The Manawatu Estuary has transformed significantly over the last century or more. In the 1800s, the mouth of the Manawatu River reached the sea several kilometres north of where it flows into the sea today. With the arrival of Europeans in the latter half of the 19th century, and the foundation of the town of Foxton, it soon became a bustling port. However, with the strong southward current depositing much sand on the coast a spit has gradually grown and the mouth of the river has slowly moved southwards. Today, it is used by recreational boaties but has long since lost any commercial significance as a port. (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…)

The Waikato was one of the original dairy farming regions of New Zealand, and its transformation from forested hills and swampy valleys to productive farmscapes was well underway by the late 19th century. So it would be ironic, but a satisfying example of the circular route environmental history often takes, if the region was one day to become known more for its wetlands than its “smiling farms”. (more…)

As explored in the earlier post Christchurch – a city haunted by its environmental past, Christchurch’s environmental history had serious – arguably fatal – implications in the February earthquake. As the post discussed, this related especially to the fact that much of what is now a city was once a vast swamp, comprised not only of the two rivers that still run through the city (the Avon and Heathcote), but also numerous other streams that fed an extensive wetland system. (more…)

Continuing with the theme explored in the previous post, the role of semi-managed nature in supporting biodiversity, this post explores how land development can sometimes lead to the enhancement – rather than the degradation – of an environment’s ability to support biodiversity. (more…)

On 16 November 1769 Captain James Cook in his ship Endeavour cast anchor off Tararu Point, about 2 miles north-west of the present town of Thames [click here to view map], and made a short excursion on the Waihou River by ship’s boat. Both Cook and the ship’s botanist Joseph Banks were deeply impressed by what they saw. (more…)

“Maori and the environment: Kaitiaki” is a recently published book comprised of 19 essays by Maori scholars and environmental practitioners, all exploring the impact of changes in the environment on Maori, as well as the way in which Maori have attempted (often successfully – sometimes not) to affect change in the way the environment is managed in New Zealand. (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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