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When Myrtle the Turtle came for a quick visit

Castlepoint has never had a visitor like a tourist who visited the community 50 years ago today, recounts Wairarapa Archive’s MARK PACEY.

On March 1, 1973, Whakataki farmer Don Iggulden was heading into Castlepoint after a bleak day’s fishing when he noticed something odd in the water – a large shape with what looked like a fin protruding from the sea.

Was it a large shark? When a second fin broke the water, he clicked. They weren’t fins, but the flippers of a sea turtle who was a long way from home but nonetheless apparently quite happy.

As Iggulden approached, he noticed “she seemed to be rolling on her back sunbathing”.

Not sure what to do with this creature, Iggulden and his crewmate brought her onto his boat and headed into shore to try and find out what she was doing off Wairarapa’s coast.

It’s not every day that a 70-kilogram sea turtle comes ashore so a call was made to Napier’s Marineland. Manager Rod Abel – a well-known provincial rugby player and marine life authority – said the aquatic centre already had a turtle and advised Iggulden that the best thing to do with the unexpected arrival – who’d already been dubbed “Myrtle” – was to return her to the sea.

As it was getting late, it was decided to put Myrtle up for the night at Iggulden’s farm before putting her back in the water the next day.

After being loaded “snorting and sniffing” onto the back of a truck and driven to the farm, the sea turtle was placed in a shallow tank half-filled with water.

A turtle who’d come so far would have worked up quite an appetite, so feeding her was a priority – but what exactly?

On the basis that turtles swim all over the oceans, so their tastes are probably quite broad, Myrtle was treated to a meal of venison.

The next day, word about Myrtle and her imminent return to her watery home had circulated Castlepoint’s community.

Before the appointed hour of 4:30pm, the beach began to fill with spectators. Residents, holidaymakers, the local school – they all wanted to see Myrtle off.

Even the patrons at Whakataki Hotel were enticed away from half-finished glasses of beer after they saw a flatbed truck with a very special cargo drive past, and Iggulden and Myrtle arrived at the beach with a convoy of vehicles behind them.

The gathered crowd watched with anticipation as Myrtle was carried from the back of the truck and placed on the sand.

Wheezing and panting, Myrtle began making her way to the sea, but it was slow going. Very slow going. Deciding she needed a bit of help, Iggulden and friend Peter Pickett picked her up and carried her the rest of the way to the surf.

Myrtle pushed off and departed Wairarapa for the open sea. She lifted her head out of the surf, took in her surroundings one last time and then dove back under, disappearing beneath the turbid waves.

Later in the day Myrtle was spotted two miles out to sea by a fisherman, reportedly enjoying a lie in the sun before continuing on with her journey.

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