Crowds welcome tuatara to new home

More than 2000 curious locals ventured out to Queens Park on Saturday to welcome Invercargill’s tuatara colony to their new home at Te Moutere – Tuatara Island.

The opening celebration, dubbed Henry’s Housewarming, was the first opportunity the public has had to view the tuatara since they were moved from their home in Southland Museum and Art Gallery early last year.

Many took the opportunity to walk through the new state-of-the-art enclosure, built to meet the specific needs of the tuatara. Invercargill City Council’s Living Species officers were on hand to deliver tuatara talks and answer questions, with children enjoying the rock-hunting adventures and face painting.

Invercargill City Council Parks Performance Manager Kate Gough said it was the perfect day for the families who came from across the region, and even Otago, to celebrate.

“We had people of all ages looking through the glass to catch a glimpse of Henry and his tuatara whānau as they settle into their new home,” Gough said.

“It has been a while since we’ve seen them all, so it is nice for the community to have the chance to say hello again.

“For those who didn’t want to wait in the line on the day, Te Moutere – Tuatara Island is now open to the public daily, from 8.30am to 4.30pm, so come on down.”

Gough said Te Moutere – Tuatara Island served as both a community asset and tourist attraction, offering domestic and international visitors another unique Southland experience.

Great South general manager tourism and events Mark Frood said the new facility added to the region’s variety of tourism experiences.

“Murihiku Southland offers many attractions that appeal to our returning international and domestic visitors,” he said.

“Getting close to nature and seeing our flora and fauna is an important part of that experience. Having the opportunity to be educated about stories such as Henry’s makes that experience so much richer for our visitors and locals alike.

“We have missed Henry being available for the public to visit. The 120-year-old Henry has had a life in Southland for many years and has seen many of our visitors to the region. We are excited that this now continues.”

The new facility is part of Project 1225, which also includes the construction of Te Unua Museum of Southland, due to open in 2026, and Te Pātaka Taoka Southern Regional Collections Storage Facility, completed in December 2023.