A guided tour through 500 million years of history - and a spectacular introduction to the natural wonders of Aotearoa New Zealand.
From Whakaari/White Island and Huka Falls to the Moeraki Boulders and Milford Sound, Aotearoa New Zealand overflows with extraordinary landforms and other natural features. This is not a random quirk of nature, but a result of the unique and complex geological history of this part of planet Earth.
In this beautiful book, geologist Bruce W. Hayward guides readers through 100 natural wonders of Aotearoa - introducing the geology and history with words, explanatory diagrams, and remarkable aerial photography by Alastair Jamieson and Lloyd Homer. Through these 100 special places - and many more that almost made the cut - we begin to understand the shape of Aotearoa and the 500-million-year history of our small, mostly submerged continent of Zealandia.
It takes a certain amount of discipline to read a book like "Mountains, Volcanoes, Coasts and Caves" from start to finish. Despite my best efforts, I found myself constantly browsing, skipping backwards and forwards again to examine a particularly fascinating photograph and then read Bruce W. Hayward's accompanying text. On one level this publication can certainly be regarded as a textbook cum encyclopaedia with its in-depth and well researched descriptors and stunning photography from Alastair Jamieson and Lloyd Homer. On a more mundane level, however, the text is highly accessible to everyday readers like me who have minimal expertise in geology and natural history. I don't own a coffee table (and even if I did, I would not subject a book of this calibre to the danger of food and drink spills), but my bookshelf is within easy reach!
The contents are set out geographically from north to south (more or less) which makes sense if you are travelling around Aotearoa New Zealand; it makes planning a trip easier if you can work with this book in hand. Most of the geographic "chapters" contain one or more "The Big Picture" articles which supply explanatory diagrams and maps. These articles are devoted to background material on local volcanoes, the impact of earthquakes, glaciers, etc. They include clear diagrams and other graphics to illustrate one or more aspects of the area.
Although the language used throughout the book is relatively straightforward, I did learn a few new words! I had never heard of a batholith or a doline; I now know what they mean and am now looking forward to dropping them into an everyday conversation. Throughout the book there are additional comments on how to best view a feature, useful when you are travelling to a new area and have limited time. The bold headers "Best seen from" and "Take a closer look" provide detailed and very helpful suggestions. Having travelled to many of these places myself, I find that these directions are accurate, although some access points, especially those in Te Waipounamu/The South Island, might not be available during the winter months, so it is worth checking out the road conditions before travelling there.
Obviously, the scope of a book of this nature is limited by the amount of space available. Cramming more information in would result in a smaller font that would be far too difficult to read. Hayward has compromised by using a section at the end of the book to include other top contenders for the top 100 natural wonders. Again, I have visited many of these places in person. I have even driven right to the end of the Skippers Road (for which I think I should have got a medal - we had had an altercation with a possum on a dark mountain road a couple of days earlier so part of our car's undercarriage was tied up with a piece of blue rope!) but the view over Skippers Canyon was totally worth it. Reading this book and browsing the photographs brought back many memories; it was amazing to fill in the gaps and realise just how much more there was to learn about these places. I tend to concentrate on the social history and forget about the landscape that is equally important in the long term.
Also at the end of the book is a section on geological terms. This is another useful tool for understanding some of the terminology used. Diagrams are colourful and user-friendly, set out in such a way that even a child can understand them. With our earthquake-prone islands it is especially interesting to learn about plate tectonics. We may not be able to stop earthquakes from occurring, but it is useful to understand what is happening when the house starts shaking! The other diagram that grabbed my attention was the graph showing climate change and sea level fluctuations during the ice ages. It appears that climate change is not such a new thing any more. I had often wondered why Fiordland was unique in this country. Now I understand why!
Finally, there are three information pages. The first is an extensive glossary of words that may be unfamiliar. Again, this is useful for the everyday reader because many English words have more than one meaning; this wordlist is specific to geographic and geological contexts. "Laminated", for instance, has a much more precise meaning when it is applied to rock formations. "Ash", too, is used in this book to refer to small fragments thrown out of a volcano - nothing to do with cigarettes or fireplaces. After the glossary is an extensive reading list, both general and linked to specific areas mentioned in the book. And the last information page is an index to the main topics.
A book that every home should have - for many reasons. It is beautifully presented, with a strong binding that will withstand some rough handling (especially if it is travelling with you on your road trip!). It has extensive information on must-see places in our country. And it is a celebration of the beauty of the place we live in - no matter which part of Aotearoa New Zealand we call home, there is something worthy of attention not too far away!
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