Going Nature's Way
I have to admit that I’m glad for the convenience and connectivity of the internet because it is allowing me to see and hear about the beautiful autumn weather (so far) at home, while we experience the beautiful spring weather in New Zealand. It also allows me to easily share some of my observations of this island nation in the Pacific Ocean.
My husband, Mike, chose this season to come here because he knew it would mean lots of flowers and birds. He was right. Unfortunately, he didn’t think about the possibility of spring allergies that would accompany all this profuse flowering. With some meds from the local "chemist" shop, we will carry on.
We are reminded that we are on the other half of the world when we look at our clock (on the computer) and it says 2 a.m. as we are eating our dinner. As I write this, it is noon on October 2 on the North Island, while it’s 5 p.m. on October 1 in Minnesota — hard for the mind to comprehend.
We have been staying at a house on Cooper’s Beach, which is part of Doubtless Bay, on the northeast coast of the North Island. In front of this house is the Pacific Ocean, but I have to tell you, it looks a lot like Lake Superior on a day with a strong northeasterly wind kicking up waves on a gray surface. When the sun comes out though, the water turns a turquoise not normally seen in the Great Lakes.
As an island nation, New Zealand has been impacted by outside forces for the past six centuries, when people first arrived on its shores. Up until that time, the plants, animals and birds lived in balance and evolved to match the climate and geology of this volcanic land. There are only two native mammals — both bats. Every other mammal that exists here today was introduced by people. Like Hawaii, these introduced species have had an incredibly detrimental impact on the local flora and fauna. We came to this country knowing that history, but also knowing there is much to delight a North American naturalist’s heart in the plants and birds that live here.
Even though the climate is considered temperate and not tropical, the forests look like jungles to us. The most famous tree is the Kauri. It is also one of the most endangered. Similar to our redwoods in size and age, the Kauri is a conifer, but it has leaves, rather than needles. Straight trunks could reach up to 180 feet and measure 18 feet in diameter, highly desirable to the European settlers for ship’s masts and building timbers. Very few Kauri remain today, three quarters of which are found on the North Island.
We spent some time walking through a Kauri Reserve this week and it was humbling to realize that some of these living giants could be more than a thousand years old. The vegetation surrounding the trees was so thick we couldn’t begin to imagine how a human would get through it, without much swinging of a machete.
The other plant form New Zealand is known for are ferns (more than 80 species), including tree ferns. Yes, they take the form of trees, some reaching 60’ feet in height. When you look at these prehistoric plants lining the sides of the road, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a velociraptor poking its head through the fronds.
Mike loves geology and thought he knew everything about basalt, which is created from volcanic eruptions. Some of the North Shore on Lake Superior is made of the same rock. Basalt is not supposed to erode. That is the understanding among geologists, but there is an exception here on this island. We visited a placed called Wairere Boulders, famous because it has basalt formations unlike anywhere else in the world. Here the black rocks have ridges and flutes. What caused this unheard of and supposedly impossible feature? The leaves of Kauri trees! Yes, these leaves contain an acid that can eat through rock. Sometimes you have to go to the other side of the world to learn something new.
We are very fortunate to have been able to come to this far away land, and all the exotic nature it includes, but when we are in our own country we find surprises and delights await us in other states. The most important component to travel is to be open to new discoveries and ways of interpreting the world we live in. For us, the incredible diversity of life that exists on this planet is a never ending source of pleasure and wonder.