Why “Wild Land”?
New Zealand is a long, narrow, island nation, composed of two main and several smaller islands stretched between 34º and 47º South. Its land is a dramatic mixture of plains, hills, mountains, alps and volcanoes. The coastline features large sweeping bays, steep cliffs and fjords. Local climate ranges from sub-tropical in the north, desert in the higher parts of the central north island, to cool temperate in the south.
Our new-found knowledge of plate tectonics tells us that New Zealand is the visible part of a large sunken landmass that sits at the collision point of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates. Out to sea off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, the Pacific Plate is sliding under the Australian plate which carries the land mass of the North Island. Out to sea off the south-western tip of the South Island, the Australian plate is sliding underneath the Pacific plate. In the middle, they grind past each other forming a backbone along much of the South Island – the Southern Alps. At Cook Strait, this mechanism is broken and the plate boundaries are fractured, torn and displaced, creating deep canyons.
Although the process happens over long periods of geologic time, it occurs in abrupt stages, which we feel as earthquakes. New Zealand has areas of frequent moderate to large earthquakes such as the Volcanic Plateau and the East Coast of the North Island. Other areas have fewer earthquakes, but of even larger magnitude such as the Southern Alps and the Wellington area.
New Zealand also has active geothermal areas of hot springs, geysers, boiling mud pools, warm lakes and active volcanoes. There are three main volcanic areas (Auckland, Taranaki and the Taupo Volcanic Zone) and several smaller thermal areas in the eastern North Island and upper South Island. Some of the associated features resemble the classical cone volcano, some are simply rifts and tears in the surface of the ground, while others are vast blast holes and when dormant pass themselves off as lakes.
The South Island and Chatham Island also sport ancient extinct volcanoes. The huge craters at the Otago and Banks Peninsulas provide superb deep-water ports for the cities of Dunedin and Christchurch that have sprung up nearby, and provide dramatic views for visitors.
This volcanic and seismic activity makes New Zealand a lively place in which to live. The resulting geology dramatically affects our weather, interrupting wind and funneling it through gorges, and causing cloud to dump its rain on the windward side of mountain ranges before the air rises and creates warm drying winds on the far side. The sheer size of these geologic features accentuate the variation in rainfall that can be expected in a windy part of the world; creating storms, flash floods and droughts.
It is indeed a Wild Land where mother nature is never far from our thoughts….