The Tuatara "Lizard"

The 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.

tuatara

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).

So, 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

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    – Tennessee, United States
    Kauri, December 2016
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    The Best Way to Spend my 30th Birthday!

    Going to New Zealand has been at the very top of my bucket list for quite a long time and I finally decided to scratch it off when I turned 30. Active Adventures was, from the beginning, the only tour group I would consider travelling with. They were the only group that not only had everything I wanted to do in New Zealand, but also had the highest level of professionalism and ratings that made me trust them.
    From the moment they picked us up at the airport I was certain I’d judged them correctly. Tess was simply an amazing tour guide (we called her mum because that’s exactly how we felt about her) not only was she fun, she took care of us, fed us, and kept us organized. Andy supplemented the tour with such interesting history and facts that I felt like I was on a school trip (in a good way!).
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    – Florida, United States
    Rimu, November 2017
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    Thank You Active Adventures

    Active Adventures' Winter Rimu trip allowed me to experience many things for the first time. Coming from an island of Guam, I was able to see something so different than what I normally see in my backyard. It was my first time to climb up to 1,100 meters. The climb was at Sealy Tarns which overlooked a lake, Mt. Cook village and most especially a fantastic view of Mt. Cook. It was my first time doing an overnight hike as well. We trekked through the scenic landscape towards Mt. Aspiring hut and was rewarded at night with an unspoilt sky of the Southern Hemisphere. It was so clear that we were able to see the Milky Way (another first). We also did a hike up Alex Knobb to get a good view of Franz Glacier and on the way up, we experienced so much elements in one day. We experienced hail and snow (both for the first time) and enjoyed some picturesque views the more higher we climbed.

    From the beginning of the trip, Lynette and Miriam were wonderful at helping to book my trip with Active Adventures. During the trip, Mel and Gary were so hospitable and helped make the trip memorable. Mel and Gary understood that we haven't hiked at this capacity or weren't seasoned hikers, yet they remained with us at the back and encouraged us every step of the way. They helped to show the true essence of New Zealand's natural beauty as well as the friendliness and hospitality of Kiwis. This trip has been amazing and thanks to Active Adventures, New Zealand has become my favorite place in the world.

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    – GUAM, Guam
    Winter Rimu, July 2016
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    Memorable South Island NZ

    This is one active trip with never a dull moment. We experienced real rain forest rain and snow capped mountains from afar and close up and personal. The contagious energy of the guides created a fun and physically challenging adventure.


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    – Ontario, Canada
    Weka 13-day, February 2017
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    New Zealand and Kiwis are the Best!

    It would be difficult to overstate how impressed I was with our Active Adventure tour. Mel and Claire were absolutely incredible!! Steve was great too, but he was only with us for the hike up and back from the Aspiring Hut. Plus, he was weighed down by a rock he so generously carried up the hill for Mel.
    Anyway, Mel and Claire made Active Adventures (and New Zealand) look so good! They were EVERYTHING I could hope for: friendly, funny, knowledgeable, professional, hard-working, kind, easy-going, energetic, .... Thank you for one of the best 2-week periods of my entire life!
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    – California, United States
    Kea, January 2017

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