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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.

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Perfect Trip for anyone who loves Nature!

“If you enjoy being outdoors and like to challenge yourself this trip is for you. I wasn't an avid hiker before signing up for the Rimu trip but after reading the itinerary I knew I couldn't pass up this amazing opportunity. You never know what you are capable of until you try and that is how I feel after climbing up to the Angelus Hut and hiking to Mueller ridge. I had never climbed a mountain before (since there are no mountains where I live) but the views are more than worth the climb.
This trip is the best way to see all that the South Island has to offer, it is the perfect balance between adventure, relaxation, self-exploration, and cultural immersion. Anyone can go to New Zealand and rent a car and go hiking, biking, and Kayaking; however, they will miss out on the best parts of traveling to a new place and that is the knowledge and culture that only someone who lives there would know. The guides (Tory and Vanessa) were awesome! Tory is an amazing cook, and Ness was great at making jokes and keeping the atmosphere cheery during the longer drives. I loved listening to the guides tell us about the Maori people and the local legends or folklore. I actually thought Ness was lying to me when she would tell me that the views get better after being left speechless by the scenery, but every day was better than the previous!
I have to mention the FOOD!!! The food alone is enough for me to sign up for this trip again. When I travel I don’t always know what the local food is or would be but with this trip the guides cook you all sorts of local food and all the food is fresh and delicious. If you don’t like something they will make sure to accommodate you.
Ness and Tory made you feel like this was a trip among friends and family, not strangers. I will come back to New Zealand again!”
Brian Heinz's Review Image
– Wisconsin, United States
Rimu, May 2017
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