Arno Gasteiger

Together at Home

Here we are—a nation of parents, grandparents and children all in the same boat, together at home. He waka eke noa. Every day of the lock-down we will post a story or video that can be shared among your family. The first few are below, and with them some talking points to fill our days at home together. Mauri ora.

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Living World

Aug 28: What happened on Stack H?

The Mokohinau stag beetle is one of the world’s most endangered species, occupying less than an acre of scrub on a rocky tower in the middle of the ocean. Its habitat is so precarious that Auckland Zoo and DOC are hoping to safeguard a population of beetles on the mainland as a form of insurance—that is, if there are any left.

Society

Aug 27: Auckland's green heart

In 1845 Governor George Grey set aside 80 hectares of central Auckland for a park. On the crest of an ancient volcano, it is a memorial, a recreation space, a green heart for the city and its citizens.

Living World

Aug 26: Silence of the Fantails

The fantail is one of our commonest native birds, loved for its flamboyant tail, acrobatic flight and inquisitive friendliness. Yet life is no bed of roses for these charming little birds. Between August and February each year they pour their energy into reproduction, only to have almost all of their infant offspring devoured by rats and other predators.

Living World

Aug 25: Where are all the spotted shags?

Seabird scientists are creating a fake home for shags on the Noises, an island group off the coast of Auckland, in the hope that the Hauraki Gulf’s rapidly diminishing spotted shag population will be fooled into thinking it’s a great place to start a family.

History

Aug 24: The governor's island

In a succession of difficult postings—South Australia, New Zealand, South Africa—the energetic George Grey proved himself one of the British Empire's most able governors. Yet when he returned to New Zealand in 1861 for a second term, the magic was fading. The colony was on the brink of civil war, and local politicians were unwilling to allow Grey his former power. As an escape from the increasing pressure and frustration of public life, Grey purchased Kawau Island, building a grand house there amid exotic gardens and filling it with treasures. On the centenary of the death of Sir George Grey—soldier, statesman, explorer, philanthropist—we pay a lingering visit to Mansion House.

Science & Environment

Aug 21: Return of the ancients

Sea turtles survived a meteor that killed the dinosaurs, millions of years of predator attacks, even the slow warming of the seas, only to be threatened by nylon fishing lines and plastic bags. Those that wash up in New Zealand almost always need the help of humans.

Living World

Aug 19: Bird Island

The spade brigade, as they were dubbed, planted 280,000 seedlings—a city of trees—into which a host of rare birds and reptiles were released. Within sight of New Zealand's largest city, Tiritiri Matangi is now a template for island restoration and endangered species management.

Living World

Velvet underground

It may look like a subterranean soft toy, but a prowling peripatus is anything but cuddly. The "velvet worm" is a voracious predator with a startling method of catching prey, and one of the forest's more unlikely denizens.

Living World

Aug 17: No Take Zone

Rolling a fresh cigarette, Bill Ballantine gives a sardonic laugh as he recalls the headline in the local newspaper when New Zealand’s first marine reserve was opened in 1977—“Nothing to do at Goat Island Bay any more.” He had fought for 12 years to protect five square kilometres of marine habitat on the Northland coast. That protection was finally in place. To Ballantine it was the start of a new era. To the newspaper, voicing community opposition, it was the end of one.

Travel & Adventure

May15: South by Kayak

Pushing through a field of brash ice, an intrepid New Zealand expedition closes in on the bottom of the world. Their goal: the Antarctic Circle. Their route: wherever wind, wave and ice permit a passage along the western shore of the Antarctic Peninsula. Their means: three fibreglass kayaks and a fair measure of grit.

Science & Environment

May 13: A new day for solar power

The sun powers our planet and provides us life. It’s as simple as that—though the processes can be mysterious and the applications surprising. In December last year, a bunch of Kiwis with a budget of less than $40,000 proved that it was possible to drive the length of the country using nothing but sunlight.

Living World

May 12: Best in Show

New Zealanders boast one of the highest dog ownership rates in the world—one third of households own at least one dog and 300 kennel clubs across the country run hundreds of dog shows a year. The competition will always be fierce, but there can only be one Best in Show.

Geography

May 8: Mana Island

In fading light, a fairy prion returns to its roost on Mana Island as a host of nocturnal creatures are just beginning their day. After concerted conservation efforts, the island is now a hive of activity after dark.

Science & Environment

May 4: Citizen science

You don’t need a PhD to find a new species, unearth a rare fungus or name an asteroid. New Zealanders with no specialist training are contributing to scientific research by monitoring streams, spotting rare plants, counting the birds visiting their back gardens, and putting GPS trackers on their cats.

Documentary - Our Big Blue Backyard Series 2

May 3: Chatham Islands

Perched way out in the Pacific, Rangatira Island is pockmarked with thousands, maybe millions, of seabird burrows. Its forest remnants and rocky platforms also shelter some unique and critically endangered birds. But even endangered birds can make a tasty snack and, on a crowded island, there might not be enough room for everyone to rear their chicks.

Society

May 2: Kelly Tarlton

Although he is best remembered for the Underwater World on Auckland's waterfront which still carries his name 22 years after his death, that project was just the last in a life brimming with adventure, discovery, originality and zest.

Science & Environment

Wed 29: Jellyfish

Drifting at any depth in all the world’s oceans, these creatures range from an Arctic species with a bell the size of a car, to a venomous microscopic Australian. Carnivorous predators, jellyfish swarm around our coasts and litter our beaches, yet we know surprisingly little about them. Some of the most recognisable species don’t even qualify as true jellyfish. One such, a Portuguese Man of War (Physalia physalis), its inflated bladder keeping it poised at the surface, is not even a single animal, but a sizeable colony containing four types of minute, highly modified polyps.

Science & Environment

Tue 28: Fields of Plenty

Look closer. The straggling plants on the riverbank, the so-called weeds in the garden, the insect-eaten leaves on the forest’s edge—often ploughed, sprayed or simply ignored—are finding their way back into the medicine chest. And Maori herbal remedies, once derided and outlawed by an act of Parliament, are revealing their curative power.

Documentary - Our Big Blue Backyard Series 2

Sun 26: The Kermadecs

Alone in the Pacific, halfway to Tonga, sit the Kermadec Islands. This remote archipelago is New Zealand’s northernmost frontier and our toehold on the tropics. Everything that lives on and around these young islands has travelled far to be here and a unique mix of creatures thrive in its warm waters. As a marine community the Kermadec is unrivalled in New Zealand waters.

Geography

Sat 25: Gallipoli—a hill too far

In the battle for Chunuk Bair, Imperial Britain’s campaign to occupy the Gallipoli peninsula reached its harsh climax, and fighting centre stage were the soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Artist Ion Brown’s re-creation of the scene—a sesquicentennial gift to the people of New Zealand from the country’s armed forces—celebrates the unquenchable resolve of the few in the face of a massive Turkish counter-assault.

Living World

Tue 21: Signs of Life

Like a planet in space, a rainbow trout egg sparks and crackles as biological processes begin a miraculous transformation, the same that progresses silently in the inscrutable waters of New Zealand’s wild rivers every day. But even in clean rivers, the odds are stacked against this small vessel of life—only one in a thousand eggs will hatch and survive until adulthood.

Society

Wed 15: P class

Most of the stellar yachting careers of New Zealand’s America’s Cup sailors began in humble seven-foot boats—a class now a century old—designed by a Public Works employee who couldn’t swim, and who was too hard up to build anything larger.

Science & Environment

Mon 13: Liquidation

Water, our most precious natural asset, offers amenity, a habitat for aquatic species and a focus for recreation. But it also turns the turbines of industry and powers New Zealand’s agricultural economy. Economic development and environmental integrity are at odds in a struggle for control over this great resource. Are we mortgaging our future for a little more economic growth?

Living World

Sun 12: A leap in the dark

Of all the world’s amphibians, the most evolutionarily unusual and critically endangered is the Archey’s frog. The smallest of New Zealand’s four native frogs, this ‘living fossil’ hasn’t changed much in 150 million years. It didn’t evolve ears or a voice, prefers the forest floor to water, and can’t leap without landing in a bellyflop. Why are Archey’s frogs so strange, and what makes them so important?

Geography

Wed 8: Songlines

After centuries of whaling that nearly silenced the song of humpbacks, the singing giants are making a steady recovery in most places. Yet the population of the South Pacific that was hardest hit by Soviet whaling in Antarctica remains endangered, numbering fewer than 4000 individuals.

Living World

Tue 7: Dead heat

Giant carnivorous land snails don’t ask for much: moist leaf litter to burrow into, earthworms to suck up like spaghetti. But if the lower layer of the forest is nibbled away, if sunlight reaches the soil, and if one month of drought follows another, molluscs relying on damp homes struggle to survive.

Documentary - Our Big Blue Backyard

Mon 6: Kaikoura

New Zealand’s Kaikoura Peninsula is home to the world’s most acrobatic dolphin species, some of New Zealand’s most robust young fur seals, and an unconventional group of red-billed gull families who defend their chicks from dangers both within and outside the colony.

Science & Environment

Sun 5: The long haul

Antarctica is a puzzle that science is racing to solve. The continent shifts from stable to unstable, frozen to melting, without much warning—and we don’t know why, or how. A New Zealand-led expedition journeyed to the heart of the Ross Ice Shelf to find out.

Geo News

Sat 4: Freefall

Albatrosses are good omens for sailors, but are not having too much luck themselves. The population of female wandering albatrosses that nests on Antipodes Island has plummeted by two-thirds in the past 14 years.

Living World

Fri 3: Bat signals

Nightfall, and the forest comes alive with squeaking. Or it used to. Lesser short-tailed bats are clinging on in a handful of places, their populations blinking out of existence. Yet researchers are only just beginning to learn about our bat species—New Zealand’s only native mammals—and what they’re finding out is pretty weird.

Living World

Thu 2: Torpedo carnivore

Reaching more than six metres in length with a bite force of nearly two tonnes, the great white shark is the most fearsome predator on Earth. Yet despite their reputation as maneaters, great whites are protected in New Zealand as a vulnerable species.

Living World

Tue 31: Life on the edge

Like New Zealanders, penguins occupy the margin of land and sea, being dependent on both habitats, and vulnerable to changes in either as well. Their fate is wedded to our coasts, and as scientists have begun to understand, they are a perfect indicator of the health of this fragile boundary too. What can penguins tell us about our seas and shores?

Documentary - Our Big Blue Backyard

Sun 29: Goat Island

The creatures of New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve are safe from humans, but that doesn’t mean life is easy. They are under constant attack from marauding dolphins, diving cormorants, and the sharks and the marlin that live beyond the boundaries of the reserve.

Geography

Sat 28: The longest walk

Last October, Chris and Jorinde Rapsey and their two children set off from Cape Reinga to walk Te Araroa, the 3000-kilometre track that runs the length of New Zealand. They lived outdoors for five months and walked an average of 20 kilometres a day. For nine-year-old Elizabeth and six-year-old Johnny, it was an immersive education—a form of learning increasingly absent from the lives of young New Zealanders, even as international research affirms the importance of children spending time in nature.

Living World

Fri 27: Kākāpō

In a land renowned for its unusual birds, the kākāpō—a giant flightless nocturnal parrot with a bizarre breeding system—has to be one of the strangest.