Archive for March, 2009

We love Nga Manu

a magic place

a magic place

In the evening of Monday, March 30th, we pulled into Nga Manu Reserve (aka paradise). We couldn’t quite believe we were staying at the gorgeous Theo’s Cottage. We were instantly off exploring, meeting pukekos, waterfowl, cheery fantails and ancient swamp forest within two or three steps.  Jane went to ascend the watchtower and have a wee cry at the serenity. Meanwhile I tried to capture the evening in a timelapse. Pleasingly, there was a moon angling through the frame. 

Serenity is however not easy to ‘get’, and many a timelapse was simply a compromise- as I have a knack for ‘missing the moment’ (due to my being transfixed by amazingness in every direction, followed by becoming indecisive about what to point the camera at).  

Jane and I were about to do lots, and learn lots more on this trip.

Although we couldn’t wait to begin working with what we think is the most extraordinarily beautiful animal, we began with a lesson in patience the following morning. 


This is where we stayed!

This is where we stayed!


The Rate of Becoming Hungry in tuataras is very very slow. To get all scientific on it, they have a very low metabolic rate. This means there are not many chances to film one eating anything before budget & schedule rear their ugly heads. As Murphy’s Law would have it, our film star tuatara ate a weta sort of by mistake on our first day of filming. We were enticing the tuatara into moving a few steps (tuataras, if you’re lucky, sometimes snap at moving things, including twigs). Maggots hadn’t quite worked in getting a “enter shot right, exit shot left moving uphill”  (though Jane loved her experience of throwing wriggling maggots to land in front of the tuatara’s nose). The weta card was pulled. “They’re like MacDonalds for tuatara”, assured Rhys, our supervisor. After prising the weta from his finger (big male tree variety, all jaws pretty much), Rhys deftly placed it near the tuatara so she’d move towards it. Crawl, (great)…shuffle, run, look…head tilt, and …snap! Gone. Damn! It all happened so fast and left camerawoman Jane a bit flustered.  

Ten days later we tried again, probably four times, to get a nice front-on shot of The Munch. No luck. It’s autumn now and their slow metabolisms are getting, you guessed it even slower. I got pretty good at weta control though, and we learned to recognise tuatara body language indicating she is seriously not hungry. Like when she threw it off her face, the weta having proceeded to crawl all over her. And when she walked off away from the weta, numerous times.  

It was only when we had the guts to look at the footage that we found we actually DID catch the snap that first day, with the wrestles, and the chomping; nicely framed and focussed. Phew! 

Rhys strategically placing the Macdonalds

Rhys strategically placing the weta

The Rate of becoming Hungry in staff at Nga Manu is fortunately much more predictable. Every morning we’d stop for morning tea (smoko) and a bit of jovial chat, and pretty soon we discovered they like cream cakes. These seemed to work like a passport to all manner of extras. Rhys produced a Peripatus (velvet worm) for us after hearing our intense excitement talking about them. Velvet worms are my new second favourite animal (after tuatara of course). While playing with it gently, to my surprise it spat a gooey white web onto the stick I was ‘steering’ it with; obviously it didn’t feel the same affection for me!

Rhys would also tirelessly fetch more maggots, search for wetas, help dig holes, act, and would generally drop everything and be there for us. Constantly. Even before the cream cakes. He’d turn up at our doorstep to show us a bucket of giant Kokopu (rare fish). He made us some props (eggs) before we even thought of the idea. Mind you, that might have been because he was keen to see if we’d actually carry out the scene he’d dreamt up- black ship rats….20 of them…storming a nest…

So began Jane’s immersion in rats. 

Jane fitted nicely into the rat cage

Jane fitted nicely into the rat cage

They say all good teams use the strengths of individuals. At this point in time I realised my height was a disadvantage. The height difference between Jane and I is like 2 feet. Subsequently I didn’t fit into the rat cage but Jane did. She jumped into overalls and jumped in there like a contestant on Who Dares Wins. Two hours later the rats had snuffled around a bit, but hadn’t trusted themselves to devour the peanut-butter loaded nest like we needed them to… Jane emerged with mites down the overalls, dusty but proud. Especially when Rhys said, “I don’t know many Kiwis who’d have done that”. Oooh. 

Jane is in there

Jane is in there

Eventually we left the camera unattended in there, rolling. It did work, though there are a few times on tape when the camera wobbles and is snuffled on- by rats, figuring out how to eat the camera.


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Māori Legends

Below are some maori legends featuring the tuatara. We thought they were really interesting and  we wanted to incorporate them into the film. The imagery of the legends is so powerful, and conjures up all sorts of shadowy underworld thoughts of the tuatara. At this point the film’s story has turned in a different direction, but we are hoping we can try and use the basis of the legends, particularly tuatara as kaitiaki or guardians of knowledge. We think this idea  supports Mildred’s history and her survivor characteristics. 

The legends are lifted from the Te Ara: Encyclopedia of New Zealand website. It’s a great resource. Recommend you check it out. 

What are ngārara?

Lizard carving

Lizard carving

Tuatara hatching

Tuatara hatching

Ngārara is the Māori name for reptiles – including tuatara, lizards, and the giant reptiles of Māori tradition.

Types of ngārara

The tuatara is named for its appearance – tara means spiny, and tua means back.

Māori call lizards (skinks and geckos) mokomoko. The kawekaweau, now extinct, was the world’s largest gecko. It was described as ‘about two feet [60 centimetres] long, and as thick as a man’s wrist; colour brown, striped longitudinally with dull red’1.

Māori also believed in giant reptiles, although no scientific evidence of them has been found. Simply called ngārara, they were a type of taniwha and looked like lizards or tuatara.

Descendants of Punga

Ngārara are believed to be descended from Punga, a son of Tangaroa, the sea god. All descendants of Punga – including other creatures such as sharks and insects – are said to be repulsive.

Punga’s son Tū-te-wanawana, along with Tūpari, produced the following offspring: the large gecko kawekaweau (Hoplodactylus delcourti), tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus andSphenodon guntheri), mokopāpā (Pacific gecko,Hoplodactylus pacificus) and mokomoko (skink, Oligosomaand Cyclodina species).

Ngārara traditions

Some tribes have other traditions that explain the origins of reptiles. In one tradition, reptiles originated from Peketua (the son of the earth mother, Papatūānuku, and the sky father, Ranginui). He made an egg from clay, and took it to Tāne, god of the forest, who said, ‘Me whakaira tangata’ (give it life). This egg then produced the first tuatara.

In some stories, lizards originate from the death of a ngārara – a hideous giant reptile. The reptilian monster Te Ngārara Huarau was a terrifying giant reptile that burned to death. Its scales escaped and turned into lizards.

Another ngārara, Te Whakaruaki, forcibly took a woman as his bride. Her family trapped and burnt him inside a house. As he was dying, his tail broke off and escaped, becoming the father of the mokopāpā (Pacific gecko). It is said that since then, lizards have shed their tails when they are in danger.


Tuatara versus shark

In another tradition, a tuatara called Ngārara argued with his younger brother Mangō (shark) over whether to live in the sea or on land. Ngārara chose the land, while Mangō remained in the sea. Just as Ngārara moved onto the shore, Mangō swam up and asked him to return to the sea.

Ngārara cursed his brother: ‘Stay in the sea to be served on a dish of cooked food for man to eat.’ Mangō replied, ‘Go ashore and be smoked out of your hole with burning fern leaves.’

Ngārara replied, ‘Indeed, I will go on ashore, away unto the dry land, where I shall be looked upon as the personification of Tū [the war god], with my spines and ridgy crest, causing fear and affright, so that all will get out of my way, hurrah!’

The brothers’ curses came to pass. Māori often ate dried shark as a relish with kūmara (sweet potato) or potato, and caught reptiles by lighting a fire at the entrance of their hole.

Reptiles as guardians

Lizards and tuatara were often seen as kaitiaki (guardians) and released near burial caves to watch over the dead.

They were also used as kaitiaki for mauri – a talisman, usually a stone, which was thought to protect the health and vitality of a forest or tree. Lizards – often the moko kākāriki (Naultinus elegans) or moko tāpiri (Hoplodactylus pacificus) – were released near mauri, and were believed to stay there forever.

Lizards were also sometimes buried under a post supporting the ridge pole in a whare wānanga (house of learning) or other important building.


A very large, ancient tuatara?

A very large, ancient tuatara?



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