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envirohistory NZ

People and the environment through history

Last Build Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2018 07:22:22 +0000


‘Playing god’ – 1837 and 2017envirohistorynzbait station kanukagully

Sat, 20 May 2017 20:21:42 +0000

Decisions made by men more than a century and a half ago led to me facing an unpleasant ethical dilemma a few days ago. That is, should I subject animals to an untimely but rapid death, or a prolonged and (I can only imagine) painful one? The animal I am talking about is the Australian […]

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Autumn in the Pohangina Valleyenvirohistorynzpin oak

Tue, 16 May 2017 00:40:53 +0000

It was mid-autumn when we moved to our new home in the Pohangina Valley, and the valley has been ablaze with autumn colour – one of the advantages of living in a colder climate where seasons are more delineated. This has been one of my favourite scenes: a vista from our drive, across the farmer’s […]

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Life changesenvirohistorynztree house

Mon, 15 May 2017 06:46:54 +0000

About three weeks ago my family and I made a very big life change. We moved from comfortable, convenient, leafy suburbia on the Kapiti Coast to a 7-acre block of land in rural Manawatu. This involved moving ourselves out of our 213 m2 4-bedroom, double-garaged home into a garage-less house of exactly half that size. […]

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Did you know moreporks mewed?envirohistorynzbaby morepork.jpeg

Sat, 29 Apr 2017 02:35:35 +0000

I woke up with the rain gurgling down the guttering at 5:30am this morning, made myself my customary morning coffee and sat down to do some work before the morning’s quiet was broken by the duvet-bearing preschooler sharing her first thoughts of the day with me. As I typed, my muted keyboard percussion was accompanied […]

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Why write about rivers?envirohistorynz

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 02:15:20 +0000

Since New Zealand’s Rivers has been released, I have had a number of opportunities to talk to journalists and others about the book and how I came to write it. So, I thought I would document these questions and my answers in a series of posts. One of the first questions that I have been […]

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New Zealand’s Rivers launch – 17 Novemberenvirohistorynz

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 02:11:10 +0000

Only a few days to go now until the official launch of New Zealand’s Rivers: An environmental history, with award-winning journalist Rebecca Macfie. If you would like to join us, RSVP to, or just come along on the night.

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Talk: A history of the Manawatu Riverenvirohistorynzashhurst-library

Tue, 04 Oct 2016 18:44:10 +0000

I will be doing a talk about my book Ravaged Beauty, with a focus on the Manawatu River, at the historic Ashhurst Community Library (seen here in its original form as a post office), on: Thursday, 20th October at 7pm. This will possibly be my last talk about my first book, which is fitting, because […]

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New issue of Environment & Nature NZenvirohistorynzkahikatea

Tue, 04 Oct 2016 03:54:09 +0000

A new issue of ENNZ: Environment and Nature New Zealand is now out! Contents: Vaughan Wood, “Editor’s Introduction” Linda Tyler, “Illustrating the Grasses and the Transactions: John Buchanan’s Development of Technologies for Lithography in Natural History” Julia Wells, “A Physician to the Sultan’: The East African Environment in the Writings of a New Zealand Doctor” […]

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New book: New Zealand’s RiversenvirohistorynzRivers cover

Sun, 21 Aug 2016 01:33:15 +0000

Release in November 2016 From cover: New Zealand’s Rivers: An environmental history explores the relationship between New Zealanders and our rivers, explaining how we have arrived at a crisis point, where fresh water has become our most contested resource and many rivers are too polluted to swim in. Environmental historian Catherine Knight reveals that the […]

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envirohistory NZ lives on! (but somewhere else)envirohistorynzfrog

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 19:21:46 +0000

Some envirohistory NZ followers may have noticed I haven’t written a post for an awfully long time. Ironically, that is because I have been too busy writing – my second book, which is due to be released later this year. The book is an environmental history of rivers in New Zealand, and should prove very […]

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Ravaged Beauty receives awardenvirohistorynzcover

Fri, 06 Nov 2015 03:03:34 +0000

On Wednesday night, I received an award from the Palmerston North Heritage Trust for my book Ravaged Beauty: an environmental history of the Manawatu. From the Heritage Trust’s media release: “Environmental historian Catherine Knight has won the Palmerston North Heritage Trust’s inaugural award for the best work of history relating to the Manawatu. Ravaged Beauty: […]

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How does environmental history bring hope?envirohistorynzBrunner coalmining townsteve-morton

Tue, 03 Nov 2015 21:36:19 +0000

I was fortunate to be invited to be a keynote speaker at the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand conference last week in Perth. I spoke about how environmental history can – and should – inform our decision-making about the environment. I spoke of the numerous benefits of environmental history; how it allows us […]

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Environmental history and social justice – is there a link? The case of Nauruenvirohistorynznauru island

Tue, 03 Nov 2015 21:02:02 +0000

Human rights abuses in Nauru are currently under scrutiny by the United Nations and other organisations. We in New Zealand have also expressed our concerns – and with good reason. But it makes me wonder, how much responsibility does New Zealand have to share in what is, without question, an unacceptable situation? We were responsible […]

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Blogging about history – top tipsenvirohistorynzblerg

Thu, 22 Oct 2015 17:40:45 +0000

Last week, I did a talk at Palmerston North City Library Bringing history alive. I promised to publish a post with my top tips for blogging about history. And so here they are: Keep posts short – keep to one main idea. If you think of other ideas as you write your post, they can […]

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Scandinavian axemen, Maori gardening and forgotten streams of ChristchurchenvirohistorynzYoung Maori girl at Te Ariki Pa. Shows her standing alongside a vegetable garden and a whare. Photograph taken in the 1880s by the Burton Brothers.

Tue, 13 Oct 2015 17:52:15 +0000

In anticipation of my talk on Friday, I thought I would gain some insights into envirohistory NZ’s most popular posts. Fittingly, given that my talk is in the Manawatu, the most popular post (by far) has been The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu. The next most popular posts have been Maori gardening in pre-European NZ […]

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Bringing history alive – talk on 16th OctoberenvirohistorynzCrossing the Manawatu River by punt, Ashhurst

Fri, 09 Oct 2015 04:11:51 +0000

I will be presenting a lunchtime talk on Friday 16th October at the Palmerston North City Library called Bringing history alive. I will be talking of my experience blogging about New Zealand’s environmental history – how I came to do it (this is quite an interesting story, and has to do with a certain expressway), […]

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Brunner coal mine – holiday destination?envirohistorynzBrunner coalmining town

Wed, 07 Oct 2015 06:16:49 +0000

This is a photo of the mining settlement of Brunner, perched on the side of the Grey River, on the West Coast of the South Island. The photo is interesting in itself. The mine can be seen in the middle ground, with houses on the deforested flanks of the hills behind the mine. Coal ready […]

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The lady and the possumenvirohistorynzA brush-tailed opossum in the care of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1957/0147-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:41:16 +0000

In my search for an image for the previous post, I stumbled across this photographic treasure from 1957: a possum in the care of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Knowing what we know today about the destructive impact of these furry marsupials, it is easy to dismiss this image as a […]

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Possums “doing good in the bush”envirohistorynzpossum

Sat, 20 Jun 2015 19:13:53 +0000

In a similar vein to my previous post about the little German owl, I found another insightful gem about possums, from the official report of the 15th national conference of acclimatisation societies in 1926: “The Government had appointed Professor Kirk to inquire into opossums and the Forestry Department had also appointed an independent man. Both […]

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Was the little German owl really a ruthless killer, or was this a case of ‘ecological racism’?envirohistorynzA German owl. Looks pretty harmless to me!

Fri, 12 Jun 2015 01:22:26 +0000

While perusing historical minute books of the New Zealand acclimatisation societies, I came across this gem, from the ‘Presidential address’ at their national conference in 1932: “The German owl was killing out a tremendous number of native birds, and it should be the duty of the societies to wage war upon it. There was a […]

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Storm of shameenvirohistorynzsealturtle choking on plastic bagThe stomach contents of this albatross include plastic marine debris fed to the chick by its parents. Photograph by Chris Jordan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Sat, 16 May 2015 23:58:12 +0000

The storm that visited Wellington last week was dramatic. It left countless homes and businesses flooded, one man dead, and transport links paralyzed. In Kapiti, where I live, we had one month’s worth of rain in one day. The storm had another dramatic, and revealing, effect. It left Kapiti’s beaches smothered in a deluge of […]

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Enemies to acclimatisationenvirohistorynzEnemies of Acclimatisation

Sat, 25 Apr 2015 02:47:37 +0000

While on a hunt for early accounts of acclimatisation societies in New Zealand, I found this gem – a letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times in 1867. How times have changed! (And anyone know who a “Venator” is?)

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Wainui – a beautiful riverenvirohistorynzWainui River 1Wainui River 2

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 03:55:55 +0000

In a recent trip to Golden Bay (named for its goldfields, discovered near Collingwood in 1857, though it could equally be named for its golden sand beaches), I had the privilege of visiting a wild river. Short but powerful, the Wainui River tumbles down a boulder-strewn channel to the salt marshes at the southern end […]

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The river as a metaphorenvirohistorynzwairau-river

Sun, 05 Apr 2015 23:46:55 +0000

My call out for poems about New Zealand rivers got an immediate response! Thank you to a certain olive farmer of Awatere Valley, who alerted me to this poem by Eileen Duggan. Certainly one from the “river as a metaphor” file – for love, in this case. The metaphors come thick and fast in this […]

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Poems about New Zealand riversenvirohistorynzriver

Sun, 05 Apr 2015 18:18:45 +0000

I am on a hunt … for poems about New Zealand rivers. I have found a few by some of our well-known poets: “The river in you” by Brian Turner “Rangitikei River song” by Sam Hunt “Clutha V” by Denis Glover And I am sure there are many others, though I am not sure how […]

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“Birmingham River” – a powerful environmental history in a poemenvirohistorynzThis image courtesy of, has a caption that reads: The River Rea alongside Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham This section of the Rea is canalised, and has a walkway alongside that nobody uses, people preferring to walk through the park instead.

Sun, 29 Mar 2015 01:31:14 +0000

In my exploration of different ways of writing about our relationship with the environment, I embarked on a search for poems about rivers. First and foremost, my interest was in poems describing New Zealand rivers, but then I stumbled across a poem by English poet Roy Fisher. Entitled “Birmingham River”, it is the story of […]

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Ikawai: a revelationenvirohistorynzlamphreyIkawai_coverlamprey mouth

Sat, 21 Mar 2015 18:48:42 +0000

I came to the world of Ikawai rather late. I had dipped into the hefty 800 page volume some time back. What I read was very interesting, but thinking that it was basically an encyclopedia about fish, I had not ventured much further than the introductory chapters. Recently, my interest in the impact of acclimatisation […]

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The front lawn – how has this New Zealand institution fared in the Big Dry?envirohistorynzOur "front lawn" todayOur front lawn soon after its conversion in 2009

Fri, 13 Feb 2015 01:02:27 +0000

In New Zealand, we have recently experienced one of the most prolonged periods of drought since records began, and a number of regions in New Zealand have now been declared as officially in drought. We live in Kapiti, a coastal area where there is less rain and more sun than many parts of New Zealand. […]

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“Sadness seeping up from the ground” – A personal experience of a book and a landscapeenvirohistorynzPohangina RiverPohangina River 2

Tue, 10 Feb 2015 06:41:13 +0000

A few days ago I received the following email from Mark Gibson, who had recently finished reading Ravaged Beauty, and wanted to share with me how it had affected him personally. It was such an eloquent email that I thought it would be worth sharing with envirohistory NZ readers: “My parents (in their late eighties) […]

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Wild riversenvirohistorynzraftingwild rivers cover

Sat, 07 Feb 2015 03:07:43 +0000

I recently had the great pleasure to read John Mackay’s book “Wild rivers”, published in 1978, in which he recounts with remarkable descriptive detail the rafting adventures he and his mates had during the 1970s. He describes adventures on the Upper Buller Gorge, the middle Clarence, the Motu, the Wanganui, and the Karamea – all […]

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envirohistory NZ – 2014 in reviewenvirohistorynz

Fri, 02 Jan 2015 17:39:29 +0000

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt: The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many […]

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Treasure in a charred survivorenvirohistorynzBruce Park Reserve06Bruce Park Reserve12Bruce Park Reserve10

Fri, 02 Jan 2015 02:53:44 +0000

On our way back from a recent trip to the Ruapehu Mountain district, we stopped at Bruce Park Reserve, near Hunterville. This was a forest reserve that I had read about in David Young’s conservation history of New Zealand Our Islands, Our Selves, and I had long wanted to visit it. To help entice my […]

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New issue of Environment and Nature in New Zealand now out!envirohistorynzdeer

Fri, 21 Nov 2014 03:26:24 +0000

Just released: Environment and Nature in New Zealand Vol 9 No 2 Includes the following articles and book reviews: Alistair McMechan, “Timber Town: A History of Port Craig” Simon Canaval, “The Story of the Fallow Deer: An Exotic Aspect of British Globalisation” Paul Star, “Island Reserves and Mainland Islands, including a Review of Ecosanctuaries” Joanne Whittle, “Review: […]

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Counting ducksenvirohistorynzFemale Paradise shelduck and ducklingMum and dad duck with ducklings (one of the new clutch)

Fri, 17 Oct 2014 18:02:02 +0000

This is the time of year that you find yourself compulsively counting ducks. We live next to an artificially created lake, and it has become home to a wide range of birds  – both indigenous and introduced. But it is the Paradise shelducks that create the most excitement when they produce their little black and […]

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The story of the “solitary little trout”envirohistorynzMr Clark with trout. Ref: 1/1-005184-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Commemorative plaque marking the site of the original hatchery where Johnson raised trout. Photo by J. Kos.Opawa aquarium

Sat, 27 Sep 2014 18:23:27 +0000

One of the great advantages of the Internet age is that not only is it possible now to find peoples’ PhD theses online, but graduate theses too. In my quest to better understand the acclimatisation of trout and salmon in New Zealand, I came across an honours dissertation by a Canterbury University history student, Jack […]

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Ravaged Beauty talk: Wellington National Library, 23 Octoberenvirohistorynzcover

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 18:26:27 +0000

A few people have been inquiring whether I will be doing a talk in Wellington about Ravaged Beauty and the environmental history of the Manawatu. The answer is yes. Other upcoming talks include the following: Kapiti Forest & Bird: 7:30 pm 24 September (today!), Presbyterian Church Hall, Waikanae Otaki Historical Society: 7:30pm 7 October, Otaki […]

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The illustrious history of canoeing on the Manawatu RiverenvirohistorynzWoman paddling in dugout canoe in Jone's Lagoon, Karere, c1905. Palmerston North City Library, 2007N_Lo27_BRW_0609

Sat, 20 Sep 2014 23:58:37 +0000

One aspect of the Manawatu’s environmental history which I completely neglected in my book Ravaged Beauty: an environmental history of the Manawatu, was recreational canoeing on the Manawatu River. Yet I have since discovered that it had a most illustrious history, according to Murray Fyfe’s history of recreational canoeing in New Zealand, published in 1972. […]

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Rats: the “black scourge” of our forestsenvirohistorynzrat eating eggA black rat eating a fantail chick, Horowhenua.

Fri, 19 Sep 2014 18:57:47 +0000

This dramatic photograph shows a black rat eating a thrush egg. This common rat species (Rattus rattus, otherwise known as a bush, roof or ship rat) is one of three that has long made its home in New Zealand. The first to arrive on these shores was the kiore or Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) which […]

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Wairau River – ancient and modern engineeringenvirohistorynzPlan of lagoons and channels dug by Maori at the mouth of the Wairau River, drawn by J.L. D'Arcey Irvine. Alexander Turnbull Library, MapColl 832.2gmtb [pre-1840] Acc. 120Wairau River, showing diversion and lagoons prized by Rangitane

Sun, 17 Aug 2014 04:24:20 +0000

In 1963, a major engineering feat was completed on the Wairau River, in the Marlborough district: the Wairau diversion.  The diversion created two Wairau Rivers, one following its original course, which meanders south-east into a network of lagoons, before reaching Cloudy Bay at Wairau Bar. The “new Wairau River” was a channel that connected the […]

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Fairy in the kitchenenvirohistorynzJoe Cockram

Mon, 11 Aug 2014 08:17:33 +0000

There are probably not many who can claim to have had a fairy in the kitchen, but we can. We came home after work today to find an unexpected visitor: a small grey bird with webbed feet huddled in the backyard. Our border collie had been considerately keeping it company. We brought the little chap […]

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Christchurch on the “old delta of the River Waimakariri”envirohistorynzChristchurch, 1860, showing Avon River in the middle ground and Worcester Bridge in the background. Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. 1/2-022720-F

Sat, 09 Aug 2014 06:37:11 +0000

I have been trawling historic newspapers in Papers Past in my efforts to research early European attitudes to New Zealand’s rivers. In the course (unintended pun) of doing so, I stumbled upon a report on the drainage of the city, submitted to the Christchurch City Council in 1864 by the City Surveyor. It is illuminating […]

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The waterfall of Waterfall Road & other treasuresenvirohistorynzWaterfall of Waterfall Road, Kapiti. Found it!

Fri, 08 Aug 2014 00:50:43 +0000

Longtime envirohistory NZ followers might remember how my husband and I stumbled upon the international phenomenon of geocaching entirely by accident (see Hidden treasure at Otaki Gorge). Geocaching involves searching for caches that have been hidden by members of the worldwide geocaching community, using GPS coordinates and other clues. It is a fun and physical […]

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Whose rivers are more pleasant? New Zealand vs EnglandenvirohistorynzAvon River, Christchurch

Sat, 26 Jul 2014 23:44:15 +0000

Reading Andrew McRae’s paper “Fluvial Nation: rivers, mobility and poetry in Early Modern England”, I was struck by its opening statement. In 1665, the speaker of the House of Commons, addressing the King and Parliament reflected that: “Cosmosgraphers do agree that this Island is incomparably furnished with pleasant Rivers, like Veins in the Natural Body, […]

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Rivers in New Zealand: deadly, destructive … but quite usefulenvirohistorynz

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 01:42:17 +0000

The Manawatu River was a defining feature of the Manawatu Region, which was the subject of my recently published book, Ravaged Beauty. This has led me to research the environmental history of our rivers more broadly. One thing that becomes very clear very quickly is the nature of early European attitudes to rivers in New […]

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When is a river a drain?envirohistorynzBrunner Mine on Grey River

Sat, 12 Jul 2014 03:58:06 +0000

Some may argue that too often rivers are treated like drains even today, but a century and a half ago, rivers were drains under this country’s law. Under the Public Works Act 1876,  “drain” was defined to include both artificial channels and “every natural watercourse, stream, and river not navigable” (s. 165). Under the Mines […]

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Upcoming environmental history symposium – register nowenvirohistorynzThe Colonial World

Thu, 29 May 2014 19:52:55 +0000

Paper proposals are now being invited for an upcoming environmental symposium at Otago University, Dunedin: The Colonial World: Elemental Histories  — download flyer —

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New book: “Ravaged Beauty” – an environmental historyenvirohistorynzcovermail delivery in Pohangina Valley c 1907

Mon, 19 May 2014 18:27:16 +0000

The long-awaited Ravaged Beauty: an environmental history of the Manawatu is available June 2014 . Ravaged Beauty tells the story of one place, from prehistory to today. But its themes are universal. What motivates the human desire to modify and exploit their natural environment, and have people learned anything from the consequences? Read this new […]

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Steps to nowhereenvirohistorynzSteps to the backyard of an eroded property on a Kapiti Coast beach

Fri, 25 Apr 2014 01:37:21 +0000

These concrete steps on a Kapiti beach once connected a seaside backyard with the beach, but now connect only with thin air. They are a poignant (and somewhat whimsical) reminder of the very real effects of coastal erosion. This coastline, on the west of the North Island of New Zealand, is subject to ceaseless erosion; […]

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