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The Tuatara "Lizard"

TuataraThe Tuatara (TOO-ah-TAR-ah) is a brownish-green reptile (Sphenodon punctarus & Sphenodon guntheri) - not classified as either a snake or a lizard - that is only found in New Zealand.Tuataras grow up to 80cm (31 inches) long and weighs up to 1.3kg (almost 3 lb). They have pretty distinctive spines along the back and are unusual in that they have two rows of top teeth and a single row of lower teeth (no other animals have that). Tuataras are distinctly different from snakes and lizards (they have no external ears, for a start) - and that makes them very interesting to science from an evolutionary point-of-view.

They are sometimes referred to as a 'living fossil', and for good reason. They are the last of their breed - the two living tuatara species are the last remaining reptiles of the order Rhynchocephalia (or 'beak-headed' reptiles; sometimes also called Sphenodontia), a once-flourishing group of reptiles that largely died out at end of the Cretaceous period (65 million years ago), along with all dinosaurs (except for the ones that had already become birds, but that's a whole other story).

Tuatara lizardSo, they're the last of their kind, but the nickname 'living fossil' is wrong, in a way, because they have also evolved from their dinosaur-age ancestors and have adapted within their New Zealand environment. Tuatara would once have been found all over New Zealand, but following the arrival of humans, and the predators they brought with them, the tuatara was reduced to populations on offshore islands and a few mainland wildlife sanctuaries. Fortunately, they have been protected since 1895 and in 2008, a tuatara nest was uncovered amongst the bush of the Karori Sanctuary in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. This is the first known case of tuatara breeding on the New Zealand mainland, outside captive breeding programs, in over 200 years. Most tuatara now live on islands at the north end of the South Island or along the northeast coast of the North Island and their total population is thought to be between 60,000 and 100,000. You can see tuataras and more at the Kiwi & Birdlife Park in Queenstown on any of our South Island trips.

Tuatara can live a long time – older than 100 years – and take 10 to 20 years before they start breeding. Eggs are laid eight or nine months after mating and hatchings will emerge eleven to sixteen months later. In 2009, a male tuatara named 'Henry', who has been kept in captivity in the Southland Museum in Invercargill, became a father (possibly for the first time) at the age of 111.

The name tuatara comes from the Maori language, and means 'peaks on the back'. To Maori, tuataras are considered to be the messengers of Whiro, the God of death and disaster, and Maori women were forbidden to eat them.

Trip Reviews

Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
Lauren Gerth Review Image
– Missouri, United States
Rimu, November 2016
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