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Matiu/Somes tuatara named after harbour taniwha

Matiu/Somes tuatara named after harbour taniwha

Biological Sciences
researcher Sue Keall with one of two baby tuatara released
onto Matiu/Somes Island
Click to enlarge

Name the tuatara competition winner Brian King and Victoria University of Wellington School of Biological Sciences researcher Sue Keall with one of two baby tuatara released onto Matiu/Somes Island. Photo: Matt Barnett/DOC

A baby tuatara is
released onto Matiu/Somes Island
Click to enlarge

A baby tuatara is released onto Matiu/Somes Island. Photo: Matt Barnett/DOC.

Matiu/Somes Island
campers Fin Baker and Morgan Baker from Lower Hutt, Simon
Penfold from York Bay
Click to enlarge

Matiu/Somes Island campers Fin Baker and Morgan Baker from Lower Hutt, Simon Penfold from York Bay. Photo: Matt Barnett/DOC.

27 November 2007

Matiu/Somes tuatara named after harbour taniwha

The baby tuatara from Matiu/Somes Island have been named after the two taniwha of Wellington Harbour, Ngake and Whataitai.

The tuatara, which hatched from eggs found on the island and were reared in captivity, were returned to the island sanctuary in Wellington Harbour last weekend.

Among the official welcoming party was Brian King of Wellington, the winning entrant in the
tuatara naming competition run by the Poneke Area of the Department of Conservation, which manages Matiu/Somes Island.

“While he wasn’t the only entrant to choose the names of the two taniwha, Brian was the first to submit them,” competition organiser Matt Barnett said.

“What better way to honour the tuatara and lend them strength than by naming them after powerful local spirits?” Mr King said.

“The tuatara as a species has now come home to the harbour. It seems appropriate to think that the spirit of Ngake has returned after long absence and brought the spirit of dead Whataitai with him. They have found re-entry to their ancient home through these babies.”

The judges agreed that it was most fitting to name two tuatara from Matiu/Somes after the two taniwha from the same area.

There was a huge response to the Name the tuatara competition with over 300 entries received.
Koha and Kura, and Ihi and Wehi, were among other names that impressed the judges.

“It was a hard call for the judges. There were some great suggestions and some well suited names, like Spike, and Taonga,” Matt Barnett said.

Television and book characters, including Bert and Ernie, Fred and Barney, and Quasimodo and Esmeralda, were also considered fitting monikers for these ancient reptiles.

Eventually the judges decided on Ngake and Whataitai because of their strong link to the Wellington Harbour and the fact that, for Maori, taniwha were said to resemble tuatara.

Legend has it that the two taniwha lived in the harbour (which at that time was an enclosed lake). The restless, energetic Ngake longed to escape its confinements and swim to open sea. It sped about in the north east corner of the harbour, using its tail to build up the shallow area (Waiwhetu), and then hurled itself at the rocks encircling the lake, and smashed through to escape to the freedom of Raukawamoana (Cook Strait).

Whataitai, decided to make its escape through another exit. Pushing off with its tail, and in doing so forming the Ngauranga gorge, Whataitai headed off down the other side of the island of Motu Kairanga (Miramar Peninsula) only to get stuck by the receding tide Ngake had let in. Whataitai's body thus forms the isthmus between the former island of Motu Kairanga and the western side of the harbour, where the airport is now situated. It is believed Tangi-te-keo, (Mt Victoria) was named after the soul of Whataitai, which, after leaving the taniwha's body, flew up to the top of this hill in the shape of a bird and proceeded to tangi (weep and mourn).

Ngake and Whataitai, of Matiu/Somes Island, are the first known offspring of tuatara transferred nine years ago to this DOC-managed historic and scientific reserve. They have confirmed long-held suspicions that the Brothers Island tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) are breeding on the island. The pair hatched in August from eggs found on the island in May and were taken to be incubated at Victoria University of Wellington School of Biological Sciences.

They were released back onto the island last Saturday by island ranger Matt Sidaway (who discovered the tuatara eggs) and competition winner Mr King, with assistance from VUW School of Biological Sciences researcher Sue Keall, who cared for the tuatara while they were in captivity. Among the 90 people who witnessed their return home were four-year-old Ruby Zwart, and Allison McPherson, who also chose the names Ngake and Whataitai.

Also released onto the island were a Wellington green gecko, forest geckos and ornate skinks. The event also marked the start of a 12 month camping trial on the island.


Find out more about Matiu/Somes Island on the DOC website:>parks and recreation>places to visit>wellington>poneke

Find out more about tuatara on the DOC website:>native animals>reptiles and frogs

The legend of the Wellington Harbour taniwha Ngake and Whataitai is described in the Heritage Trail pamphlet reproduced on the Wellington City Libraries website:

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