21 April 2011

N is for New Zealand

Situated in the Southern Hemisphere on and and slightly north of the 45 degree line lies a collection of islands known as New Zealand or, as people will come to know it in a few decades as the original Maori names take more preference, Aotearoa. This name change would not upset me as I would rather have an original name than be named after a place in the Northern Hemisphere which really has nothing to do with the modern day (or historic) New Zealand.

There are many pluses to changing the name, the major one being that one would not have to wait long during the Olympics' opening ceremony to see one's team in its full black and white glory. (That is the uniform, not the age of our television sets).

There are also the minuses, would people be as willing to buy Aotearoa Lamb as compared to NZ Lamb? A is also not as good of an acronym compared to the two letter NZ, it might lead to even more confusion with our Aussie neighbours.

But whatever the name, whether of Tasman, Maori or other origin, Kiwiland (my personal favourite) is still Kiwiland. Now for those who have only experienced Kiwi overseas we are not named after Shoe Polish or small brown furry fruit, we are named after small brown seemingly furry birds. (Note the bird silhouette on the shoe polish for an idea of its shape). Only found naturally in New Zealand, the Kiwi is a flightless bird that has a long beak to delve into the forest undergrowth for bugs and insects.

That New Zealand was originally only inhabited by birds and a flying rat (sorry bat) before the Maori and Europeans, the Kiwi had no major predators and survived even though being totally defenseless. Stoats, ferrets (imported to get rid of the rabbits) and wild dogs, cats etc. have changed that. Now the Kiwi, our national emblem, is in real danger of extinction. Also the continuation of destroying the forests as begun by the first human settlers does not help.

The Kiwis had other cousins such as the Moa, the Giant Moa standing over 2 metres in height. Being large and thus great food sources, easy to catch by just flushing them out with forest fires, there were no Moas left when the first European settlers made home in the early 1800s. This does not mean there are none left, there are still large tracts of unexplored forest in the south-west of the South Island. One can hope that, like the Takahe which was extinct until the 80s, the Moa too can be taken off the list. If not, there is the real chance a Jurassic Park can be performed as Moa flesh has been found in some Archaeological sites.

Another extinct bird, one which would be better left extinct, was an Eagle that makes the Bald Eagle appear to be a sparrow (okay an exaggeration, but you get the idea). It was the natural predictor of the Moa and it's wingspan was huge. These days people complain about Magpie attacks, I think such an eagle would put things back into perspective.

The New Zealand settlers have a long history of mucking things up when it comes to nature. Rabbits! I am reminded of the old song, "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly..." There was a young country that imported rabbits... They then imported stoats to get rid of the rabbits, they had to then import something else to get rid of the stoats and so it goes on. Every animal or plant imported into New Zealand has thrived to the extent that they have become pests. Deer, rabbits, stoats, possums, wallabies (yes wallabies, they even grow better here and are the size of kangaroos), thistles, pine trees, gorse, etc.

On the subject of Wallabies, even some New Zealanders don't realise they are a pest over here. I remember walking through the bush (forest) with some friends, one other local and the others were from 5 hours north. We showed our visitors the signs of wallaby damage on the tress along the path. They finally stopped and turned to us saying "You can stop this nonsense right now, there are not wallabies in New Zealand!" And just that moment, as on cue, a huge wallaby bounced across our path and disappeared back into the bush. They did not comment again.

The shape of New Zealand is Two very large islands (each around the size of England), called strangely enough the South Island and the North Island. There is a small island to the very south called Stewart Island. The South Island is mostly shaped by the Tetronic Plates crashing into each other and creating huge mountains along the middle like a spine. The North Island is shaped, my theory only, by a large volcano mistakenly classed as collapsed by the experts but actually is, in my opinion, pretty much the entire North Island. Except Taranaki which is created by the volcano Taranaki and the strange area of Northland which may have been separate Islands before the great volcano's eruption. In the centre of the North Island, as you would expect to be in the centre of a volcano, is the creater lake of Taupo. The largest lake in New Zealand, it almost seems to be ocean like but you can just make out the shores on the other side while driving around it. (Pretty much fact: Taupo has the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded human history beaten only by Yellowstone Park tens of thousands years earlier.)

We have recently paid for the way New Zealand has been built with the recent quakes in Christchurch and Canterbury (I reside in South Canterbury, which has suffered some damage) but it is a worthy price to pay for such grandeur. I can walk down to the bay and look at the majestic mountains of the Southern Alps while paddling in the huge Pacific Ocean. A point about the Alps is not the height, compared to other worldly mountains they are pretty low in altitude, but how tall they are. Their base also starts off at low altitude (Mt Cook - 700 metres at base) and thus even though you do not require breathing equipment, you do have to climb a fair distance over just as rugged terrain. This is why many famous climbers are New Zealanders.

I can keep on going, but I know this blog has already gone over the limit of readability so I will finish here.



1 comment:

  1. My doctor recently moved to New Zealand and is absolutely in love with it. I also saw a rare Kiwi was born in its sister, Australia the other day. I find the wild life, scenery and culture to be absolutely amazing and plan on visiting her soon. After all, what better way to experience it than with a local?



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