Moa Bird Thought Extinct for 500 Years, Discovered in New Zealand

This is a hilarious New Zealand adventure story, one that has become the stuff of legend, based on a true event. It's about the 1993 sighting of a Moa bird, long thought extinct, in the Southern Alps of the South Island. We have reported the facts as we know them, although not all of the claims made in our story can be verified. But don't let this detract from your enjoyment of this great tale.

It begins in 1993, when a young fellow called Paddy Freaney was about to take over the management of the local pub, an Inn called the Bealey Hotel in the remote Arthurs Pass region of the Southern Alps in the South Island. 

Before taking up his new appointment Paddy made a visit to the local newspaper office in Christchurch with an astonishing claim that he and his friends had recently spotted a Moa at a location near the Bealey Hotel in Arthurs Pass. 

It was an astonishing claim because this huge flightless bird had been thought extinct since the year 1493. That's right, 500 years!

Paddy even had photos, and although blurry, some experts decreed that they looked authentic with the proportions of the bird in the photo looking absolutely right. Other experts also joined in to verify that the photos were not forgeries. 

This exciting news spread like wildfire around New Zealand and the world; in today’s parlance they would say it went ‘viral’ with international newspapers picking up the story and reporters even turning up at the Bealey Hotel, hoping for a sighting.

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After sharing his story, Paddy returned to Arthurs Pass to settle into his new job and despite later attempts by friends and adventurers, to find the elusive bird, no further sighting of the Moa were ever made. 

Rumors then started to circulate that the Moa story was one of Paddy's "marketing initiatives", an attempt to boost the patronage at his new pub. But he stuck to his guns. And there were the authentic looking photographs to support his story, although that also has an explanation.

It seems that a day before his visit to the newspaper office, Paddy and his pick up truck had been seen at the back entrance of the Canterbury Museum, located in the heart of Christchurch. 

Dressed appropriately in a white coat, Paddy had confidently marched into the museum with two of his "assistants" and removed a huge full scale replica of a Moa that stood in the "Extinct Native Birds" section. He told the museum staff that the bird was being taken away for some restoration work and nobody stopped to question his claim.

Later the same day, Paddy and his "assistants" were observed speeding up to Arthur's Pass, a trip of 83 miles, with a 12 ft high Moa standing resplendent on the back of his pick up truck. It would have been quite easy to then prop the replica bird among the trees to take the 'authentic' photos that fooled so many of the experts.

Next day the Moa was quietly returned to its rightful place in the museum.

But as we pointed out in our introduction, this part of our story is the stuff of legend and never verified.

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Paddy passed away in 2012, a real New Zealand hero and as you will see from some excerpts taken from a story by Newshub reporter Jeff Hampton, having lived a life that was quite remarkable.

By Jeff Hampton, Newshub

Friends and family have farewelled the publican and mountaineer who sparked an international media sensation when he reported a Moa sighting near Arthurs Pass. Paddy Freaney died of cancer, and several hundred mourners made their way to his mountain home for a service with, not surprisingly, some unusual twists.

There was nothing ordinary about Paddy Freaney's life and his funeral was no different, a horse-drawn cart carrying the casket from his home across the road to his old pub, with the mountains he loved as a backdrop.

The Irish-born Mr Freaney, a former SAS (Special Air Services) soldier, had climbed most of the peaks in the area, and one summer he and a companion climbed all 31 New Zealand  peaks over 3000 metres high. Many mourners were outdoors enthusiasts he had encouraged or climbed with.

To the public, he was known for a spectacular claim of a Moa sighting near Arthurs Pass in 1993 - at the time he ran the Bealey Hotel, located nearby. The news that the extinct bird might still exist went round the world and Mr Freaney stood his ground  in spite of skepticism from some scientists.

But the determined Mr Freaney was far more than just a Moa man. After marrying fellow adventurer Rochelle Rafferty the pair embarked on some of the most challenging climbing expeditions here and around the world.

“He lived his life to the full,” says his wife Rochelle Rafferty. “He didn’t count the years in his life but his life in his years, [he was] a truly inspirational character,” she says.

In true Irish style Mr Freaney was taken back to the pub he had resurrected where mourners celebrated his life in exactly the way he wanted.

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This is the monument that was later erected near the Bealey Hotel to commemorate the sighting by Paddy and his friends of the mysterious Moa.

This story is the reason we suggest to our customers passing through Arthurs Pass "Please call at the Bealey Hotel and have a beer in memory of the much loved Paddy"

 There's a beautiful post-script to this story called "Taking Paddy back to Everest"

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Dec 21, 2017