In 1978, a spectacular series of UFO sightings occurred in South Island skies, with visual, radar and film evidence.

The world famous ‘Kaikoura Lights’ 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.

On December 31 / January 1 1978, an Australian television crew recorded a similar event on film onboard a cargo aircraft flying between Wellington and Christchurch. In a world first, the UFOs were filmed, tracked by Wellington ATC and observed by witnesses simultaneously, with one of the objects following the aircraft almost until it landed. When the aircraft took off again, it was paced by an enormous orb-like object for 15 minutes. Again, the event was filmed, observed and tracked, and the Kaikoura lights film footage became renowned worldwide.

Much controversy followed these sightings after an investigation by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the police and Wellington Observatory. The New Zealand Ministry of Defence and other parties came up with a ludicrous variety of explanations for these sightings, stating causes such as: lights from squid boats reflected off clouds(!!!), unburned meteors, drug runners, city lights reflected off the breasts of flocks of mutton birds (!!!), Venus, and lights from trains or cars.

And yet, despite these supposed somewhat mundane and harmless causes, the results of official investigations were stamped ‘Top Secret’ and lodged in the National Archives in Wellington!

The Kaikoura lights footage was examined by Dr Bruce Maccabee, an American scientist and UFO researcher with an MS & PHD in Physics, who is an optical data processing expert. He concluded that the footage had captured the images and movements of a genuine UFO.

Dr Maccabee states, “Some of the most technically interesting sightings are those in which radar plays a role. There are many ‘radar only’ sightings (with no coincident visual sightings). Of greater interest are the radar-visual cases in which (a) witness(es) report an object in the same direction and undergoing the same dynamics as a radar target.”
“These New Zealand sightings may be the most “instrumented” in civilian ufology, with multiple witnesses, two independent tape recordings made during the sightings, colour movie film, and ground and air radar.”
Dr Maccabee’s optical analysis of this sighting was reported in ‘Applied Optics’ (see links below).

The following related articles can be seen on Dr. Maccabee’s website at

  1. ‘Challenging the Paradigm!’
  2. ‘New Zealand Sightings of December 31 1978’.
  3. New Zealand Radar Sighting’.
  4. Flashing Light Film from New Zealand! (the so-called ‘squid boat!’)
  5. ‘A high Flying Squid Boat? What do You Think?’

Other articles:

‘Kaikoura Lights’ (Wikipedia overview, also suitable for children to read.)
‘1978 UFOs Over New Zealand’ by Gary Balderson

Books about the Kaikoura Lights:

  • ‘The Kaikoura UFOs’, Startup, Capt.Bill, with Illingworth, Neill; Hodder & Stoughton Ltd 1980
  • ‘Let’s Hope They’re Friendly!’ Fogerty, Quentin; A.H. & A. W. Reed Ltd 1982
  • ‘The NZ Files – UFOs in New Zealand’, Hassall, Peter; David Bateman Ltd 1998 (contains a chapter on the Kaikoura lights)