Real dragon tales from New Zealand

Hidden in the bush, deep in caves and often out of sight, New Zealand’s rarest creatures can be difficult to spot.

New Zealand is home to curious creatures big and small - penguins, kiwis, hobbits, whales, dolphins, to name a few.

The biggest of them all though is one that is not widely known. Hidden in the bush, deep in caves and often out of sight, New Zealand’s rarest creatures can be difficult to spot if you don’t know where to look. 

New Zealand is the home of dragons. These dragons, native to New Zealand, come in all shapes and sizes and are found in different environments. Here’s where you may find some of them.

Elliot from Disney’s Pete’s Dragon

Disney’s Pete’s Dragon tells the tale of a young orphan, Pete, and the friend he shares the forest with, Elliot, a dragon. 

Once you’ve read the story, watched the film and bought the T-shirt, think about taking the experience one step further by exploring New Zealand yourself, following in Elliot’s flight path. What better way to savour the country’s beauty than through the eyes of a dragon as he soars over breathtaking landscapes. 

Disney’s Pete’s Dragon is set in the US Pacific Northwest, but was shot in New Zealand which means the film features a variety of glorious aerial shots as seen from Elliot’s point of view. As a result, many of New Zealand’s most impressive landscapes play a leading role.

Smaug

On the central North Island, in the volcanic central plateau, the Tongariro National Park is where you will find the mountains that are the home of Smaug, the dragon who watches over the treasure of The Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Smaug’s home is in the centre of a unique volcanic landscape recognised by UNESCO as one of the 28 World Heritage Sites of dual cultural and natural significance. 

Perhaps Smaug’s residence is one of the reasons the area is protected but the incredible surroundings also play a huge part. The best way to take in the dragon’s territory is by walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which passes incredible natural wonders like the Emerald Lakes, the Blue Lake, Mt Ngauruhoe and – if you know where to look – views into the entrance of Smaug’s lair. 

Recently Smaug has taken up residence at Wellington Airport and he is there to greet visitors to New Zealand's capital city.

Legendary dragons

Giant beasts with dragon-like features are nothing new to New Zealand. The Maori people who were first to occupy this land tell of the legendary taniwha which appears in their ancient legends and is often depicted in their carvings.

Taniwha hid in lakes and caves surfacing only to scare tribes, however some were said to be guardians of the land. Rotorua, New Zealand’s geothermal hotspot, is said to have been home to a taniwha. Kuirau, a public park in central Rotorua, features a boiling lake which some local Maori believe is because a taniwha angered the gods. The local taniwha took the beautiful Maori maiden Kuirau and the gods became angry at the taniwha’s brazen act. They used their powers to make the lake boil so that this taniwha would be destroyed forever.

Dragon eggs

Visitors come from all over the world to see the Moeraki Boulders on the east coast of the South Island. The smooth rounded boulders, stuck in the sand on Koekohe Beach in the Waitaki region of New Zealand look suspiciously like dragons’ eggs. Some say they are due to hatch any day, some say they will never hatch, one thing is for sure, Moeraki boulders are proof that New Zealand is the home of dragons. Three hours’ drive further south, you will find the little country town of Tapanui and one of the main locations for Disney’s Pete’s Dragon.

The dragon's nest

For a dragon's nest look to Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island, where the world renowned breeding programme at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery has pulled the species back from the brink of extinction. Henry the Tuatara, now over 110 years old, is the father of all dragons. You can spot Henry and over 100 other tuatara in different stages of development at this spectacular Tuatarium.

It is entirely possible that the New Zealand tuatara emerged from one of the aforementioned boulders at Moeraki. The tuatara is a lizard-like reptile - often described as a living fossil from the dinosaur age - that is only found in New Zealand. This look-alike dragon can be seen in the wild in eco sanctuaries in several parts of New Zealand, including Sanctuary Mountain near Cambridge, Wellington’s Zealandia, and Dunedin’s Orokonui where the British Prince Charles was seen playing with one last year. Tuatara are known to live to well over 100 years. 

Pay tribute to dragons

The Hobbiton Movie Set is a likely spot to pay tribute to dragons at the aptly named Green Dragon Inn. The Hobbit village is found in the North Island town of Matamata where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were brought to life. Finish off your dragon hunt with a Hobbit-brewed ale and admire the massive dragon carved into the wooden beams of the 17th-century inn.