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Ngārara are giant lizards from Maori folklore. Ngārara is also the Maori word for 'reptile.'


In Maori folklore, the ngārara were large reptiles that looked like lizards, especially similar to the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus).[1] The ngārara were dark in color with a dorsal crest, projecting upper lip and large teeth. They lived near riverbanks and caves and ate roots and small birds. They were said to make guttural sounds. [2]


In Maori legend, ngārara were descended from Punga, son of Tangaroa who was a sea god. Descendants of Punga were said to be ugly repulsive things. Maori people feared ngārara (lizards) because they were linked with Whiro, god of darkness, evil and death. However, they were also seen as guardians and were released near burial caves to watch the dead. [3]

There are many Maori traditions used to explain the origin of lizards. In one such legend, a terrifying giant reptile named Te Ngārara Huarau was burned to death. In its death, its scales escaped and became lizards. [3]


In the late 19th century, there were numerous sightings of large ngārara. In 1875, a large reptile with six legs was captured near Hokianga. The Maori who caught it were so horrified by it's appearance that they hacked into unidentifiable pieces. In 1898, a Maori bushman reported seeing a giant reptile 1.5 meters in length. It disappeared but its footprints were photographed by W.D. Lysnar, owner of the farm it was sighted on.[4]


There has been no scientific evidence found to suggest the giant reptiles told in Maori folklore existed. [1] While these may have just been legend, they may have been based off sightings of lizards and geckos found in the area. Depictions of the ngārara are similar to the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus). The term ngārara was used to describe these lizards as early as 1842. It may have also been based off of the Delcourt's giant gecko (Hoplodactylus delcourti), the largest known of all geckos measuring at 370 mm (14.6 in). It is now extinct and only known from one specimen. [2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bradford Haami, 'Ngārara – reptiles - What are ngārara?', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bradford Haami, 'Ngārara – reptiles', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,
  4. Bradford Haami, 'Ngārara – reptiles - Punga and his descendants', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,