Moa: The Madness Surrounding New Zealand’s Modern, Flightless Fossil

As we make our way to New Zealand, we might just find the giant, feathered fossil that’s said to be back from the grave and stalking the mountains of the southern Island. 



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I’m Cody, and you’re touring Cryptids Across the Atlas.

They were experienced trekkers, outdoorsman of the finest sort. Paddy Freaney and two of his close friends were out exploring the Craigieburn Mountain Range near Arthur’s Pass. Paddy, a former member and instructor of the British Army’s elite Special Air Service or SAS for short, had moved up to Arthur’s Pass and opened a hotel and pub offering folks a warm escape from the cold mountains above. But on his days off that urge for adventure often overtook him and on this day in 1993, Paddy’s love of adventure would take a wild and life changing turn. 

As they rounded the corner, they noticed a form in the distance. There, standing on two legs was this creature. It looked kind of like an Emu but there aren’t wild emu or even ostrich in New Zealand. Besides, if their eyes were not deceiving them this thing was significantly larger than any bird they had ever seen. That’s when it hit him. Paddy knew without a shadow of a doubt what this was. It didn’t matter that it was impossible; there was simply no other explanation. 

The three of them began to slowly approach this living relic but as leaves crunched softly underfoot, the giant snapped its head around, took sight of them, and began darting off across the nearby stream and up into the mountains. Paddy, a man trained for the hunt, instinctually threw down his bag and began the chase. Thrashing through the water and hopping over boulders, Paddy gained a bit of ground before jerking his camera to his eye and snapping a photo. Then the larger than life creature continued to bob and weave out of site.

Paddy made his way back across the stream snapping a couple photos of the colossal, 3 toed tracks the feathered fossil had left behind, met back up with his two friends, and began the trek back down to the pub excitedly discussing how they had all just witnessed something impossible. You see, the New Zealand Moa, the giant, ostrich-like family of birds that could grow upwards of 12 feet tall had supposedly gone extinct over 500 years earlier. 

The Moa were a species of flightless birds that used to inhabit New Zealand up until around the late 14 to early 1500’s. These 9 different species ranging in size from a small turkey up to the hight of a small giraffe, with their down-like plumage and long necks, used to run wild and free across the Southern Island. But when the Māori people, an indigenous Polynesian ethnic group, arrived on New Zealand’s shores by canoe around 1350, they quickly began to hunt the wild Moa for their meat and feathers. Within a couple hundred years these birds had been hunted to extinction. But just because they are claimed to be extinct, doesn’t mean they actually are…

This is the first time on this show where we have explored the other side of cryptozoology. Normally we discuss creatures that are hypothesized to exist but not proven. But in the case of many cryptids, including the Moa, this is classified as a cryptid because it was 100% proven real but isn’t supposed to exist anymore. But despite the long declared extinction, pockets of sightings have happened off and on for years, even into our modern era. 

Take the sighting of a large, 20 foot tall bird sighted in the Otago region of the southern South Island in 1820 by George Pauley. The sight of this colossal bird, while probably grossly overestimated in stature, terrorized George so much he openly stated how he ran away in terror. 

Or what about the sighting by professional bird painter, John Gould who reported what looked like “Giant Kiwi Birds” on the south island. These birds stood roughly a meter or so tall (or about 3 ½ feet) and had large, spur like claws on their three toed tracks. This account lines up perfectly with the later findings of fossilized Moa tracks in that very same area. 

Or perhaps we could discuss the seal hunter who found Moa bones in Molyneux Harbour in April of 1850 that still had flesh attached. Or the 14 inch tracks freshly made in the mud found by members of a surveying party between Takaka and Riwaka in the northern range of the South Island.

There is even a sighting we have in full written detail by a group of miners in 1867. It reads, “On Saturday, July 27, about four o’clock in the afternoon, whilst enjoying a pipe by the side of a small fire in our hut, with the door open, my attention was suddenly directed to a large animal on the opposite range, I was not long in doubt as to what the stranger was. My mates cried out, ‘It’s the moa’ and the moa sure it was. The bird must have been more than a mile in a straight line from us; but as the horizon was clear every movement could be detected. The bird was evidently going at a great pace, and I can only compare it to the movements of the emu or ostrich. We had a full view of the bird for more than two minutes, when he suddenly disappeared on the other side of the range.”

And since we have some time still, let’s review a handful of sightings from the 20th century and into our modern time: 

Jules berg and Arawata Bill were on their way to Milford from Preservation Inlet in 1928. That night, they stopped at lake widgeon and set up camp. As they lay there sleeping, Jules awoke to what sounded like a deer drinking water from the nearby stream. He grabbed his rifle and torch to seize the opportunity for fresh meat. But when he rounded the bend he didn’t see a deer but rather 3 large birds standing in the water, each around a meter or so tall. He paused startled as the birds quickly darted off into the black stained night. 

Later, in 1963, a scientist was out researching the fauna in the North-West Nelson State Forest Park when he spotted an and I quote, “Large, Moa-like bird”, in the nearby brush. 

In May of 1991, hiker Jim Straton was trekking along the Waimakariri River when a large, 11 foot tall, dark colored bird crossed the trail directly in front of him. 

Even as recently as 2007, a hiker supposedly witnessed this large bird near Fiordland. He claims he supposedly was able to capture photographic proof of the monstrous fowl along with photos of its footprints. But sadly, those photos were sold in private auction and the purchaser is unwilling to release them as proof. Convenient. 

Sightings like these go on and on and on and yet, other than those photos from Paddy in 1993 and a couple of castings, we don’t really have any tangible proof that these birds still exist, hence the reason the Moa is still classified as extinct and supposed sightings are tossed in the cryptozoological bin. Oh, and I guess that’s also why we are here together talking about it right now. 

There’s just a lack of hard evidence pointing that a larger than life kiwi bird is still out there roaming the countryside. One group of scientists even went as far as to set up camp, blaring recreated Moa calls into the night but they never heard a cry back. They chalked up sightings to an Emu that possibly escaped from a local farm or even a misidentified takahē which ironically enough, is another flightless bird long classified as extinct but was proven to still actually exist in 1948. 

So maybe there really are Moa still roaming the vast Southern Alps of New Zealand. Paddy sure believed so. He was so certain that what he saw was real that he sent the negatives off to the University of Canterbury’s electrical and electronic engineering department where they spent 3 consecutive days analyzing the blurry photo. And to Paddy’s credit, the photos were deemed legit! They were proven to have had no modifications and did indeed depict what was believed to be by the best of their judgment, a large brownish-grey bird. Which matched the verbal account Paddy gave flawlessly. 

But that’s no surprise because if the next part of this story is true, then of course his account would match. How could it not when he had such an up close and personal, hands on look at it? 

As Paddy grew in local fame and Moa Madness set in, many started to hear murmurings that this whole thing might have just been a well placed ploy to market his hotel and pub. How so? Because just a day before Paddy approached the Christchurch newspaper office to report the photo he took, he was spotted perusing about the town in his pickup truck wearing a white lab coat. Witnesses state that when he believed the coast was clear, he pulled around to the back of the local museum, hopped out of his truck, and walked right in the back door with two assistants. 

Another witnessed mentioned how when they were in the museum that day, they noticed a group of scientists taking down a display in the Extinct Native Birds section to perform “restoration work”. They mentioned how the group of supposed scientists hauled the large, 12 foot tall statue out the back door where they could just barely make out the form of a small pickup truck where the men then loaded the Moa statue, tossed a sheet overtop, and drove away. Maybe that’s why in the photo a boulder conveniently covers the legs of the colossal bird. To perfectly obscure its base and placard. 

Despite these rumors, Paddy furiously denied that this was a hoax all the way until his passing in 2012. He spent the rest of his life mounting expeditions to find more evidence that Moa’s were still among us but his efforts never yielded any more return. At one point, he even convinced the Department of Conservation to launch a full scale investigation into the continual existence of Moa in New Zealand but after the rumors wormed their way in, they backed out at the last minute. 

Paddy was publicly very frustrated with the rumors, never faltering from his story. And despite his joking personality, this was always one thing he took very serious. So what do you think? Do you believe Moa still roam the less traveled corners of New Zealand or are these creatures destined to the history books once and for all? Did Paddy really capture a living relic or do you side with the skeptics?

No matter which way you fall, Paddy had at least a couple of believers on his side we know for sure. Because just a couple of weeks after Paddy’s incident the local park authorities were out checking trail log books when they found a few signatures by a group of German tourists who had signed into and out of the trail just a day after Paddy’s alleged sighting. But they had left a bit more than just their names and timestamps in the log book. Because there in the black ink read a quick scribble of their encounter with a strange, large bird that resembled an ostrich but was much larger, out roaming that very same trail in the Craigieburn Mountains.

If you love cryptids and want to learn even more about the creatures we just talked about, find us on Tiktok or Instagram. By the way, the episode you just witnessed is both a podcast and YouTube video, so whichever format you prefer, we have you covered. Also, check out our interactive cryptid map to browse the globe and learn about cryptids from your favorite areas. Every episode we make adds another pin to our map! You can find our social channels, the map, and more at And when you find us, be sure to tap that follow button and get in on the action by dropping a comment on our recent videos. 

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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road. 

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