A view of the beach at Raumati South, looking north-west towards Kapiti Island

A view of the beach at Raumati South, looking north-west towards Kapiti Island

Generally, when we go for a stroll on the beach, our gaze tends to fall towards the sea, rather than inland. But sometimes it pays to turn our gaze towards the dune landscape too, as dunes sometimes harbour treasure troves of environmental history – in the form of middens. (more…)

The previous post Prehistoric revelations of a Manawatu flood made me curious about other signs of moa habitation in the Manawatu area. I came across an intriguing article in a 1908 newspaper which reports on a find of moa bones in Kimbolton, and the controversy the find created.

The question it raises is, were moa still roaming the densely forested hinterlands of the North Island even as Europeans were first arriving on these shores?

But let the discoverer of those bones tell the story. In a letter to the Feilding Star in July 1908, Mr Thomas A. Bryce, a farmer from Kiwitea (see: Kimbolton and surrounds – “putting the small man on the land”), wrote:

“What time has elapsed since the moa became extinct? (more…)

Archaeologists have conventionally divided New Zealand prehistory into two chronological phases: “Archaic Maori” and “Classic Maori”. These phases are defined by the distinctive assemblages of artefacts (such as adzes, fishing implements and ornaments) that are associated with each phase. But they also largely coincide with the centrality of big game to Maori subsistence. During the earlier phase, moa and seals were central to people’s diet. However, as moa became extinct (by around 1500 AD), and seal populations seriously depleted, Maori had to rely more heavily on other sources of food. (more…)

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…)

I came across this map in Mick Strack’s essay “Bounding the Land: Cadastral framework on the Taieri” in the recently published “Making Our Place”, and it intrigued me.

It is a map of the South Island, sketched by Edmund Halswell around 1841 from an unidentified Ngai Tahu source. The map shows the South Island so elongated and distorted in shape, that is almost unrecognisable. But is precisely this cartographic inaccuracy which reveals valuable information about how Maori interacted and viewed the land before European colonisation. (more…)

On a recent trip from Rotorua to Hamilton, I stopped to look at what I thought at the time was a section of Waikato River, just west of State Highway 1, south-east of Cambridge [click here to view map]. Waikato River is New Zealand’s longest river, running 425 kms from its source on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, through Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, then flowing through the Waikato Plains before emptying into the Tasman Sea. I was therefore surprised to see a sign at a jetty informing me that this was in fact a lake – Lake Karapiro.

But something didn’t add up – it seemed remarkably “river-like” for a lake. (more…)

Though I am not entirely sure what it is, there is something about the landscape south of Wanganui that I find quite alluring: perhaps the sculpted curves of the hilly terrain, which is largely pasture, but scattered with clusters of indigenous bush. My attraction to this landscape was explored in another post Drama and history in a southern Wanganui farmscape. This photo was taken just south of the southern Wanganui town of Turakina [click here to view location]. (more…)

When we encounter the extensive tussocklands of the eastern South Island [see below right], it is hard to imagine any other landscape in that place – so much a part of the “natural” New Zealand landscape have they become. Yet, as explored in a previous post What is natural? The tussocklands of Lindis Pass, this is in fact a human-induced landscape; the tussocklands have replaced podocarp and beech forest [see left] that once covered the South Island. However, this occurred long before any written history was established, and this environmental history has had to be pieced together through painstaking paleoenvironmental research.

New ground-breaking research, undertaken by an team of both New Zealand and international scientists, has determined how, to what extent, and over what time-frame large tracts of South Island forest were destroyed. (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…)

Today, the Petone and Lower Hutt area is an intense conglomeration of industrial, commercial and residential buildings and infrastructure – interconnected by motorways, roads and railways – concentrated within the confines of the sea to the south and the steeply rising hills of the valley to the west and east. Within this landscape of steel, glass, concrete and asphalt, it is hard to believe that only 170 years ago, this was thickly forested floodplain and estuary, rich with teeming birdlife – including the now extinct huia, and the endangered kokako. (more…)

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