Many years back, I wrote my first children’s story, Toby and the Tuatara, and illustrated several images to accompany it as an example to show potential publishers. My artwork gained mention but my early writing attempt didn’t. However, the drawing of a native tuatara instilled in me the desire to see one in the flesh. Last weekend that dream almost came true.
I happened to be in Wellington with time on my hands, and luckily, staying near Zealandia, a predator-proof eco-sanctuary in Karori. A friend had told me about spotting a tuatara sunbathing when she visited the centre recently, and I held onto that image when I stepped through the entry. Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) are rather special reptiles; native to New Zealand; the only living survivors of the Sphenodontia order and have been around since the age of dinosaurs.
The rain drizzled on our heads as we walked, while kākā, kerurū and tūī swooped above us. Kākā are large and parrot-like and hard to miss they’re so loud.
Tūī are also noisy, with a distinctive throaty gargle to their voice and are great imitators of the birds around them. I was lucky to spot other birds I’d seldom seen before; the tieke (saddleback), pōpokotea (whitehead) and the bright-green native parrot – kākāriki.
The largest of the flying birds is the kererū, who is unmistakeable with the thock, thocking sound its powerful wings make in flight.
The rain became heavier and the decision came to turn back. It was thanks to a sanctuary worker that we found the fenced habitat reserved for the tuatara. “I saw the big one’s face this morning,” he said, “probably hoping the skies would clear.” I became simultaneously hopeful yet realistic. I mean, who would deliberately bathe in the rain?
No 31. Not a very remarkable term for such a remarkable creature but still … No 31 was in his burrow, but at least his face and one shoulder was visible. Dark though he was in the shadow I could perceive him nevertheless. I have attempted to lighten the foreground of the photo in the chance that you will be able to see him too. I hope you can.
And not far from that elusive tuatara, we came across a male takehē keeping guard on his mate who was nesting. The takehē, is a fabulous bird, larger than a hen and flightless. Like many of the wildlife in this reserve, many were once close to extinction. Thanks to people who dedicate themselves to saving New Zealand’s endangered species, lucky people like me have the chance to see them.
Although the tuatara proved elusive to me, I can’t leave this page without showing you a photo a more fortunate viewer was able to take of one of New Zealand’s tuatara.