1. Bright Blue Water
You may notice that the lakes of New Zealand are a unique and breathtaking blue!
How does it get so blue?
Boulders in the rivers feeding into the lake rub together and produce “glacial dust”, or flecks of mica, which settles into the water. Here, the river is grey and murky with the buildup of mica.
As it washes into the lake, it absorbs all colors from the sun’s rays except for blue, which it reflects back out. Hence the bright blue water.
2. Birds and Bats
You may have heard the rumors that there are NO SNAKES in New Zealand. I can confirm they are true!
New Zealand is home to thousands of animal species, but 99% of them are different species of bird, many of which are either extinct or endangered now.
According to legend, the early settlers could barely hear one another over the cacophony of bird calls!
The only winged creature on the island that isn’t technically a bird is the common bat.
3. Small Critters Are Big Problems
As adorable as our favorite furry pets can be, they are also a major threat to the endangered birds on the island.
When early settlers brought their pets with them to the island, the creatures ran rampant and bred faster than the local bird populations could keep up with. Dogs, possums, rats, and stoats (ferrets) contributed to the mass extinction and endangerment of several species.
Today, you can find small traps all over the forests designed to neutralize pesky rodents without killing off any birds! As for man’s best friend, New Zealand requires that dogs must be kept on a tight leash—literally.
You can find many soft products like gloves and coats advertising possum fur woven into it, so you know that you are contributing to helping the environment and giving hunters an incentive to get those possums!
So if you see a sweater made of possum fur, whip out your wallet to help save some birds!
4. Bull-dogging: Extreme Deer Farming
You may notice some interesting animals behind fences in Queenstown.
The wild animals native to American mountain ranges are farmed commercially in New Zealand!
Teddy Roosevelt gave New Zealand several gifts during his presidency, and one of those gifts was deer. The deer took to the lush green landscape like a house on fire.
Unfortunately, they quickly got out of control.
The deer were overproducing and eating too much of the local plants, so to curb the issue, Queenstown sent out fearless hunters. But why let all that meat and material go to waste when you can just put it behind a fence and farm it?
Here’s where it gets crazy.
They sent up men in helicopters to fly around the mountains and plains, get in really close to a herd of deer, and then these men would jump OUT OF THE HELICOPTER and ONTO A DEER!
They’d wrangle up the deer, toss them back into the helicopter, and fly them back to the farm. For some reason, they call this hardcore farming tactic “bull-dogging”.
And there you have it, the history of deer farming and extreme sports in Queenstown all in one story.
5. Gold Rush!
New Zealand had its own gold rush! According to legend, a sheep farmer contracted out some work from some local men when they stumbled upon huge, sparkling, gold nuggets in the river. He told everyone to keep quiet about it, knowing that the moment word got out, there would be a mad dash for the river and his quiet farm would be overrun with gold diggers.
And they did keep quiet!
…For a few hours.
When the news inevitably broke, people came from all over to search for gold in the south island. Dunedin and Queenstown prospered greatly from the gold rush.
The locals say that the gold they salvaged from the rush is only a fraction of what lies hidden in the gorgeous natural rivers. Maybe El Dorado was in New Zealand all along!
6. The Unbreakable Takahē
The takahē is a stunning species of bright blue bird that went extinct with the early arrival of the Maori and white settlers.
Or so they thought.
The takahē have resurfaced multiple times throughout history before “going extinct” again after hunters or dogs cut them down.
A small colony of these birds was rediscovered in a radically new and unexpected habitat. They had evolved to thrive in a more isolated environment than their predecessors!
Sadly, this meant that the competition for resources is fierce, so these birds will lay two eggs and kick one out of the nest to ensure the survival of just one offspring.
Scientists have begun raising the rejected eggs and reintroducing them into the natural takahē colonies for the mating season so that little by little, they can help restore the population.
Now, the takahē are on steady population growth of approximately 10% per year.
7. Moa and Man-Eating Eagles
It shouldn’t surprise you that the only prehistoric animals on New Zealand soil were birds.
Once upon a time, there was once a race of birds that looked like hideous ostriches on steroids. The Moa, an ancient ancestor of the kiwi, were huge birds the size of giraffes that roamed the island.
Unfortunately, when the Maori people came over, they hunted them for their meat. What they didn’t realize is that the Moa have unusually long gestation periods, so they reproduce very very slowly. Too slowly to compensate for the rapid hunting rate.
Before long, they went extinct.
This was a major problem for another species of bird: the gargantuan eagles that fed on Moa. With their food supply now gone, these eagles started hunting the next best thing.
Really gives you a new perspective on the Eagles in The Lord of the Rings, no?
When the Maori first arrived in New Zealand, they lived their lives as they’d always done, hunting, fishing, building, and, unfortunately, burning.
The early Maori would set fires to push back the trees, hardly expecting that the dense foliage would light and spread so easily. The fires rampaged through the landscape, wiping out habitats, bird species, and ancient trees.
A great deal of the greenery you’ll find today on the island is fairly young growth, still recovering from that early ravaging. In Queenstown, you’ll find a lot of pine trees that took root in the soil from the hooves of Spanish sheep in the absence of the thick native growth.
In some areas of the countryside, you’ll also see tragic scars on the landscape from when the government made a deal with Japan to give them a chunk of the forest. Driving through the endless green hills, the sad bald spot in the land sticks out like a sore thumb.
Hopefully, the land will recover in time, from both the fire and deforestation.
Why Should We Care?
The moral of the story is that man has a knack for destroying hundreds of years of nature’s labors. Fortunately, now that we’re aware of the issue, we can do our part to preserve and restore the natural balance.
New Zealand has implemented many environmental programs to help this along. Recycling bins alongside compost bins in every major city, elimination of plastic bags from major grocery stores, and environmental awareness educational programs in tourist locations are just a small part of the Kiwi effort to save the world.
We may not be able to make radical changes to save the world, but we can do little things every day to help.
- Bring your own grocery bags
- Say no to disposable utensils. Do you really need a straw? How about keeping that plastic fork and use it at home for school lunches?
- Carpool, or better yet, walk
- Pick up litter. A little litter goes a long way, so be sure to take twenty seconds out of your day to make our planet a little cleaner.
With these little things, we can make a big difference.
Queenstown, New Zealand