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

Our third humorous blog from the archives is a hilarious story, one that's become the stuff of New Zealand legend, based on a true event. It starts with the 1993 sighting in the South Island, of a huge Moa bird, thought extinct for over 500 years. In this blog we've had to rely on some second-hand accounts of what took place, but don't let this detract from your enjoyment of this great tale.

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The Bealey Hotel, where our story begins.

In 1993, Paddy Freaney was about to take over the management of a pub called the Bealey Hotel in the remote Arthurs Pass region of the Southern Alps of the South Island. 

Just days before taking up his new appointment, Paddy had visited a newspaper office in the city of Christchurch with an astonishing claim that he and two of his friends had spotted a massive Moa bird in Arthurs Pass. 

This huge flightless bird that grew up to 12-feet in height was thought to have been extinct since around the year 1493 AD. More than 500 years ago!

Paddy even had photos to support his claim, and although blurry, experts who examined them closely announced that they looked authentic, with the proportions of the bird in the photo looking absolutely right. 

Other experts verified that the photos had not been doctored in any way - they were genuine.

This sensational discovery spread like wildfire around New Zealand and the world, with international newspapers picking up the story and international reporters even turning up at the Bealey Hotel, hoping for a sighting.

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A newspaper clipping from 1993 discusses the senstaional discovery.

But despite further attempts by friends and adventurers to find the elusive bird, no further sighting of the Moa were ever made. 

Rumors then started to circulate. 

One of these rumours suggested that the Moa story was a "marketing initiative", Paddy's attempt to boost the patronage at his new pub, but he stuck to his guns. After all, he had his photos! 

Then another rumour started to spread.  

It was claimed that a day before his visit to the Christchurch newspaper office, Paddy had been seen with his and his pick-up truck 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" also in white coats and removed a huge full-scale replica of a Moa that stood in the "Extinct Native Birds" section. He told the staff that the bird was being taken away for some restoration work. 

Later, Paddy and his two "assistants" were seen speeding up to Arthur's Pass, a trip of 83 miles, with the 12 ft high Moa standing resplendent, feathers flowing, on the back of Paddy's pick-up truck. 

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

By now, readers of this blog will have "connected the dots" in our story! The rest is history.

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Paddy passed away in 2012, celebrated for his love of life, the twinkle in his eye and his sense of fun.

And as you will see from this report by local Newshub reporter Jeff Hampton, he had lived a life that was quite remarkable.

By Jeff Hampton, Newshub

Friends and family have farewelled the publican and mountaineer Paddy Freaney who sparked an international media sensation when in 1993 he reported a Moa sighting near Arthurs Pass. 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 the Bealey Hotel, 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 10,000 feet in height. Many mourners were outdoors enthusiasts he had climbed with over the years.

But Paddy 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".

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This is the monument, erected near the Bealey Hotel to commemorate Paddy's Moa "sighting".

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Arthurs Pass, one of the passes that connect the west and east coasts of the South Island.

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The nearby Bealey Spur, one of the best one-day hikes in the region.

There's a beautiful postscript to this story called "Taking Paddy back to Everest" based on a promise that his wife Rochelle had made to Paddy before he passed. 

With a group of supporters she climbed to the summit of Mt Everest from where she released Paddy's ashes and it ends with this note - 

"I believe you have heard the news already - Paddy and I made the summit of Mt Everest at sunrise on the morning of 23rd May, 2013, exactly 14 months after his passing!"

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Mar 01, 2020