large bird which lived at Martin's Bay. I saw it twice, but many others saw its footprints in the sand, it must have gone about the beaches at night, as its fresh tracks were plainest in the early mornings, generally in July, we thought it probably lived in a large swamp between the sea and Lake McKerrow and when it was frozen it came to the sea beach.
First time I saw it was in 1880, I was 7 years of age. I was along the beach inside the sand hills, there are high sand hilles covered with tussock, inside of them the bush starts, flax grows around the edge of the bush in the sand. I saw this large bird lying beside the flax. I got nearer and nearer, it took no notice of me. I got behind it, and sat down on the sand, it seemed quite round behind, as it had no tail and was the colour of swamphen blue - I put a hand under it and drew out one of its legs, it was as thick as my wrist, and covered with dark-green scales, I thought I'd tie it up, so split a blade of flax and started to tie it around the birds legs, then it got up and making a harsh cry went for me. I went over those sand hills like a red shank, the bird after me for a short distance. I can't remember if it had wings, but I don't think so, when it went for me the feathers round its neck stood out like a ruff. I think if it had wings I would have noticed. I ran home and told of the huge bird which chased me. Mother thought I was exaggerating, but I persuaded Father to come and see where it had been, he saw its tracks where it went after me, he had a foot rule in his pocket and measured the feet 11 inches from heel to middle toe, its feet were three toes like a hen, he recorded it in his diary, but some allowance could be made for the feet sinking in the dry sand, and may have seemed larger than they were.
For years then we saw its tracks in the winter, 10 years after I was driving some cattle from the Kaipo River to Martins Bay, coming round a rocky point I saw the cattle standing on the sand beach looking startled toward the bush. I looked and saw a blue object disappearing into the scrub, it looked like a mans navy blue coat, and I felt very frightened as there were prisoners working at Milford Sound at the time, and was afraid it was one of them, however I had to pass the place to get home, then I saw the large birds tracks taking long strides towards the place I saw it entering the bush. I did not try to look for it, my early experience was too fresh in my memory..."
Alice's memories, through a series of journals written over the years, was first published in 1947. Reprinted as a 2nd edition in 1952, her story then came to light (after first appearing in the Otago Daily Times of July 1947). Now, in 2007, Alice's grand-daughter Alice Margaret Leaker has compiled a new edition of Pioneers of Martins Bay that is being published by Arrowtown's Lakes District Museum.
Now the moa is officially extinct, being gone since the 12th century, with some lingering possibly into the 1500's. There have been reports of moa like birds throughout the years, including a number in the 19th century. The most "popularized" account coming in 1993 when Paddy Freaney and two others reported seeing a 2-meter bird and snapping its picture (the picture is not distinct however, and the account is still debatable).
So did Alice McKenzie really see a Moa? Or something else?
Paddy Freaney's picture from 1993