There is a slow war raging, under our noses.
Like many people outside Christchurch on February 22, I learned of the earthquake just minutes after it happened. I was consumed by a sort of by-standers horror—in a city besieged for months by aftershocks, it seemed the cruelest twist of fate. The fabled two degrees of separation that connect New Zealanders was born out by this quake. Near everybody knew someone who was directly affected, and though my friends resident in the city were unharmed, it was the out-of-towners that I hadn’t thought of. My brother, who was flying to Christchurch that day, missed the quake by an hour. Cousins from Hokitika, who had experienced the first 7.1 earthquake while “in town” for a funeral, were in Christchurch again, treating themselves to lunch on the second floor of Ballantynes when the 6.3 quake struck. Though they clawed their way out, their car was entombed in a parking garage. A Honda dealer down the road tossed them a set of keys for a showroom model, perhaps sensing he wouldn’t be selling anything for a while, and they would as good a bet as any for a future sale. (Their own car was retrieved from the rubble weeks later, without a scratch.) After a few days I thought I’d heard from everyone, but the very first name of the dead released, by the Irish Embassy, was a friend of my wife. Owen was crushed when a building fell on his car, leaving a wife and two children in Alexandra. Just days after the quake, the police turned up to help celebrate his son’s fourth birthday, with lights flashing—a futile, though generous, loving gesture—one of a thousand such acts of compassion, community and solidarity that played out after the disaster. For a month the two-degrees of separation, the big-city rivalries which divide North and South, seemed to close up, such was the empathy, and the need. But the disaster is far from over. Christchurch has now been struck by aftershocks of the aftershock as large as magnitude 5.3, perpetuating the state of physical and emotional instability in the city, and frustrating attempts to rebuild. It now seems that the new Christchurch will need to be a very different city. Fortunately, creativity and steadfast determination are two qualities residents of the garden city seem to have in spades, as Vaughan Yarwood observes in the feature in this issue. It is also necessary to note that three great totara have recently came crashing to ground. Dame Judith Binney, the eminent historian; Professor John Morton, the charismatic biologist who served on the editorial board of this magazine in its early years; and legendary conservationist Don Merton have all passed in recent months. Binney’s latest book is reviewed on page 104, and the life and work of Merton and Morton are given tribute on pages 110 and 112 respectively. Though it may appear that coverage of the devastating quake and eulogies to those who have passed is obsessively morbid, the lives of remarkable people and reflection on all that has been lost can help orientate society in an ocean of competing possibilities. At times of tragedy and great loss, true north can be patently obvious.
Selling bottled water to a nation with the quality and quantity of town supply water like New Zealand’s may have once seemed akin to selling ice to Eskimos, but in the past 10 years Kiwis have been taking to sipper bottles with enthusiasm. The switch in mentality was helped along by Auckland’s drought of 1994, and in 2002 a pipeline was built to supplement the municipal supply with water from the polluted Waikato River. Despite filtering and thorough treatment, many Aucklanders were revolted by the idea, and began investing in water filtration systems, boiling water, chilling it in the fridge, and buying bottled water. In the health wave of the past decade, the rest of the country followed suit, responding to marketing campaigns promising a guilt-free beverage without sugar, artificial additives, caffeine or alcohol, packaged in an attractive and convenient recyclable sipper bottle. But it comes at a cost. The manufacturing process consumes between two and five litres of water, depending on the facility, and 42.5 ml of oil for every one-litre plastic sipper bottle. Coca-Cola’s Putaruru bottling plant can produce 50,000 bottles of water daily, representing more than 13 barrels of crude oil. Incidentally, the Putaruru town supply in South Waikato is the source of around 60 per cent of New Zealand bottled water including Blue Spring, Pump and Cool Blue, which are sold for more than 2000 times the price of water from a Putaruru tap.
The Maniototo was first explored in 1857 by pioneer surveyor John Turnbull Thompson, who gave the area its distinctive English/Scottish border dialect farm-animal place names. Like many isolated rural areas, the Maniototo has suffered from a continued population decline. However the advent of the Otago Central Rail Trail and the popularity of places like Naseby, driven by increasingly unaffordable property prices in Queenstown and Wanaka, have revitalised the region. Track Notes From the Old Dunstan Rd, the walk follows the legal road line south along the crest of Rough Ridge for about six kilometres to a private hut beside the road. The road enters the signposted Serpentine Scenic Reserve three kilometres past the hut. It is worth making a short detour to Trig H, the high point of Rough Ridge (1174 m above sea level). There is a great viewpoint here over the surrounding vast tussock uplands, with both the Poolburn and Upper Manorburn reservoirs visible. One kilometre past the trig is the turnoff down to the Long Gully Mine and battery. Follow a 4WD track west for about 200 m to a group of stone hut remains beside a large rock with a butcher’s hook drilled into it. Directly down-slope of these huts is the mine site, which is marked by a mullock heap and a tipping bench at the mouth of a tunnel, which is knee-deep in water. From the tunnel an old, level, sledge track leads north for several hundred metres to the top of an inclined rail track. Follow this incline directly down to the battery site beside Long Valley Creek. Retrace your steps back up to the 4WD track on the crest of Rough Ridge. The Old Serpentine Church is a further two kilometres along the main 4WD track of Long Valley Ridge Rd. Points of Interest The Old Serpentine Church is a symbol of Otago’s goldfields heritage. There are few more evocative memorials to the hardiness and enterprise of the pioneer miners than this lonely stone building in its desolate surroundings. There are scattered alluvial workings, including water races and holding dams, all over the reserve. Small-scale alluvial mining commenced in 1863 and was largely abandoned by the late 1880s. The quartz–bearing reefs were discovered in the 1870s. The Long Valley stamper was erected on the top of the ridge in 1882 and moved to its current site in 1890, but was abandoned in 1891. Its current good state of preservation owes much to its isolation.
The highly endangered hihi has an appetite for sex to rival rabbits, but promiscuity and infidelity may just save the species. Even while paired up, the female hihi, or stitchbird, will be mating with another male, and her partner may be copulating with another female. Consequently, about 60 per cent of a male hihi’s nestlings will not be his own progeny. Zoological Society of London research fellow John Ewen has been studying the birds for 17 years and believes that there may be an advantage in this behaviour. With only a few thousand birds in existence, some hihi suffer from ‘inbreeding depression’—a situation common in small populations that often results in weaker offspring. Patricia Brekke, who studied this issue for her PhD, says that with extensive polygamy, the resulting population becomes far more genetically diverse because many more individuals can successfully breed and pass on their genes, and the most compatible sperm and egg matches are able to take place.
It is hard to imagine any visitor today holding the attention of the country for four weeks, with every comment quoted and debated in the media and, within days of leaving, having a reference booklet of public utterances published. However, in 1934, when the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw arrived on board the liner RMS Rangitane, New Zealand was shaking off the effects of the Great Depression and there was interest in any informed views on overseas markets. Moreover, the country keenly felt its remoteness from the global centres of economic and cultural life, and for many immigrants, England was still ‘home’. The 77-year-old Shaw—who travelled to the antipodes at the insistence of his wife, Charlotte—had been making a disorderly descent from his masterpiece, the play Saint Joan, for 10 years. Yet his achievement in creating a “theatre of ideas” laced with comedy—a drama where dearly held beliefs were set colliding on stage—ensured that he continued to dwarf his contemporaries. More magnetic than his artistic standing, though, was his sparkling wit and a readiness to speak his mind on any subject. Shaw’s reputation denied him the possibility of a quiet motoring holiday. Instead, from the moment he and Charlotte walked down the gangway to the enthusiastic cheering of watersiders, a sort of Royal progress began. They drank tea with the Prime Minister, lunched with the Governor-General and toured the sights—the names for many of Rotorua attractions, including “Hell’s Gate”, are his. “I seem to be the most popular stranger to visit the Southern Hemisphere,” he remarked. Shaw, who had entered his “strong-leader” phase, everywhere courted controversy. He had read Hitler’s Mein Kampf on the voyage, as well as biographies of Napoleon and Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and he lectured New Zealanders on the failure of democracy, loudly praising the Italian dictator Mussolini as “the first parliament slayer”. Yet he could be prescient. “You can overthrow a government in a day,” he told the Evening Post. “The changing of an economic system is a longer job.” Shaw suggested distributing free milk—a proposal that was taken up the following year, when the first Labour government decreed that every school child would get half a pint of pasteurised milk a day. He also recommended the development of a New Zealand film industry, “or you will lose your souls without even getting American ones”, and advised against relying for trade protection on the special relationship with Britain. From the Moscow News, a copy of which was pressed unexpectedly on Shaw by a bystander the day he arrived, to the official bouquets of flowers belatedly pushed through portholes after the ship had cast off, he was inundated with gifts. Shaw had given generously in return. By turns provocative, cajoling and amusing he had, for a time, goaded New Zealanders to think.
The face of mountain climbing in New Zealand is changing. As glaciers retreat, access to our high peaks becomes more difficult and, in some cases, near impossible. Climbers are pioneering entirely new routes to reach summits. This summer, a small team of climbers forged their way into the heart of the Spencer Glacier, and struck a new line up the sheer rock flank of Mt Walter—the first new route there in over 30 years.
Though ChristChurch Cathedral will almost certainly be restored to former glory, the fate of other heritage buildings, indeed the future of the city itself, is less clear.
If you think these colourful oddities might be more at home in a pet shop, you’d be right. People find such rarities desirable and attractive, and so we perpetuate colour abnormalities by selectively breeding for them in captivity—everything from goldfish and blue budgies (wild budgies are green) to white mice and Irish red setters. In the wild, however, natural colour abnormalities are a rare phenomenon, seldom surviving long enough to breed and pass on their genes. Unable to be fully expressed, these genetic colour abnormalities lie latent inside normal-coloured hosts until the environment changes and a new opportunity presents itself. Only then might a new colour offer advantages in the struggle to survive.
Like mechanical crayfish making landfall, the bulldozers that line the shore at Ngawi are an original solution for a unusual location. But as Mark Scott discovers, it’s not the only thing that makes this seaside community unique
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