Taranaki means ‘shining peak’, recalling the legend of a stoush between the volcanoes of the central North Island for the love of Pihanga. Tongariro won, and Taranaki fled far to the west where he conceals himself in cloud or broadcasts his shining splendour back to his long-lost love.
The mounga is viewed as an ancestor, and is to be given the legal status of a person as part of a 2017 agreement between the Crown and eight Taranaki iwi. There is one important difference with other geographic features given the same status: the entity has gender—as in the legend, the mountain is a ‘he’.
Whakaari is New Zealand’s most active volcano, being in a state of continuous volcanic activity for some 150,000 years.
It is frilled with a skirt of pohutukawa forest and at its centre is a boiling, sulphuric crater lake with an ever-attendant volcanic plume, which is acidic. In the cool evenings, the plume is large enough to form rain. Yes, the rain is acid too.
New Zealand’s longest river narrows to a 15-metre cataract of whitewater at Te Waiheke o Huka, where some 220,000 litres of water per second tumbles over six-metre drop. The flow would fill an Olympic swimming pool in 11 seconds.
The falls also divide the territories of Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa river iwi, and separate the ecology of the tributary of Lake Taupō from the upper reaches of the Waikato River itself. There are no eels—for instance—above the falls, they can’t pass the falls or climb the steep rock walls.
While birdlife on Raoul Island was ravaged by rats and cats from the 1920s, neighbourly Meyer Islets remained free of pests.
Kermadec petrels wheel high above the cliffs at the Meyers, with the dark form of Raoul in the background. Since a massive operation to remove pests from Raoul in 2002, seabird numbers have blossomed there, slowly returning the islands to former glory.
We are citizens of the sea. Māori arrived in New Zealand by sea, as did Pākehā, and our commercial centre of Auckland lies on the shores of two harbours and at the headwaters of the immense Hauraki Gulf, Tikapa Moana.
We are also guardians of this ocean space, and kaitiaki of all within it. There are places that remain pristine, and places where the mauri has ebbed away in the wake of development. It’s time we considered our role in health of the gulf.
Spinner dolphins—slender torpedoes of the tropics—tumble like gymnasts on the displacement wave of a charter fishing boat.
There appear to be two distinct pods around the island, a sure-fire hit with tourists wanting a close interaction with this charismatic dolphin. Carefully managed, this sort of experience is a way for Niue’s economy to benefit from an intact and thriving ecosystem.
In calm water far out to sea, a group of pilot whales—including some juveniles—rests on the surface between hunts. Some doze upright in the water column, while others appear to drift off in front of the camera as they swim.
Long-finned pilot whales are deep-water hunters, often found above trenches and steep underwater features that might be habitat for their preferred prey, squid, or large fish. They live in very large groups, but even with a sizeable population, the species may actually be threatened. Not enough is known.
Northern Arch is a 40-metre-deep cut in a sheer rock wall at the northern end of the Poor Knights. Like a busy city alley it attracts hoards of life—thousands of fish, and for a month or two every five to ten years, massive aggregations of short-tailed rays.
The largest stingrays are the size of dining tables, but they are as docile as they are large, content to slide over a diver or come within arms-length of a snorkeler.
Parengarenga Harbour is sheltered from the sea by a 10-kilometre-long promontory of pure silica sand, called Kokota Spit.
It’s a moonscape of sand dunes—some 40 metres high—and sparsely vegetated with pingao grasses, spinifex and the feathery white plumes of native toetoe that are habitat for plovers, wrybills and black oystercatchers.
The cliffs of Te Manawatawhi are plumb and wrinkled with age. At the waterline they wear a piupiu of bull kelp that reaches out towards the sea on an incoming swell, and hangs supple and bronze as the wave departs.
Where the land gives an inch, the sea takes a mile, cutting vertical slots through headlands, punching holes through walls to form great archways and shattering organised land masses into jigsaw pieces. To the north, the largest piece of the puzzle, Manawatawhi, soars 300 metres high. To the west is a collection of slain bowling pins called Princes Islands.
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