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Strange Creatures

Unsolved Mysteries of New Zealand (Part I)

by Lucy Mullinger

A look at some of the weird and sometimes very sad unsolved crimes and mysteries of New Zealand.

A relatively new country by most standards, New Zealand is most likely not at the top of the list when it comes to unsolved crimes and mysteries, but there have been some spine-tingling events that have taken place on our quiet isles throughout the years, some of which have been highly documented and some that have remained under the radar. In the next few editions of elocal, Lucy Mullinger looks into a variety of weird and sometimes very sad unsolved crimes and mysteries that still cause sadness and curiosity for those involved.

Forget the Lochness monster or the elusive Yeti, New Zealand has a mysterious history all of its own and whether you believe it or not, it definitely makes a great read and could be a fun way to explore the country - monster hunting!

While some say it began in form of a joke, others truly believe that the Moehau or Maero is a living, breathing monster that has managed to hide in the mountains and brush of New Zealand for centuries.

The Maero was originally described, in Māori lore, as a large, ape-like beast with sharp teeth and powerful claws. But it wasn’t long before European settlers started to notice the creature, with one miner in the Coromandel Ranges blaming the creature for the death of a woman he had found in the area. An Australian tourist would also report seeing a ‘gorilla-like creature’ on a bush walk and campers in the Cameron Mountains in the South Island were chased away from their camp, in 1970, by large boulders which had been thrown by a large, unseen creature.

More recently, a hunter found large human-like footprints along a riverbank in the Heaphy River area in 1983 and you only have to do a quick search on youtube to find a variety of, possibly fake but still very interesting, footage.

According to hikers and Moehau Man enthusiasts, the best place to look for this elusive creature is amongst the Moehau Mountains in the Coromandel, where most of the sightings have taken place. There has even been a variety of challenges, including the ‘Moehau Man race’ which travels through the area that the beast is meant to lurk within.

A more recent sighting that has become so popular that good, keen Kiwis have been known to go hunting it, is the black cat of Twizel. The first sighting was in 1996, when a woman saw what she thought looked like a black panther, during a biking trip in the area. Two years later, another sighing of a very large orange cat was made at the Dunstan Ranges near Cromwell. By 1999, another report had been made of a black cat in the MacKenzie Country and another witness saw one in a paddock near Omarama. Another report of a golden-coloured cat was made by Canadian tourists in Moeraki and as late as 2005, a photograph of the New Zealand Panther was taken in Clearwater. But the report of the Waitoreke, might be the most believable beast to be found in New Zealand. The creature has been reported by Māori people for centuries and information was even diarised by Captain James Cook who is said to have witnessed them in 1773 as he entered Pickersgill Harbor aboard the Resolution.

The creature is otter-like in appearance and some believe it could even be a possum or a platypus (some reports state that the creature laid eggs). According to German/Austrian geologist, Ferdinand von Hochstetter the creature lived in the rivers and lakes in the mountain ranges of the South Islands and was the size of a large cony with glossy brown fur, and is probably to be classed with the otters. This was based on information he had obtained from Sir Julies von Haast, who had reportedly obtained the pelt of a Waitoreke in 1868. The pelt was brown with white spots but as it lacked webbing between the toes and was in bad condition, it didn’t prove the existence of the animal and nothing has been documented since.

The Taniwha also finds its way into New Zealand mythology and have even been discussed in Pacific Island cultures such as The Tongan and Niuean language, where they are referred to as ‘tenifa’ or a large dangerous shark. In Samoa and Tokelau, they are referred to as ‘tanifa’.

According to legend, Taniwha can often change their shape from shark to dragon-like creature and the original explorer of New Zealand, Kupe, is said to have had a guardian taniwha, known as Tuhirangi, who guided and protected the canoes as they made their way through the Cook Strait.

Tuhirangi would come back in form of a friendly Risso’s dolphin, who was named Pelorus Jack, from 1888 to 1912 when he died at the age of 24. Other friendly dolphins such as Opo the dolphin, who lived in Opononi and Moko, who swam about in the beaches of Whakatane, would go on to capture the imagination of the country.

While all of these creatures seem to come from the pages of fairy tales, there is always a chance that we could stumble across something we never expected to find. In fact, modern scientists are still coming across strange and wonderful creatures that are only found on our shores and in our forests. In 2012, they unearthed a creature that looks like a giant, albino flea, from the depths of the Kermadec Trench. The creature was found during a research trip to the bottom of the trench, by staff from NIWA and the University of Aberdeen.

More recently, scientists came across a pink, blue and purple Atacama snailfish, part of the Liparidae family, in the depths of the ocean and new species are being found worldwide even in modern times. While the Moehau Man might not have many places to hide as our urban areas reach the more hidden regions of the country, there’s still hope, or fear, that we could come across one of these fantastic creatures, but until then, the myths keep us interested and those with an adventurous spirit continue to hunt where others fear to tread.

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