The Kaikoura Mountains UFO Incident

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
May 16, 2018
Last Updated
November 9, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
6 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Sightings

During Christmas and New Year, 1978, over the Kaikoura mountain ranges, a series of UFO sightings captivated New Zealand and, ultimately, the wider UFO world. Not only did multiple people witness the sightings with their own eyes, but radar would confirm, in real-time, that “something solid” was indeed over the skies of New Zealand’s South Island.

A depiction of a fleet of UFOs over the Kaikoura Mountains

A depiction of a fleet of UFOs over the Kaikoura Mountains

Furthermore, over the ten days that the sightings played out, as well as confirmation from the ground were the sightings from experienced pilots who themselves were airborne and in the thick of the activity. Further still, on the last evening of the historic events in the early hours of New Year’s Eve 1978, a professional cameraman would manage to record several minutes of footage of the bizarre glowing objects.

Although the investigation by the Royal New Zealand Air Force would suggest the lights to be anything from “unburnt meteors”, lights reflecting from traffic, and even the planet, Venus, they still hold files relating to the incident in their national archives. Some of these files were released in 2010. [1] Others, however, are still subject to classification until near the end of the twenty-first century. Hardly the actions concerning accounts of natural phenomena. In fact, as we will see a little later on, the New Zealand government’s less than thorough approach and ultimate official verdict on the events was highly and publicly criticized by many in the UFO community at large, as well as other scientists around the globe. To say there were hints of a cover-up would perhaps be a very large understatement.

Before we delve into the details of what is one of New Zealand’s most intriguing UFO incidents, check out the short video below. It features some of the footage obtained by the aforementioned camera crew.

Moving More Than 10,000 Miles Per Hour?

As the crew of a Safe Air Ltd cargo plane navigated their Argosy aircraft over the Kaikoura mountain ranges below them on the evening of 21st and into the morning of 22nd December 1978, they were suddenly beset by “strange lights” navigating their way around them. [2] Shortly after midnight, Captain John Randle would report “a number of white lights” over the Clarence River to Wellington Control Tower. They would confirm the sighting on radar shortly after, stating there were five objects that were unknown matching Randle’s sighting.

At around 3:30 am a second cargo plane, flying along the same route as the first would also report strange lights to the control tower. Again, the radar at Wellington would confirm the sightings. This time, they would ask the pilots, Captain Vern Powell and his copilot, Ian Perry, to report further what they could see.

The control tower would inform them of an object on their port side. Each of the pilots turned their attention to the window and were shocked at what they saw. Powell would report with a touch of concern in his voice, “Something is coming towards us at tremendous speed!” According to the plane’s radar data, the unknown object had moved over fifteen miles in less than five seconds. Before what looked to be an inevitable collision, the craft “veered off” and was “moving so fast it was leaving a tail behind it on the radar!” Estimates would suggest the object was moving at an unbelievable pace in excess of 10,000 miles per hour.

As the cargo plane continued on its way to Christchurch, one of the objects followed it for twelve miles over the mountain range. It would then disappear without warning or incident.

Argosy Safe Cargo Plane

Argosy Plane

Reconstruction Turns To Visual Documentation

By the time the new year was only days away, and with the encounter having played repeatedly on national news for the previous week, Channel 0 made the decision to prepare a feature piece of Captain Powell’s experience.

As part of this, they would send a reporter, Quentin Fogarty, and a small crew on one of the routine flights made by the Safe Air Cargo Ltd. Their main aim was to provide some footage as the background for their reproduction of events. As it happened, the cameraman, David Crockett, would manage to capture footage of the lights themselves.

The plane, with Captain William Startup and Robert Guard piloting, would leave Blenheim at 9:30 pm on 30th December, on its way to Wellington. Here, it would pick up its cargo, and then continue on to Christchurch. During the stop, the television crew would interview Powell. They would also conduct interviews with many of the control tower staff and radar operators. It was shortly before midnight when the cargo plane left Wellington on its way to its final destination.

The Lights Return

It was ten minutes after midnight when both Startup and Guard saw several bright lights over the town of Kaikoura in front of them. As this was happening, Crockett, along with reporter, Fogarty, were filming in the plane’s cargo bay. As Crockett filmed, Fogarty issued the following statement to the camera, “We are now approaching the Clarence River where the highest concentration of UFOs was sighted!” He would continue, “We are on the exact same route taken by Captain Powell when he encountered those mysterious objects!”

As Fogarty continued, “…naturally, we will be looking out for anything unusual”, came the interrupting voice of Startup telling them to “Get up here quick!”

Outside the aircraft, several bright lights were again dancing around the night sky. Once more, the control tower in Wellington would confirm the sighting on radar. Whatever had happened in the days before Christmas, was happening again right now. The incident would last almost an hour until the plane approached and landed at Christchurch. The lights would move around the plane and dart off at unbelievable speed. At times, they would “disappear” right in front of their eyes.

As exciting, mind-blowing, and in terms of the footage taken, groundbreaking as the encounter was, it was still a terrifying experience. On more than one occasion a midair collision seemed inevitable. Above all, though, perhaps Fogarty summed up everyone’s deepest fears when he stated-to-camera, “Let’s hope they’re friendly!”

A depiction of a UFO off the New Zealand coast

A depiction of a UFO off the New Zealand coast

Saucer-Shaped, With A Luminous Base and A Transparent Dome!

As the plane finally landed in Christchurch, the objects vanished from sight. Captain Startup would invite Fogarty and the camera crew to film the return journey. It was an invitation they would eagerly accept.

At 2:15 am on 31st December, the cargo plane left Christchurch on its way back to Blenheim. Only minutes after taking to the skies, one of the mysterious lights returned. Wellington Control Tower also picked up the object’s presence. Crockett would film the object once again, stating later that it had a “luminous base and a transparent dome”. Fogarty would state-to-camera that the object was “saucer-shaped”.

As the plane continued its journey, the glowing craft would keep pace at a distance of around twenty miles. When Startup turned the plane slightly in its direction, the object altered its course also, maintaining the twenty-mile cushion. Shortly after, a second object appeared, further back from the closest unknown craft. They would follow them for the remainder of the return journey.

With less than two hours remaining in 1978, Crockett would board a plane destined for Melbourne, Australia. By the time he arrived, 1979 was in full swing, and the news of the sightings was making headlines worldwide.

The short video below looks at the sightings and the video captured by Crockett on the once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Is There A Connection To The Bass Strait?

Just what the “lights” over the Kaikoura mountains in the final days of 1978 were is still open to debate. The information, footage, and official explanation for them, were presented to Dr. Allen Hynek, a notable and respected UFO researcher. He was openly critical in his lambasting of “those in responsible scientific positions” informing the public that the footage obtained by Crockett showed nothing more than natural phenomena or Venus. He continued his criticism by stating they had taken this stance of misinformation despite “not bothering to speak with witnesses”. Nor investigate basic details such as the time of the sightings and the direction the footage was shot. In short, he accused them of grossly misleading the New Zealand public, and in turn, the entire world.

By contrast to the official, and widely dismissed stance of the New Zealand authorities, numerous scientists, and UFO investigators would assert the sightings were “genuine” and in need of further investigation. Aside from the quality of the footage, they would point to the number and credibility of the different witnesses.

What is perhaps interesting is that despite the distance of nearly 1,500 miles, the location of the Kaikoura mountains is almost directly in line with the Bass Strait off the coast of south-east Australia. The Bass Strait has a long history of UFO activity and strange lights in the sky. Might whatever, is behind the sightings over the Bass Strait, be the same as those over the Kaikoura mountain ranges?

Wherever there is a mix of mountains, water, and UFOs, the question arises of the possible presence of alien bases. Or even a portal, providing cosmic access from Earth to some unknown part of the universe.

Check out the video below.


1 NZ military releases UFO files,, December 22nd 2010
2 Crew remember the day UFO was spotted over Kaikōura 40 years on, New Zealand Herald, December 15th, 2018

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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