A couple of weeks back, I took the train to the Wairapara. When we emerged from the tunnel through the Rimutaka Ranges (which at 8.8 kms is one of the longest train tunnels in New Zealand), the landscape was striking. Firstly, what struck me was the sheer scale of the agricultural plains, the indigenous forest that once covered the hills and plains long ago replaced by an orderly patchwork of fields. But, a second glance down onto the plains to the east revealed the presence of a large watery expanse: not blue, exactly – more swirls of green and brown – but unmistakably a lake. (more…)

A few months ago, I posted the story, The city of hidden lagoons: Palmerston (of the north), which explored the watery history of the Manawatu city of Palmerston North, where I grew up. In particular, the post told a little of the story of the long-forgotten Awapuni Lagoon, which once lay in the south-west corner of the city. This post will add to that story, with the history of the Mangaone Stream, which fed into the Manawatu River in the same area of the lagoon. (more…)

With its opening in 2006, the 6.5 hectare Waitangi Park, on Wellington’s waterfront [click here to view location], became New Zealand’s largest new urban park in 100 years. Waitangi Park is near the site of the old Waitangi wetland, which was fed by the Waitangi Stream. Rich with eel, fish and shellfish, it was used for centuries by Maori for food gathering, as a source of fresh water, and as a place to launch their canoes (or waka) into the sea. (more…)

This post reviews the top posts of the third quarter of 2010. Our favourite Californian again proves very popular, this quarter overtaking A tale of mining, which was very topical earlier in the year. The others in the top 5 traverse a diverse range of themes: Maori horticulture, a rare inner-city oasis of ancient forest, the surprisingly recent history of whaling in New Zealand, and eels – which have figured so large both in our streams, rivers and estuaries as well as our cultural history. (more…)

Of all the essays in the recently published Maori and the Environment: Kaitiaki, reviewed in a previous post, the essay that left me with one of the strongest lasting impressions was the second chapter. This essay tells the story of a hapu’s attempts to exercise kaitiakitanga (environmental stewardship) over Hokio Stream and Lake Horowhenua, west of the Horowhenua township of Levin [click here to view map]. (more…)

Eels (or more broadly, tuna) have long been important in the culture of the our islands. For Māori, not only were they an extremely important food source – particularly for those who lived inland, but they were also of great cultural value. For the European New Zealander, eels were perhaps less vital as a food source, but for much of the 20th century eeling represented what was valued about the New Zealand lifestyle – the accessibility of our outdoors for both recreation and supplementary sources of food and income. However, as the health of our environment has become eroded, so too has this ability to hunt, fish, or recreate as freely as we used to. The eel, though less charismatic or cuddly than many of its land-based counterparts, is nevertheless a powerful symbol of the impact we have had on our environment as well as traditional values.

One indication of the eel’s importance in Māori culture is the number of words that were used to describe different varieties and conditions of eel (like Inuit terms for snow): as noted by  David Young in Woven by Water – histories from the Whanganui River, ethnographer Eldson Best recorded at least 166 such words. (more…)

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