Matiu Somes Island: nature at its best – only minutes from our capital city

Want to do something that most New Zealanders (Kiwi) have never done?  Come face to face with a living link to the dinosaurs – in the wild, not in a zoo or behind a fence.

Downtown Wellington, NZ, is only 20 mins away!

The “tuatara are rare, medium-sized reptiles (adults ranging from about 300g to 1000g) found only in New Zealand.” – Left-overs  from the age of the dinosaurs, some 200 million years ago – “all species apart from the tuatara declined and eventually became extinct about 60 million years ago’.  Read more here

Where can you do this?

Last summer I spent time in Wellington, and visited Matiu Somes Island – I was immediately captivated.  So much, I got back on the ferry for the 20-minute trip, returning to Wellington where I packed a bag, and returned the next day for an overnight stay on Matiu/Somes Historic and Scientific Reserve.


photo by Renee Campbell-Scott



photo by Renee Campbell Scott
Downtown Wellington, NZ, is only 20 mins away!


I was absolutely gob-smacked – to use a common NZ term – when after returning 2 times to the spot I was told I could see one, to come face to face with a tuatara. And sat and watched him doing exactly nothing – immobile for ages as he soaked up the sun and I photographed him from a distance.

The only person I know who has been to Matiu Somes as the result of my enthusiasm has just been to Matiu / Somes this summer and sent me photos of TWO different tuatara she saw … not down a bank as I did, but close-up! Now I have to go back again and get my own photos of these fabulous creatures.

I was also captivated by the nesting black-backed gulls Known as karoro in Maori they are found from Antarctica to the subtropics: seems there are over two million here. ( NZ’s population is  just over  4,350, 000 – for current figure see our population clock).  Of New Zealand’s many gull species, the black-blacked gulls are the largest, at 60 centimetres long. Males weigh over 1 kilogram, and females about 850 grams. Adults have white bodies, black wings, and yellow bills and legs.

Two others staying on the island when I was there were people studying the weta,  yet another New Zealand link to the ancient past. They are some of the world’s most ancient species still living today.  Fossil records from the Triassic period taken in Queensland, Australia show that weta have changed little in 190 million years. More than 70 endemic species of weta have evolved in New Zealand, with some reaching a gigantic size. read more

I recommend you to0  stay overnight here – it’s so good to see the last ferry leave and know you really are isolated until about 10am the nest day. Or at least go for a day – take your lunch and drinks as there are no facilities.  You can also camp overnight (see here for accommodation available) and the kitchen has everything you need – just take food, tent and bedding – making sure you have NO animals hitching a ride with you – this island is an important weapon in protecting NZ’s diversity and keeping it predator-free is vital.

Check out this link to a video made by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC).

And, just for the record, “DOC, thanks for the sterling work you do for us, and the world”

more photos …

Historic buildings too

let’s check your bags

Author: Heather - the kiwi travel writer

Nomadic travel-writer, photographer, author & blogger. See more on and Amazon for my books (heather hapeta)

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