One of the Coromandel’s most famous visitors is back.
Willie, or Humphrey, a three-tonne sea elephant who hit international headlines last year when he adopted a Wharekawa dairy herd and refused to return to the sea, has been seen in the neighbourhood again.
Early in November he was spotted in the Whangamata estuary and has attracted a steady stream of admirers.
Willie first visited the region in 1984 when he ventured ashore near Tauranga. Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries officers named him Willie after one of their number.
Seeking new ports of call, Willie headed north up the Coromandel Peninsula. He displayed a fondness for Tairua and Pauanui. There, animal lovers set up a Willie Watch roster to ensure people who flocked to see him did not get close enough to be in danger.
Then, last year, his regular spring on-shore sortie turned into an extended holiday. Instead of remaining on the beach, Willie, or Humphrey as he was named by Whangamata school students, came ashore on to a Wharekawa dairy farm, showing a strong desire to be near the cows.
In the next two months he waddled through fences, broke water lines and foiled attempts to tranquillise him and return him to the sea. Eventually, a heavy charge electric fence was used to fence him into a drainage channel area.
One day he just wasn’t there, having returned to the sea.
Now Willie, or Humphrey, is back, visiting old haunts around Whangamata. While he is a tourist attraction, Department of Conservation officers are reminding people not to get too close to the large sea mammal because he can move very quickly when aroused.
His regular appearances are out of character for sea elephants. Usually they head for subantarctic regions for the mating season.