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…)

Prefacing the Introduction of Geoff Park’s masterpiece of ecology and history “Nga Uruora – Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape” is a quote from Frank Gohlke, American landscape photographer and writer [click here to view website]:

Landscapes are collections of stories, only fragments of which are visible at any one time. In linking the fragments, unearthing the connections between them, we create the landsape anew. A landscape whose story is known is harder to dismiss… (more…)

Of all the beautiful landscape photos that highly accomplished photographer and friend Rainer Kant took while he lived in New Zealand, this must be one of my favourites. What is particularly striking about this landscape is that (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…)

The dramatic tussock-lands of Lindis Pass are one the iconic landscapes of the South Island, and much admired by the traveler on their way from Canterbury to Queenstown or beyond. So iconic has this landscape become, it is hard to believe that while the tussock vegetation is “indigenous”, it is not “natural”. Rather, it is a human-induced landscape.

Lindis Pass is part of an extensive “dryland zone” which extends along much of the eastern part of the South Island [see map below right]. (more…)

Herds of deer in virtually treeless fields is a common sight in New Zealand, but to many Europeans, who are used to seeing deer in their natural habitat – the forest – it appears incongruous, and even cruel, to keep these forest animals in open fields, particularly on a hot summer’s day. (more…)

Two environmental histories converge in one landscape. In the foreground is the stunningly beautiful Lake Rotoroa, one of the two lakes in Nelson Lakes National Park, surrounded by wetland vegetation, transitioning into beech forest. In the background is a commercial pine plantation, with one slope scarred by clear-cutting. Nelson Lakes National Park, established in 1956, encompasses 102,000 hectares of the northern most Southern Alps. The lakes were formed by massive glaciers gouging out troughs in the mountainous headwaters of the Buller River during the last Ice Age. The vegetation is predominantly beech, with the red and silver species growing in lower, warmer sites and mountain beech at higher altitudes. The forests are habitat to South Island kaka (a large parrot), tomtits, robins and the tiny rifleman, New Zealand’s smallest bird.

[Photo: Lake Rotoroa, Nelson Lakes National Park, by Rainer Kant]

[Source: Department of Conservation]

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