52 of the finest and freshest visions of New Zealand's environment and society. Vote on your favourites.
52 of the finest and freshest visions of New Zealand's environment and society. Vote on your favourites.
I didn’t grow up tramping, and I started because of a Great Walk. Tramping had seemed like something you couldn’t learn about—you had to be initiated by someone who already knew how to do it—but the Great Walks simplified things. I picked the Routeburn because it had the nicest pictures of mountains. I thought 32 kilometres was a long way, and I didn’t know what to eat or wear or bring. That trip taught me what I should have eaten and worn and brought. It taught me that 32 kilometres isn’t far, that walking all day in the rain isn’t bad, and that the people you meet in huts are some of the best around. What I did grow up with was religion. As my devotion to Christianity waned, the time I spent outside grew, and looking back, I can see that they performed similar functions in my life. I appreciated Christianity for the reminder, every Sunday, of what is essential. For the way it brought me face to face with my failings and my values. For the reminder that human connection is fundamental to life. We don’t have a lot to remind us of what is essential, and tramping is about simplicities—only after 20 kilometres in the rain do I truly understand the worth of a cup of tea and a gingernut. The outdoors strips you to the bones. It puts a dye trace on your failings and your values, and shows you when and how they emerge. It connects you with strangers—you can’t cross a fast creek in a rainstorm by yourself (and sometimes, you just have to wait). In Alain de Botton’s book The Architecture of Happiness, the British philosopher writes that cultures create buildings, objects and art that capture qualities those cultures lack—light-heartedness, perhaps, or openness. “We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them,” he writes. “We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves. We arrange around us material forms which communicate to us what we need—but are at constant risk of forgetting we need—within.” If we’re drawn to places because we seek to inwardly resemble them in some way, then New Zealanders need something about the outdoors. Our individualism needs a reminder of the importance of others. The artificial pace of urban life needs the human pace of walking. And we seek those reminders more often in the outdoors than in religion. Last year, more of us went on a day tramp than regularly attended church. We don’t have Gothic cathedrals in New Zealand—structures that remind us that the scale of time far exceeds a human lifespan—but we have limestone karsts, coal seams, valleys carved by glaciers, and trees that were standing before the King James Version was translated. According to a 2017 Sport New Zealand survey of 33,000 people, seven per cent of New Zealanders had been on an overnight tramp in the past year. That’s more than three times as many people as played rugby. It’s more than played soccer, basketball, netball, bowls or cricket. (Tramping skews male, and vastly more Pākehā take part than any other ethnic group.) There are a lot of people who probably would like tramping, but are prevented by circumstance, or by the fact they haven’t done it before. So I want a Great Walk on every other ridgeline. I want people going door to door asking, “Have you tried tramping?” I want Great Walks to be cheaper, and I want them to be nearer major population centres. Two weeks before this issue went to print, I walked the southern third of what will become our tenth Great Walk. The track on the tops of the Paparoa Range isn’t finished yet—there’s only a poled route that would have daunted me a decade ago. On the tops are tawny alpine meadows covered in tussock, the ridgeline dropping away to the sea on one side, the Southern Alps on the other. That morning, I crossed paths with photographer Neil Silverwood and his partner Lauren Kelley going the other way, returning from taking the final photographs for this issue’s story. (Lauren is on the cover.) At the end of the day, returning to Ces Clark Hut, I realised my friend and I were the only people on the range. And as the sunlight slanted low over the ocean, turning the tussock into spun gold, I felt terrifically wealthy, then greedy, that we were the only people there to see it.
When rats consume the eggs and chicks of coastal-nesting seabirds, this affects fish and coral reefs offshore, according to a letter published in Nature in July. If birds are killed, this prevents their droppings from reaching marine ecosystems, meaning that underwater species miss out on the boost of nutrients provided by this natural fertiliser. The Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, south of the Maldives, is an ideal place to study the effects of rat populations—18 of its 55 islands are rat-free, while rats have been in residence on the others for centuries. An international team of researchers found seabird densities were 760 times higher on rat-free islands, which also had 251 times more nitrogen deposited from seabird droppings. Tracking nitrogen isotopes on the coral reefs around the islands, the scientists found nitrogen from birds present in seaweed, sponges and turf algae. They observed that herbivorous damselfish grew faster, and fish communities in general had 48 per cent more biomass, compared to the rat-covered islands next door. This suggests rat eradications could alleviate pressure from climate-stressed coral reefs.
What if it was possible to take pictures of the inside of the human body—colour pictures, where bone and muscle were easily distinguishable from pathologies such as cancer tissue or kidney stones? Earlier this year, New Zealand scientists performed the first-ever colour x-ray of a human body, using particle-tracking technology that had originally been developed for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator. When x-rays pass through the human body, they are absorbed differently by different internal organs. They travel straight through soft tissue, such as muscle and fat, but are impeded by denser materials, such as bone. Then the x-rays hit a metal film, which creates an image based on the intensity of the radiation that emerges. Areas where the x-rays were blocked are white, and areas they were able to pass through are black. By contrast, a new scanner the New Zealand scientists developed records each change in wavelength as the particles hit different parts of the body—bone, muscle, liquid, fat, cartilage, tumour. When the x-rays emerge, software assigns a colour to each of those energy levels. The scanner was developed in part by the Universities of Otago and Canterbury, alongside New Zealand company Mars Bioimaging, using a detector that had originally been designed to spot subatomic particles. While x-ray photons have always had this energy information contained within them, the Mars Bioimaging scanner is the first technology capable of measuring it. Because traditional x-ray imaging only records whether the radiation passed through the body, it doesn’t reveal much about the soft tissue or muscle surrounding the bones. Small versions of the colour scanner are now being used to study cancer, bones and joints, and Mars Bioimaging hopes to produce body-part scanners specialised for areas such as knees and ankles.
Astronauts from the Apollo missions reported that breathing in the moon dust on their suits resulted in sneezing, watering eyes and sore throats. After analysing dust particles in the lab, United States researchers suggest they are toxic to human lung cells and mouse brain cells.
The Paparoa Track, set to open in September 2019, is the first new Great Walk in 25 years, and the first built for shared use between walkers and cyclists. Traversing the coal-rich hills between Blackball and Punakaiki, it will pay its respects to the 29 men who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine.
For virologist Robert Webster, it all started with diseased birds.
There is a quiet revolution taking place in rural New Zealand. Over the past decade, migrant labour has become essential to the country’s dairy farms, vineyards and kiwifruit orchards, and as a result, the culture of regional communities is changing. A bustling Sikh temple has opened in Te Puke, songs from Vanuatu warm chilly nights in Central Otago, and in Southland, around 1500 Filipinos are employed on the region’s 900 dairy farms. Yet many new-migrant families lead insecure lives, at the whim of immigration law, their future in this country uncertain.
Only one person in New Zealand has ever been charged with spying for the Russians.
By night, a menagerie of species rises to the surface of the ocean—rarely glimpsed, and in some cases never photographed.
It looks like Weet-Bix, but this polymer sponge, could soak up crude-oil spills—and it’s made out of rubbish.
Evolution means we are perfectly adapted to our environment. Yeah, right.
The Earth has always had a dynamic climate, but it has never changed as fast as it is changing now. What forces are driving this massive flux? How can we reduce carbon emissions caused by human society, and mitigate the effects of climate change? How can we adapt to the new normal?
First introduced in the 1870s for hedges, African boxthorn soon went rogue. It thrives in coastal areas, as it can handle dry, salty, sandy, windy, hot and cold conditions. Up to six metres tall, it crowds out other plants with its 13-millimetre spines. Thorns can get stuck in cattle hooves, pierce gumboots, and puncture tyres. ‘Lycium’ means ‘thorny shrub’ and ‘ferrocissimum’ means ‘ferocious’. Seabirds can get tangled up in clumps of boxthorn as they land or take off, and quickly die of starvation and exposure. The Department of Conservation is battling boxthorn on the predator-free island Motunau, a place teeming with seabird burrows. In Taranaki, boxthorn was once in demand. Seeds and seedlings were sold by nurseries and locals, and sheep-proof hedges were planted. Boxthorn honey and boxthorn jam were popular, and boxthorn wood was good firewood. Now, hedges are more likely to be bulldozed and burned.
There’s a dark side to herpetoculture—the hobby of keeping reptiles. Attempts to bring exotic reptiles into New Zealand put native species and ecosystems at risk, while demand from international collectors leads to the poaching of endemic geckos from fragile populations. With three-quarters of our reptiles classed as endangered, we can’t afford for any to be stolen.
A track that pays tribute to optimism and folly on the West Coast.
Whenua Hou, a tiny island off the coast of Stewart Island, is most famous for its population of kākāpō, but it also has a one-kilometre strip of beach where diving petrels breed. These have just been identified as a unique species, the Whenua Hou diving petrel, Pelecanoides whenuahouensis. While there are 15 million diving petrels around the world, Johannes Fischer of Victoria University in Wellington concluded that this tiny colony was a different species for a variety of reasons: their feather colours, DNA, deeper bills, longer heads, and different species of feather lice. They’re also the only diving petrel to breed entirely within a sand-dune environment. The species numbers about 150 birds, making it critically endangered. Its entire population nests in this fragile, changeable place.
New Zealand has a higher rainfall per capita than any country in the world. It turns the turbines of energy generation, it fuels our dairy exports, and our tourism industry depends on clean, green experiences touted in brochures. How do we utilise this great resource while protecting it for the future?
Small spiders have been found up to four kilometres high in the atmosphere and more than 1500 kilometres out to sea.
A new record has been set for the longest dive by an emperor penguin. In a study led by NIWA marine ecologist Kim Goetz during the penguin breeding season, 20 birds that hadn’t paired up were tagged and tracked in the eastern Ross Sea. These birds dived 96,000 times over six months, and while most dives were around the five-minute mark, one lasted a record-breaking 32.2 minutes. (Previously, the longest dive was 27.6 minutes.) Penguins dive in order to catch fish, krill and squid, and the study found they dived deeper and longer during the day and at twilight, consistent with using eyesight to hunt.
While sequencing the genome of the English oak, a tree that can live for hundreds of years, French researchers noticed a burst of gene duplication within plant-disease resistance genes.
Some of the first Antarctic explorers had four legs.
A new book traces the history of sport in New Zealand.
When the forecast is just right, Irene and Crispin Middleton wake up in the middle of the night and put to sea.
There are some striking differences in the names that we bestow.
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