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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

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    2017 Oct/Nov Rimu

    My 2017 Rimu trip was fantastic! Somehow our fabulous guides Ben and Emma arranged for clear sunny skies, a great mix of travelers, and an all around fun time. Seriously though, our group of 10/11 (we had a late addition) got along well from day 1 - we learned about each other's backgrounds, played cards and dice games, and shared bottles of wine. Ben and Emma worked tirelessly to make sure our travels were smooth - often 16+ hour days for them. Emma cooked wonderful meals for us and made sure everyone's dietary requests were met. Ben drove Whina (our bus) so well for so many hours to get us to our destinations - we'll never forget the tunnel! And they both were great guides on the hikes. Thanks for all the wonderful memories!
    Jeanne Stallings Review Image
    – North Carolina, United States
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    Joy Project; New Zealand's North Island

    The Tongariro Crossing was the highlight of my visit of the Northern Island. I felt as though we were trekking on another planet.

    Andrew and Claire shared their extensive knowledge of New Zealand’s culture, land, flora and fauna while offering great music on Dick, the bus and fabulous meals!

    I was asked about traveling to New Zealand alone. I explained I was not alone but traveling with twelve friends I had not met yet. This turned out to be factual.
    Lynn Marie
    Lynn Dulmage Review Image
    – Michigan, United States
    Kauri, August 2016
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Beautiful, perfect trip!

    The Tui trip was a perfect way to see parts of New Zealand on a short time frame. I was concerned traveling by myself, and this trip was the perfect way to do it. Between the the most spectacular scenery, the knowledge of the guides, and the varied and incredible itinerary, this really was the trip of a lifetime for me.
    Rosie Stein Review Image
    – New York, United States
    Tui, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Southbound Rimu trip

    After being on a Galapagos trip I thought I knew what to expect! Galapagos was amazing too but this trip was an experience in itself!! Every hike was an adventure and the rewards for getting to the top were a treasure to be seen!! A huge thanks to Rachel and Gary for their knowledge and everything they did to make this trip incredible!
    Kathy Lomeli Review Image
    – Indiana, United States
    Rimu, March 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Tui

    We had a truly great time. Our guides, Koru and Liana were the best. They made the trip so much fun, especially in the light of the unpredictable New Zealand weather! And Lynette was always right there to help us along every step of the way. I brought home memories of a lifetime, and discovered that Kiwis are absolutely the friendliest people on earth. The Tui Trip was a great introductory tour, but now I want to come back again and spend more time hiking and exploring the South Island.

    Many thanks to the whole Active Adventures team. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    - Mick
    Mick Owens Review Image
    – Florida, United States
    Tui, December 2016

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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