Once thought to be an insect which turns into a plant, the vegetable caterpillar is one of the more bizarre oddities in New Zealand's fauna.
Once thought to be an insect which turns into a plant, the vegetable caterpillar is one of the more bizarre oddities in New Zealand's fauna.
Every New Zealand school child learns the story of how Maui hauled up the North Island using a fishing line and a hook fashioned from his grandmother's jawbone. Today, his line is being set into the bricks and mortar of a new building, and into the philosophy of a rather unusual project. Capital Discovery Place, Te Aho a Maui (Maui's line), is a science centre. It is part of the world-wide boom in centres which seek to widen understanding of science and technology. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, India, France, Denmark, Finland, Canada, the United States all have similar facilities, with interactive exhibits and programmes that undo some of the mystery which many people associate with science. These overseas centres tend to follow a common pattern, but a few have chosen not to simply buy off-the-shelf exhibits. Discovery Place, which is being built next to the Michael Fowler Centre in downtown Wellington, is one of these. When it opens in spring, 1992, it will provide a strong New Zealand focus, with science treated as part of everyday life, and linked closely to arts and culture. The nearly-completed building already displays this intention. The two architects—Ian Athfield and Rewi Thompson—have developed a design which has Maui's line stretching as a braided path across the roof and cutting through an eight-metre mountain and anchorstone before fraying out into a paving pattern and lattice of ropes supporting sails over the entrance ways. The mountain will be tipped by greenstone. Inside the building there will be a number of themed exhibits. The tuatara is a starting point for an environmental exhibit which focuses on biodiversity and the restoration of our offshore islands. Visitors will be able to see live tuatara, and will have the chance to join a field trip. Plans are being made to link a number of computers into various information and learning networks—both throughout New Zealand and overseas. Casual visitors can exchange messages with an electronic penpal, while school groups may work on a common research project with their peers in other countries and then pool their results via the computer. A confidence core, a structure which moves children through physical and intellectual challenges, will link into a bodylab where they can measure and monitor their own body's performances. Visitors to Te Aho a Maui can throw in their fishing lines and haul up their own new discoveries
Even as New Zealand birds like the kakapo teeter on the brink of extinction, evidence continues to come to light concerning species which died out in the recent or distant past. This year, a new species of extinct wren was described, bringing to seven the number of wrens which are known to have lived in New Zealand. Of these, only two remain: the rifleman and the rock wren. The famous case of the lighthouse keeper's cat, which has been blamed for single-pawedly eliminating the Stephens Island flightless wren (a previously widespread species) in the 1890s, was a particularly poignant saga. Equally distressing was the extinction, as recently as the 1970s, of the bush wren from islets near Stewart Island. Dendroscansor decurvirostris (right), like the Stephens Island wren, was flightless, and probably fed by probing holes and crevices in tree bark for insects and other invertebrates. It had an extraordinarily long, downcurved beak, and short, slender legs, and probably was equally at home scuttling up and down living trees as it would have been fossicking on fallen logs. Perhaps, like the kiwi, it also used its long bill to probe into the soil. Like so many other New Zealand birds, including other wrens, rails and petrels, D. decurvirostris was probably wiped out by the introduced Polynesian rat.
In November 1990, Solar Kiwi, New Zealand's first solar-powered racing car, successfully competed in the second triennial Darwin-to-Adelaide World Solar Challenge. (See New Zealand Geographic, Issue 9). Two of Solar Kiwi's builders, Stewart and Vivianne Lister of Hamilton, initially regarded their adventure as a "oncer," but with a little prompting, and an offer of financial backing from a local group, the Listers decided to reconsider, and the Solar Kiwi Challenge 1993 project was born. More advanced technology will be used in the new car, which Stewart hopes will make it "technically capable of finishing in the first ten." But the new project is about more than just the next Australian race. The Listers have also launched a solar model contest, aimed at teaching young New Zealanders wise energy use and an understanding of energy options. A total of 118 New Zealand high schools, from Taipa to Invercargill, will build model solar cars to compete in regional races to be held in October 1992, with the finals planned for Hamilton in November 1992. The Listers provide a starter kit containing a solar panel, motor, transmission and resource book. The rest is up to the school. The Listers are currently visiting all the schools in the competition. As well as showing off Solar Kiwi, they give children rides on a solar-assisted electric scooter and explain the finer points of making a model solar racer. When space and weather permit, a few lucky students even get to drive Solar Kiwi. The headmaster of one school, when offered a turn around the tennis court, swiftly seized the steering wheel and the opportunity with both hands. With a gleam in his eye, he accelerated straight for the gate, and the call of the open road. It is a racing car, after all! Long Bay College (situated just north of Auckland), has even more ambitious plans than simply joining the model racer competition. Inspired by the exploits of the four high school entrants in the 1990 race, they have decided to go for the real thing. They plan to be at the start line in Darwin in November 1993 with their own entry.
These are the months during which the night sky seems formless, for bright stars are few and scattered. The familiar Cross is head down on the southern horizon, the Sagittarius star cloud which marks, yet masks, the centre of our galaxy is setting, and the ever familiar pattern of Orion is just emerging in the east. Overhead Achernar, a Eridani, marks the mouth of the river Eridanus, which meanders across the eastern half of the sky from its spring under Orion's left foot—marked by Rigel, β Orionis. With few obvious splendours—for most of its stars are not bright enough to be visible against the light-polluted atmosphere of our cities and larger towns—this season's night sky contains the three naked-eye galaxies (Andromeda and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds), together with the second brightest and most striking of the globular clusters, 47 Tucanae. Step outside the dome of artificial light with which we shroud our cities, and the hemisphere of night darkens from blue-grey to luminous black. The scattering of stars becomes a multitude. To the south, the striking Great Square of Pegasus sits four square above the horizon, and from its lower, right hand or north-eastern corner, a Andromedae or Alpheratz, it is an easy star hop north-easterly to S and p, thence south-westerly to t, and then as far again to the faint, elongated glow of the great Andromeda nebula, M31 or NGC224. The bright nuclear region is easily visible through binoculars, but this nebula has been called the most disappointing object in the heavens, for no view of it, even with a large telescope, can compare with the long-exposure photographs used to illustrate almost every book on astronomy. Yet there is always a prickling at the nape of the neck as one looks over the edge of the horizon down 2.2 million light years. There is the amazement that the several packets of photons have retained their coherence for so long and so far. While it is possible, though improbable, that this light can generate of a fuzzy glow on our retinas, it is against any reasonable expectation that this light should yield images of the individual stars, knots of bright nebulosity and great drifts of dust and cold, light-absorbing gas which are revealed in photographs. Were we in M31, our view of the Milky Way galaxy would be similar—an oblique view of a large spiral galaxy. The Andromeda galaxy is rather larger and 50 per cent heavier than our own, but these two, each with their retinue of smaller galaxies, are the giants of the local group of eighteen galaxies. Two of M31's companion galaxies, M32 (NGC221) and M110 (NGC205), are telescopic objects, although very much smaller and fainter. So accustomed are we to the current general view of the universe, with its vast voids and blazing congeries of stars forming galaxies, that it comes as a shock to find that it was not until as recently as the late 1920s that most astronomers accepted that there were galaxies similar to ours elsewhere in space. That the universe extended beyond the boundaries of the Milky Way was not doubted, but the precise nature of the nebulae was not determined until American astronomer Edwin Hubble made photographs of M31 and M33, which is a member of the local group and in Triangulum. These astrographic plates resolved individual stars and enabled him to identify a number of variable stars of the δ Cephei type. Using formulae which link the brightness and period of fluctuation of variable stars to their distances, Hubble estimated the Andromeda galaxy to be rather more than 1,000,000 light years away.Within a few years he had measured the distance of some 125 nebulae, as they were then known. Because of an incorrect calibration of the period/ luminosity relationship through failure to allow for the effects of interstellar dimming (termed the distance modulus), these initial estimates were 50 per cent short, but nevertheless they expanded the known universe far, far beyond any earlier models. South of Achernar and lying east and west of it are two rather irregular cloudy patches first recorded in European astronomy by the explorer Magellan. Through binoculars, their astronomical rather than meteorological nature is apparent; they are, in fact, small galaxies situated just beyond the boundary of our own system. A scant 180,000 light years away, they are by far the closest extra-galactic objects available to us—so close, indeed, that the supernova of 1987 was more clearly observable in that position than if it had been embedded within the dust and gas of our own system. Both clouds contain the full range of objects seen within our system: stars of all types, open and globular clusters, bands of gas and dust together with patches of emission nebulosity marking the site of stellar formation, and a due ration of novae and supernovae. Lying east of Achernar within the Large Magellanic Cloud is the great "Tarantula" emission nebula, NGC2070 or 30 Doradus. Visible to the naked eye, this huge, complex cloud, measuring about 10,000 x 3000 light years, probably hides within itself an extremely dense cluster of massive stars which are producing high intensity ultra-violet radiation and a powerful stellar wind. If this complex were as close as the famous Great Nebula in Orion, M42 or NGC1976, which is about 1600 light years away, then the Tarantula would be visible throughout the day and would cast shadows at night. Westwards, the Small Magellanic Cloud is further from us than its larger partner, and there is some evidence suggesting that what we are seeing is in fact two small irregular galaxies, one being some 30,000 light years behind the other. The LMC and the SMC both lie in a common cloud of cool neutral hydrogen gas which is extended out towards our galaxy and which was probably gravitationally torn out during a close encounter of the two clouds with our galaxy some 1,000,000,000 years ago. Immediately to the west of the Small Cloud is a hazy patch which is the great globular cluster NGC104 or 47 Tucanae, affectionately known as "47 Took." Second in size and brilliance only to ɯ Centauri, this spherical concentration of some millions of stars is just over 200 light years in diameter. Towards the middle, the concentration of stars is so great that it has been impossible to resolve the central glow into individual stars. Early in the nineteenth century, John Herschel, working from the Cape of Good Hope, distinguished between the white stars of outer areas and the rose-tinted members of the core. Although this distinction was later denied by Agnes Clerke in 1905, it is inescapable when using a large instrument, as I discovered using the Loftus 36-inch Newtonian telescope from Pokeno. Having driven 50km down the southern motorway (and placed the Bombay Hill between myself and Auckland's fearsome light pollution) I was rewarded with that cluster of a myriad lights which is 47 Tuc., and could clearly discern a yellow to pale orange tint in the core—something which was altogether lacking in the cold white of the halo stars. For astronomers, 47 Tuc. is of particular interest, for not only is it reasonably close (at 13,000 light years) but also its position well above the plane of the galaxy means that our view of it is not obscured by interstellar dust, nor confused by numbers of intervening stars. The globular clusters are some of the oldest objects in the galaxy, and are composed of Population II stars. These stars, which are also found at the core of spiral galaxies and in the spherical halo of high velocity stars which surround the disc of the galaxy, characteristically contain virtually nothing but hydrogen and helium. All the other elements are lumped together under the name "metals," and it is their abundance or otherwise which is one of the main clues as to a star's origin, history and age. The elements heavier than helium and up to and including iron are produced particularly during the latter stages of a star's life, but nuclei heavier than iron require energies only generated in the death throes of massive stars, or cataclysmic events such as supernova explosions. Stars of modest size, such as our Sun, which contain a significant proportion of metals, have clearly been formed from the aggregation of the remains of pre-existing stars which created and distributed these elements during the final stages of their lives. Thus stars in which such material is but a trace must have formed at a time when this matter had yet to contaminate the primordial mix of hydrogen and helium. Such stars must be very old—virtually coeval with the galaxy itself. Population II stars are examples of such metal-poor objects, and date from the earliest days of the galaxy and, perhaps, from the very young universe. Although the globular clusters are Population II objects, they show a considerable variation in their metallic content, ranging generally from 1 to 10 per cent of that of the Sun, though there are a few well towards the centre of the galaxy which approach the metallic content of the Sun. 47 Tuc. is one such globular with a particularly high proportion of metals. It is unusual in that it lies well away from the central region. How this came to be is at present not understood. Is it indeed a young globular, the stars of which have condensed out of hydrogen already contaminated with heavy elements, or is it possible that frequent collisions amongst the constituent stars have resulted in the formation of the elements beyond iron? Both theories have difficulties, and only further study of the constituent stars of this and the other globular clusters will enable us to untangle its life story and account for the composition of this striking object. But whatever conclusions we draw, 47 Tuc. will always be regarded as one of the wonders of the southern sky, and one which alone almost justifies ownership of a telescope.
Man's best friend has been part of the human scene for the last 10,000 years.Even so, we still exhibit a love/hate relationship with our four-legged companions.
The oldest Blocks hailstorm occurred in Yorkshire 160 million years ago. The marks it made in the mud have been fossilised and preserved as stone. But it is only since the development of agriculture, about seven thousand years ago, that hail has become a serious threat to our food supplies. Hailstorms can be immensely destructive, flattening acres of crops or stripping the vegetation off trees in a few minutes. On one occasion in Hawkes Bay, particularly jagged hailstones sliced apples in two and left halves hanging from trees. One of the most costly hailstorms to have occurred in New Zealand was estimated to have lost kiwifruit growers six million dollars in the Bay of Plenty in 1987. A hailstorm in Hawkes Bay in 1986 did about four million dollars' worth of damage to horticultural crops only two months after farmers had voted to cancel a hail insurance scheme—because it was too expensive! Substantial hail damage also occurs in cities. The devastating Munich hailstorm of 1984 caused an insurance loss of over $US500 million, chiefly to cars. In Sydney, a hailstorm in 1976 led to insurance claims in excess of $A40 million. Hail also poses a direct threat to life, as a blow on the head from a large hailstone can kill. Although there are no records of people being killed by hail in New Zealand, hailstones up to the size of tennis balls have been recorded here. Among the animals killed have been dogs, rabbits, sheep, chickens, ducks, seagulls and, on one occasion, a goldfish. Deaths have occurred in a number of overseas countries, including the USA, China and India. One of the worst hailstorms on record occurred in Northern India in 1888. The hailstones were as large as cricket balls, and 246 people were killed, along with 1600 sheep and goats. Hailstones grow in parts of cumulonimbus clouds where there is an abundant supply of droplets of liquid water at below zero temperatures. These liquid droplets freeze as soon as they touch an initial ice particle which itself will have formed on a freezing nucleus such as a speck of dust. Occasionally, insects may act as freezing nuclei and then become entombed as the hailstone grows around them. Dead flies have been found inside hailstones in New Zealand. On one occasion, in Iowa in 1882, live frogs were found inside two hailstones. As the droplets freeze on to the growing hailstone, air is trapped between them. This gives them their white appearance. Sometimes the hailstone will partially melt as it grows, before going through another cycle of growth. This gives the hailstone a series of growth rings, like tree-rings, and these can be seen if the hailstone is sliced open. The cumulonimbus updraught has to be strong enough to support the hailstone against the force of gravity. One way to get strong updraughts is with a supercell. This type of cumulonimbus can develop when the winds aloft are stronger than the winds near the ground. When this happens the cumulonimbus cloud grows up tilted at an angle to the vertical. Because of this, the vigorous updraught that creates the cloud is not destroyed by the rain it creates. Normally, falling rain will destroy an updraught through friction and through the cooling caused by partial evaporation of the rain. When the tall cumulonimbus cloud is tilted, the rain falls to one side of the updraught, allowing the updraught to continue unhindered. Ordinary cumulonimbus have a lifetime of about one hour, but supercells last longer and have much stronger up draughts, and hence can support hail until it has grown to appreciable size. If all sizes of hail are considered, the greatest frequency occurs in western areas of New Zealand in winter and spring. But if only severe storms with large hailstones are considered, then the greatest frequency is in eastern districts in spring and summer. Storms that produce small hail often affect large areas at the same time, but the most severe storms with the largest hailstones typically have narrow paths of destruction through a province, and most people are unaffected. For this reason they can only be precisely predicted a few hours ahead, with the use of weather radar. Because hail can be so destructive, crop farmers and orchardists have long sought to prevent it. Artillery shells filled with cloud-seeding chemicals are fired into thunderstorms in Russia to try to make lots of little hail stones instead of a few large damaging ones. Hail cannon that fire a blank charge have been used in many countries, including New Zealand, with the hope that the shock wave will break up the hail stones. However, this method has been compared by one expert to taking a block of ice from the fridge and trying to break it by yelling at it. The success of hail suppression is hard to judge, because it is hard to tell if there would have been a hailstorm had the cannon or artillery not been fired. Although guns have been fired at the weather for hundreds of years, attempts at hail prevention go even further back. Church bells were rung as early as the 8th century to exorcise the evil spirits in clouds. A risky business, since bell towers were prime targets for lightning. Before this, arrows were sometimes shot into the clouds, perhaps to vent frustration as much as to skewer evil spirits. Even in fine weather we are not completely safe, because large chunks of ice have been known to fall from a blue sky. The most likely explanation is that the ice formed on an aircraft and only fell off after the plane had left the cloud far behind. Perhaps the most macabre "hailstone" to have fallen to Earth occurred in Germany in 1930. A glider pilot baled out of his glider in a thunderstorm over the Rhon mountains. The updraughts in the cloud held him aloft until he froze to death. By the time he fell to Earth he was encased in ice. Hail is hard to study because it melts so fast. So, if you find some unusual hail, pop it in the freezer and ring the Meteorological Service.
Pioneers aren't just people who climb mountains and discover waterfalls. Sometimes the sheer don't-give-in grit of living can be just as extraordinary. Annie Fox was one who demonstrated this quality. Unusual for her time, she left an abusive husband, took her pride and dignity and transplanted it "above the bush."
Anyone with a nose for military history could be excused for believing we are a warlike lot. Walk the streets of post-Second World War New Zealand suburbia and the names of famous battles and the men who fought in them spring back to life. Maadi Street leads to Freyberg Terrace past El Alamein Road and then on to Kippenberger Crescent just past Sollum Grove and Upham Street. The Western Desert isn't forgotten. Canterbury has its Mount Achilles to honour the New Zealand cruiser whose guns blazed in anger in the Battle of the River Plate, and Auckland remembers with Achilles Point above Mission Bay. They are all names to remember. To be sure, Maadi wasn't a battlefield, just a wasteland base camp not far from Cairo, but a lot of New Zealanders passed through it, and it hasn't been forgotten. The other names are part of history, but New Zealand in the 1940s and '50s wasn't breaking new ground by giving them a new lease of life. The same phenomenon occurred after the First World War when patriotism ran high and the names of famous battles were emblazoned on street signs from one end of the country to the other. Menin Road, Gallipoli Place, Ypres Street, Anzac Square and a dozen other names from the mud and pain of Flanders Field, the disaster of the Dardanelles and the dust and heat of Mesopotamia revive fading memories of New Zealanders at war. The pattern for such things was well established long before New Zealand had military forces of its own. Pakeha settlers brought their own memories of campaigns long past with them, and were determined that they would not be forgotten. Auckland's Ponsonby commemorates Captain Ponsonby Cavendish who commanded a brigade at the Battle of Waterloo, and Marlborough takes its name from John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough. Blenheim, the provincial capital, recalls his most famous victory at the battle of Blenheim in 1704. Naseby also recalls a bloody period of British civil war. It was at Naseby that the Royalists were defeated by Cromwell. The Scots dug even deeper into the past when they named Bannockburn in Central Otago. The battle of Bannockburn was fought in 1314, and the Scots never forgot it. Neither did they forget Robert the Bruce who led them to victory against the English. His name survives in Bruce County in Otago and in Mount Bruce in the Wairarapa. India was still the Jewel in the Crown when New Zealand was identifying itself as the new colony. Auckland's Khyber Pass is still a reminder of the historic and often glamorised North-West Frontier, gateway to Afghanistan. Napier takes its name from "the greatest and best Indian Captain," Sir Charles Napier, but it didn't end there. The streets of the garrison town became an index of the garrison's Indian connection—Simla Terrace, Delhi Road, Hyderabad Road, and Havelock Road after Sir Henry Havelock, the leader who survived the Indian mutiny and went on to raise the siege of Lucknow. Hastings was no less influenced by British adventuring in India. The town took its name from Warren Hastings, first governor of Bengal, and nearby Clive was named for soldier-statesman, Baron Robert Clive, who effectively planted the British flag on Indian soil. Hongi's Track at Rotorua is a reminder of a turbulent time in our own history when Hongi Hika with 1200 warriors dragged canoes overland to attack and defeat the defenders of Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua. The New Zealand Wars added their own dimension to New Zealand place names. Auckland's Blockhouse Bay, originally Avondale South, reflects settler fears of attack during the Waikato war. Gate Pa began as the gateway to Church Missionary Society's land, but is better remembered as the site of the Battle of Gate Pa, in which General Cameron suffered the humiliation of seeing his imperial troops, complete with artillery, routed by the small force of Rawiri Puhirake. The chief had learned what General Cameron had not. He constructed bunkers and underground tunnels as defences as he adapted to the changing demands of gunpowder war. Other battles of the New Zealand Wars are remembered in such names as Rangiriri, the place of the angry sky, and Orakau, where a 300-strong Maori King Movement force led by Rewi Maniapoto made a stand against the 2000-strong British troops in 1864. Despite the numerical disadvantage, Rewi and his supporters made a dash through the fire to the safety of the King Country. But those names were in place before the coming of the Pakeha. Perhaps the day will come when their significance in the struggle for New Zealand is given the attention it deserves.
Today's Moa Hunters wear head-lamps and overalls, and carry trowels and paintbrushes, not spears and obsidian knives. They hunt their quarry not in the depths of some primeval forest, but in underground caverns with names like Moonsilver and Golon Dreamer. Trevor Worthy is one of them. Raised on a farm in Broadwood, Northland, Trevor developed an early affinity for the subterranean by exploring the local tomo (sinkholes found in clay country) using baling twine to lower himself in. Later, at secondary school in Whangarei, an interest in bones, particularly bird bones, was sparked during volunteer beach patrols in which boys would look for oceanic birds that had been washed up on the ocean stretches of Dargaville, Whangarei and Ninety Mile Beach. The two interests came together when he took a job setting up displays of fossils in the Museum of Caves at New Zealand's most famous cave site: Waitomo. A Master's thesis on fossil frogs followed—"my official entrance into the fossil world." Then it was back to birds, and for the last four years Trevor has catalogued and categorised existing moa bones, and searched at every opportunity for new deposits. He is now recognised as an authority on moa classification, and whenever a caver stumbles across a significant new find (such as an articulated skeleton) he is called in to identify it and assess its importance to the scientific community. In a limestone cave somewhere in the backblocks of Golden Bay, Trevor is guiding us to a moa skeleton he first sighted some years previously. Earlier, he and local conservation officer Nigel Mountfort—another caver—had been consulting an enormous hand-drawn map of the cave system, trying to pinpoint the skeleton's exact location among the labyrinth of passages. Underground, remembering, let alone interpreting, the map becomes a major challenge. "Wait here. I'll have a look up ahead and see if we're in the right place," calls Trevor. The helmeted figure in faded blue overalls strides away, crossing a narrow ledge, clambouring over boulders that look like discards from a giant's marble game, until his lamp is just a pin-prick of light, then gone altogether. We wait, the only sound the hiss of our carbide lamps; the only smell the sweet sharpness of acetylene escaping from imperfect seals. In minutes, the moa hunter is back. He's found the place, and we go to record it on film. (See fold-out between pages 64 and 65.) Later, we're in another part of the cave, looking at another skeleton. Photographer Geoff Mason is struggling with a flash unit which has chosen this precise moment of maximum inaccessibility to give up the ghost. Nearby, Trevor is on hands and knees, sifting through the accumulated millennia of cave dust and searching for remnants of a lost fauna. He points to the shell of a native snail, a rifleman's humerus, the pelvis of a frog. The insatiable curiosity can't be quenched. Trevor tells me he's now making forays into the classification of lizards and frogs, as well as birds, but he says the real challenge is defining the environments in which these extinct animals lived. In my mind, I wish him good luck, this energetic discoverer of the past, and think of an old Maori saying that has an appealing irony: Ko te many hou nei e, te moa. The new bird here, the moa.
They were among the biggest birds that ever lived, and for millions of years they browsed the shrublands, forests and alpine herbfields of prehistoric New Zealand. Then, in a matter of centuries, they were wiped out. Only their bones remain to tell the story of this country's most prodigious bird.
Mark Scott continues his exploration of the Cooks, looking in this article at the southern islands.
Thanks, you're good to go!
Thanks, you're good to go!
Ask your librarian to subscribe to this service next year. Alternatively, use a home network and buy a digital subscription—just $1/week...
Subscribe to our free newsletter for news and prizes