The world famous ‘Kaikoura Lights’ UFO sightings of December 1978: In late December 1978, a spectacular series of sightings occurred over South Island skies. These sightings initially began on December 21 when the crew of a Safe Air Ltd cargo plane observed strange lighted objects around their Argosy aircraft. The lights, ranging in size to that of a house, tracked them for several minutes before disappearing, and reappearing elsewhere. They appeared on Wellington ATC radar, on the aircraft radar, and were sighted by hundreds of people.
Among the hundreds of UFO sightings in New Zealand, only one was ever fully investigated.
Public and media interest in the Kaikoura UFO sightings in 1978, coupled with strong personal interest from prime minister Robert Muldoon, led to the air force preparing a detailed report.
This is the first time it has been made public.
"The Kaikoura case was a special one in which the government asked the RNZAF to investigate," states an official Defence Force letter in the files.
Numerous other UFO sightings in New Zealand have been reported by the public to the police, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Defence Ministry.
Some reports were cross-checked "primarily to determine whether there may be a physical reason for the phenomenon, like a large aircraft or a meteorological balloon catching the sunlight at high altitude", the letter states. Otherwise, they were dismissed.
The early files are almost entirely made up of newspaper reports and articles by New Zealand's first UFO group, the Civilian Saucer Investigations (New Zealand), led by Harold Fulton and formed in 1952.
Mr Fulton produced a regular newsletter documenting sightings in New Zealand and overseas, all of which were in the files. The group was later followed by the Adamski Correspondence Groups, based in Auckland and Timaru.
American flying saucer expert George Adamski claimed that flying saucers were made of aluminium and other minerals, some of which had been found to come to Earth in a "jelly-like form, already disintegrating and by the time you pick up the jelly there is nothing but a bad odour left".
At 5.35am on July 13, 1959, Blenheim farmer Eileen Moreland was getting the cows in when she noticed a green light above her in the clouds. Soon an oval-shaped UFO with two green beams of light and "fiery orange jets" settled above her, enveloping her in a "peculiar green glow".
Fleeing for the shelter of nearby pine trees, she claims to have seen two men inside the craft, dressed in "silvery, shiny suits from the waist upwards" and with headgear "like divers' helmets which glittered very brightly".
The object appeared to hover for a few seconds, then, with a high-pitched whistle, took off, leaving behind "a waft of hot, peppery air". In what appears to be an official summary of facts, the author said Mrs Moreland seemed to "quite honestly believe" she had seen the craft, which flew off "at a speed that would make a vampire look like it was standing still".
Of the alien spacecraft, she said: "It was certainly a nice machine, whatever it was."
On December 21, 1978, both a Wellington radar team and crew of an Argosy cargo plane reported strange lights and inexplicable radar readings in the Clarence area, near Kaikoura.
At the time the radar team said no other aircraft were cleared to be in the area, but the crew reported strange lights around their aircraft which tracked them for more than 60km. They "observed a very bright light", alternatively described as a "very bright orb" and "pear-shaped with a reddish tinge that then turned white".
An air force Orion was sent on a reconnaissance flight to Kaikoura on January 2. A January 1979 report into the Kaikoura incident, entitled Report on Unidentifiable Visual and Radar Sightings, noted the air force had traditionally adopted a "low profile" interest in reported UFO sightings.
However, after mass sightings over two separate dates just weeks apart, and increasingly "negative" media coverage, the air force said it was forced into beginning an investigation.
The reporting officer said: "Because the prime minister [Rob Muldoon] took a close personal interest in what went on and specially asked [that] he be informed of Defence's conclusions to the study it was undertaking, I believe he would wish to see a copy of the air staff report."
The air force report concluded that almost all the sightings could be explained by natural but unusual phenomenon on the sea, including lights from a Japanese squid fleet or a glow from the planet Venus.
Following the Kaikoura sightings, hundreds of Official Information Act requests were sent to the Defence Force and the government seeking information on "what really happened".
Whether Mainlanders are more keen to report sightings, or whether there are simply more unexplained objects in the skies above the South Island, there is no doubt there are some UFO hotspots.
Between April 3 and May 12, 1972, five chunks of "space debris" were found in Ashburton. About 15 people reported seeing the "Ashburton balls" falling from the night sky. They were found to be spherical titanium pressure vessels.
Nasa data showed the only two possible origins of the debris were United States and Russian satellites.
The Defence Ministry report found the Russian satellite had passed over New Zealand about the time the objects were seen, and concluded this was the origin.
In August 1982 alone, there were three sightings in the Marlborough region.
On one occasion, three motorists spotted a two-metre-high figure with a "general outline of a window dresser's model" standing in the centre of State Highway 1 between Christchurch and Blenheim. The occupants told police that it had "no distinguishable features, and glowed like a fluorescent light".
In the second incident, a man travelling from Blenheim to Amberley spotted "four flashing red lights in an arc, with two more red lights above it". The motorist told police he thought it was an aircraft but became concerned when there was no engine noise.
In the third, motorists described an object "like a big crash helmet" which hovered more than two metres high above the road.
In January the same year, four Air New Zealand cargo loaders at Christchurch Airport, used to seeing aircraft at night, were left scratching their heads over a bright "pulsating orange and white light" in the sky above Christchurch airport. In August the year before, a Temuka family claimed they were tracked for 12km by a UFO as they drove home from Pleasant Pt.
No investigations were made, and the phenomena remain unexplained. Fairfax