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The FAQ (part 2 of 6)
Section - B1.2 The Landscape

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Top Document: The FAQ (part 2 of 6)
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
B1.2.1  General

NZ is a long narrow country lying roughly North/South with mountain ranges
running much of its length.  It is predominately mountainous with some
large coastal plains and is a little larger than Britain, slightly smaller
than Italy, and almost exactly the size of Colorado.

The only 'geographical feature' New Zealand doesn't have is live coral
reef.  We have all the rest: rainforest, desert, fiords, flooded valleys,
gorges, plains, mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, geothermics, swamps, lakes,
braided rivers, peneplains, badlands, and our very own continental plate
junction...  As a result of the latter, earthquakes are common, though
usually not severe (patience... :-)

For more information, go to sci.geo.geology, and download the earthquake
maps for this week.  The little black line snaking through New Zealand is
the plate boundary.  A good URL for this is:

Also try
which lists the strong earthquakes worldwide during the last few days.

You can get almost instant info about larger quakes from the US Geological
Survey at:

Or try
for a simple record of any quake.  [not at all sure how this works.  help?]


B1.2.2  Miscellaneous Figures

Mt Cook: highest point in NZ.  A landslide in December 1991 lowered the
3764m summit by about 10 metres.  NZ has 28 peaks over 3000 metres.  The
lowest (Mount Aspiring) is the only one outside Mount Cook National Park.
Also within the park is the Tasman Glacier, which is about 20 kms long.
The North Island's main mountains are all volcanoes: Ruapehu (2797m/9175'),
Ngauruhoe (2291m), and Tongariro (1968m) in the centre, and Taranaki
(2518m) to the west.

Lake Taupo; 40.2 km long, 27.4 km wide, 606 sq km, depth 159m
Lake Waikaremoana; 19.3 long, 9.7 km wide, 54 sq km, depth 256m
The artificial lakes in the North Island deeper than both are Lake Ohakuri
  (287m) and Lake Whakamarino (274m).
Lake Wakitipu 77.2 by 4.8 km, 293 sq km is 310m deep. It's noo but a puddle
  compared to Lake Hauroko (443m deep).  Both are glacial in origin.


B1.2.3  Flora And Fauna

It is still hotly debated whether or not New Zealand was *completely*
submerged between 60 - 30 mya.  There are now two competing views as to
NZ's biogeographic history:
 (1) the traditional view, that our biology - especially the vegetation -
is a living example of a 'Gondwanan' fragment that has a lineage directly
traceable back to when NZ split off from Gondwana (maybe as early as 90 mya
or as late as 75 mya, depending on who you believe).
 (2) a more recent view, that actually almost none of our current plants
and animals can be traced in a continuous lineage back to Gondwana, and
instead have all arrived via long-distance dispersal from Australia and SE
Asia, maybe even as recently as 20 - 10 mya.  There is some compelling
fossil evidence for this view.  For those interested in this, an excellent
though clearly biased account of this second view is given by Mike Pole in
a recent review (The Journal of Biogeography, Vol. 21 pp 625, 1994).

In any case during its time of isolation, birds have continued to arrive
and develop in NZ without large predators, making them vulnerable to recent
arrivals.  The predators that have really been widely destructive were the
mustelids, cats and European rat species.  The most important impact of
pre-Europeans was the widespread burning used in moa-hunting especially in
the drier areas of the South Island.

We have the worlds largest (and probably only flightless) parrot (kakapo),
the only truly alpine parrot (kea), the oldest reptile (tuatara), the
biggest earthworms, the heaviest insect (also the largest weta), the
smallest bats, some of the oldest trees, and many of the rarest birds,
insects, and plants in the world....

NZ is home to the world famous Tuatara, a lizard-like reptile which dates
back to the dinosaurs and perhaps before (260 mill years?).  The only
member of its order (Rhynchocephalia) it is now restricted to protected
offshore islands which you have to have special permission to visit.
Specimens are kept at some zoos.

The only native land mammals are two rare species of bat.

NZ's many endemic birds include the flightless kiwi, takahe, kakapo and
weka.  Far too many species of bird have become extinct since humans
arrived on NZ included the various species of Dinornis (moa) the largest
of which stood up to 2.5 metres high.  While the rare takahe (Notornis
australis) can be seen in semi-wild conditions at Te Anau, the Kakapo is
too endangered to be on display anywhere (see quote below).

For those who are interested, the following NZ CD is available:

New Zealand birds: Information on more than 300 bird species, plus over 500
photos, video clips of NZ attractions and birds, and 20 windows bmps.

Available from:
 Protech International
 PO Box 324
 New Zealand
 Ph/fax 64-3-5451799

There is also some unique insect life such as the Giant Weta and glow
worms.  Other than two spiders, there is a lack of any deadly poisonous
things (snakes, spiders, etc.) which is why NZ Agricultural Regulations are
so strict.

The great kauri trees in the few remaining kauri forests in Northland are
very old with some believed to be up to 2000 years old.

Much of the South Island is still forested, particularly the West Coast.

----- (cakes) has provided the following article (advice on legality

Reprinted without permission.

Reuters, 19.01.96

WELLINGTON, New Zealand.
   After a peaceful existence spanning millions of years, the survival odds
seem stacked against New Zealand's native parrot, a fat, flightless bird
called the kakapo.
   With only 50 kakapo left in New Zealand, Britain's World Conservation
Monitoring Center (WCMC) recently placed the bird on its list of the
world's 20 most-endangered species predicted to become extinct during 1996.
   "That bird has so much stacked against it," said Kevin Smith, president
of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand.
   Only one kakapo chick has survived into adulthood since 1990, although
three more are almost there.
   "At the moment the clock is just ticking.  Unless there are some chicks
fledged in the next five years the kakapo's prospects are very bleak,"
Smith said.
   Fully grown kakapo weigh up to eight pounds, heavier than most other
parrots, and are bright green in color.  Scientists say the bird existed
without significant threat for millions of years.
   Their decline began 1,000 years ago when humans arrived in New Zealand,
bringing predatory mammals such as cats, dogs, rats and stoats.  Flightless
native birds, including the kiwi, moa and kakapo, had not developed
defenses against predation.
   "Some were literally eaten alive.  The kakapo's only defense was to sit
very still, and predators basically had meals on wheels," said Janet Owen,
Department of Conservation (DOC) Director of Protected Species.
   She said kakapo populations were plundered as a food source by Maori and
European settlers alike, and their natural habitat was largely destroyed by
the clearance of rich forests.
   Hope seemed lost in the late 1960s when it was found all kakapo known to
exist were male.  Then the discovery of a single feather on Stewart Island,
at the foot of the South Island, led to a hitherto unknown population of
about 200 birds, including females.
   But cats discovered this kakapo haven at the same time.  "By the time we
could do anything about the cats, the population had plummeted to around 50
or 60 birds," said Paul Jansen, head of DOC's Kakapo Recovery Program.
   The kakapo were moved in the 1980s to the relative safety of Codfish,
Little Barrier and Maud islands, dotted around New Zealand's coastline.
The nests need video monitoring as they come under constant attack from
rats, and Maud Island is occasionally invaded by stoats swimming over from
the mainland.
   The male kakapo abandons the female after mating, forcing her to leave
the nest dangerously unattended while she feeds.
   What is more, kakapo are reluctant breeders mating only once every four
or five years.  They also have a history of laying infertile eggs.
   Despite the hurdles facing the kakapo, the WCMC's prediction of imminent
extinction is overly dire, DOC says.  While the kakapo is critically
endangered, it is a national treasure which can be dragged back from the
brink of oblivion.
   "Results will take a while because they're long-lived birds.  We think
they live around 60-80 years, so they won't be wiped out this year," DOC
Director-General Murray Hosking said.
    Over the next 10 years the recovery program aims to establish a younger
breeding population, although numbers will probably remain similar as older
birds die.
   "Conceivably we will be giving help to the kakapo for at least the next
five decades, if not longer," Jansen said.
   Smith is sharply critical of the amount of funding the government
provides for endangered species research.  DOC has a $660,000 budget for
kakapo research in 1996.
   "We've become too insulated in New Zealand we don't realize just how
special our native plants and animals are.  There's a niggardly,
pathetically small amount of money going into conservation, and we reap
what we sow," he said.
   Smith said predation was causing the decline of New Zealand's bird
populations in general, and forest habitats were gradually being destroyed
by possums, deer and goats.
   "New Zealand's wealth has been generated out of the 75 percent of the
country we've cleared.  Unfortunately we're not using any of that wealth to
save those species that are trying to survive in the little remnants we
left them," Smith said.
   "The dawn chorus in our forests, which used to be a real feature of New
Zealand, is in many places becoming more of a solo." Reuters

   I found this article on a bird-related web site - I can't recall which
one as I've scanned many over the last few weeks.  Recently I saw a
television program on the Discovery channel, which highlighted the plight
of the kakapo in much the same manner as this story.


B1.2.4  Climate

The NZ climate is temperate with no real extremes; the north tends to be
warm temperate.  Being an island nation, the yearly range of temperatures
is quite small, around 10 degrees Celsius variation between winter and
summer.  NZ enjoys long hours of sunshine throughout the year making it an
ideal year round destination.  In winter the South Island mountain and
central North Island do have heavy snowfalls providing great skiing.

Summer: December - February
Winter: June - August

                   sunshine        Temperature (C)       rainfall   rain
                    hours      mean  max  min  daily av.   (mm)     days
                                               sum  win
Kaitaia             2113       15.6   29   0               1429     138
Auckland            1904       15.7   28   3   23   14     1289     140
Tauranga            2217       14.3   29  -2               1363     118
Hamilton            1981       13.5   29  -5               1236     131
Rotorua             1872       12.7   30  -4   23   12     1509     123
Gisborne            2173       14.1   33  -2               1079     113
New Plymouth        2157       13.4   26  -1               1514     142
Napier              2187       14.3   32  -2                830      92
Palmerston North    1764       13.2   28  -3                991     127
Wellington          2008       12.7   27   1   20   11     1305     124
Nelson              2372       12.2   28  -4   22   12     1005      96
Blenheim            2449       12.9   32  -4                671      84
Hokitika            1889       11.6   25  -2               2809     168
Christchurch        1992       11.9   34  -5   22   10      668      85
Timaru              1828       11.4   32  -4                586      81
Milford Sound       1828       10.5   25  -3               6213     183
Queenstown          1865       10.4   30  -5   21    8      832      93
Dunedin             1645       11.1   29  -2   19   10      802     119
Gore                1665        9.7   31  -5                894     137
Invercargill        1595        9.7   28  -5               1040     157

(some of the table above was pirated and I seriously doubt it's accuracy...
Anyone care to confirm it?)

From: blair@mullara.met.unimelb.EDU.AU (Blair Trewin)
Climate Group, Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre
Melbourne, Australia
Date: 12 Sep 1997 01:16:03 GMT

It looks OK although the info is open to misinterpretation.

From the numbers, I would expect that the 'maximum' and 'minimum' 
temperatures quoted are the highest and lowest temperatures which
would be expected in a normal year. They aren't the record high and
low (Christchurch, for example, has had 42), nor are they the 
mean daily maximum and minimum temps for any month.

The highest temperature on record in NZ is 42.4 C at Rangiora in
February 1973, and the lowest -21.6 C at Ophir in July 1995 (although
lower temperatures would have certainly occurred on the higher
summits of the Southern Alps where there are no instruments). I 
could be a couple of tenths out on either of these (I'm going from
memory). The Rangiora mark, which broke the previous NZ record
by more than 4 degrees, is arguably one of the most exceptional
extreme temperature events ever recorded anywhere in the world.
Christchurch reached 41.8 on the same day, and there was also
a North Island record at Gisborne (38.3, IIRC). I don't expect
these records to be broken in a hurry.

Is it wet in New Zealand?  Charles Eggen gives us:
"The greatest amount I have heard of was at the hut on Whitcombe river at
Frew creek which is just south of the Hokitika river in Westland.  That was
1967 and amounted to 10670 mm or about 420 inches.

From 14/3/67 to 13/3/68 the 10670 mm that fell is the highest in NZ for a
12 month period.  Over an exact calendar year the highest is 10210 mm (same
place) within NZ and 22990 mm for the World (Cherrapunji, India in 1861)."

The highest rainfall in NZ for a 24 hour period was 582 mm on 7/9/1969 at
Rapid Creek, Hokitika although this record may have been broken on 22
January 1994; a similar locality and ~647mm of rain.

From: blair@mullara.met.unimelb.EDU.AU (Blair Trewin)
Date: 12 Sep 1997 01:16:03 GMT

>: Is it wet in New Zealand?  Charles Eggen gives us:
>: <rest of comments from Charles snipped>

I seem to recall reading somewhere about an experimental site in this
region having a mean annual rainfall up around 11000-12000mm, although
this may have been an estimate based on a few months' data. Given that
there are few gauges in the area where I would expect the highest 
precipitation, around 800-1200 metres elevation, it would not surprise
me if there are pockets of 10000+ mm mean annual rainfall (which 
implies a highest total in the vicinity of 15000) in uninstrumented 

In marked contrast, central Otago is very dry in places - Alexandra
has about 350mm per year, and I'd expect that there would be local
pockets below 300. Air of maritime origins loses much of its 
moisture as it rises over mountains (the prevailing airstreams in
NZ are from the west, which explains why the western slopes of
the Southern Alps and Fiordland are so wet) and the lee slopes
are in 'rainshadow': central Otago is largely sheltered from
all directions.

>: The highest rainfall in NZ for a 24 hour period was 582 mm on 7/9/1969 at
>: Rapid Creek, Hokitika although this record may have been broken on 22
>: January 1994; a similar locality and ~647mm of rain.

It was. I was attempting to visit the West Coast on this day -
meteorologically interesting but touristically miserable. I'm still
waiting to see the glaciers :-(

Ross Levis kindly offered:
All the weather links you should ever need are located on my ISP page at:
which links to VUW and shows some other Antarctic pictures.

Frank van der Hulst and Tony Wilkes provided (combined and mildly amended):
NZ Metservice forecasts, including TV-style maps showing forecasts:

Satellite weather pictures from VUW:
 [ see also ...meteorology/maps.html and ]

These are in mono.  For similar maps in colour:

Weather of the whole region, including NZ.  Up to 3-day forecasts,
including satellite pictures and maps showing isobars & sea surface winds
over the Tasman & NZ:
[ not sure if the second one is correct ]

Latest (3-hourly) weather satellite images:

The NZ sites seem to be somewhat intermittent, and often their latest
images are 3 or 4 days old.  The Aussie site is probably the most useful.
Airways Corp also has a Web site which
contains articles from their latest magazine.

Snspot details and solar activity, of interest to radio hams, at:

Hugh Grierson suggests to point your browser at
and follow the links "Australian weather information ..." -> "Weather

Other links
but the latter requires a Java capable reader.

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