Making New Zealand vol 01 no 01: The Beginning
What the Maoris Found
What the Maoris Found
Celmisias, or mountain-daisies, in a remote Westland valley. A. F. Pearson
The tuatara lizard, a 'living fossil' found to-day on a few outlying islands, but formerly common on the mainland. Government Tourist
The long history so briefly outlined in this story of The Beginning ends with the formation of a land surface which its first European discoverers were to call New Zealand. But it was more than a land surface; it was the home of an interesting fauna and a rich and varied flora. These inhabitants, long undisturbed by man, also have a history which in part is explained by the geological events that have already been outlined.
Three groups with rather different histories may be distinguished. First come the plants and animals which are such distinctive local products —forms of primitive type and ancient lineage, which, whatever their origin, underwent developments in the New Zealand area. These are the ancient inhabitants of the Dominion. Included here are the tuatara, a reptile of a type which became extinct in the Mesozoic Era in other parts of the world, and the New Zealand frogs. Of perhaps a later date but still of the same type are the wingless birds so characteristic of New Zealand—the extinct moas, the kiwis, and the rails. Plants of comparable antiquity include the native flax, the Veronicas, or koromiko, the Coprosmas, to which belongs the karamu, the Olearias, of which the daisy-tree is a common example, and the Celmisias, or mountain-daisies.
A second group, and a most important one, has affinities with northern lands—New Caledonia, New Guinea, and Malaya. The plants of this group originated in a tropical climate, and many are not entirely happy in New Zealand, for they can tolerate very little frost. Here botanists include the kauri, the cabbage-tree, the nikau, the fern-trees, most New Zealand orchids, the rata, and the manuka. Among the animals are the large land-snails, the parrakeets, the huias, wrens and pigeons, and many insects. This invasion of forms of northern origin is assumed to have taken place in Cretaceous times during the first mountain-building period, when New Zealand was of continental dimensions and extended northwards as a continuous land area to New Caledonia and New Guinea. It could not have been later for the mammals which migrated southwards from Asia in Upper Cretaceous and Early Tertiary times are, page 31 with the exception of the native bats, absent from New Zealand. The ancient northern land-bridge had disappeared before they could use it.
The third element in the New Zealand flora and fauna is of southern origin and probably reached this area from Antarctica, perhaps during the same time of continental expansion. The plants of this group are chiefly the southern beeches, the bidi-bidi, the fuchsia, and other forms with relatives in South America. The penguins and shags are birds of similar origin.
In certain respects there has been intense competition between the elements of southern and of northern origin—a silent battle of trees—with sometimes the beech-forests advancing northwards, sometimes the warm rain-forest pushing south as minor climatic changes occurred. With the forests went the insects, spiders, and birds which depended on them for shelter or food.
At long last Polynesian voyagers discovered this southern land, found in it an equable climate and an abundant food supply. The Maoris arrived with the implements and ideas of a primitive people, lacking the means or the desire to alter the face of the land to any marked degree. It was not until Europeans came some centuries later that changes of significance took place. Since that date, as Guthrie-Smith has written, '...successive tides of biological change have swept New Zealand, each of them bringing its special perils to the ancient inhabitants of land and water, its special modifications to the very surface indeed and contour of the land.'
A group of five brilliant pioneer geologists, whose work laid the foundation of present-day knowledge. Sir Julius von Haast (1822-87).
F. W. Hutton (1836-1905).
Alexander Mackay (1833-1909). Dominion Museum
F. R. von Hochstetter (1829-84).
Later numbers of Making New Zealand will tell the story of these changes—some good, some bad—which have transformed primeval New Zealand into the busy modern state we know to-day.