Thursday, December 14, 2006

New Zealand

We made it to Christchurch, on the East Coast of the South Island. It's very green, cool, and beautiful. We wandered around town during the day, and visited a Maori cultural center and nature preserve in the evening.

A central element of Maori culture is the Haka, a war dance that prepares the mind and body for battle. Here's a great Maori warrior chief engaged in a haka:

No, really, this is supposed to strike fear into opponents (or, I guess, make them laugh themselves to death, which would also work).

The Kiwi is the New Zealand icon. This part of the world has its share of unique creatures, and hte Kiwi certainly is one. It's a bird, but it has solid bones with marrow, is flightless, and it burrows. It is also largely defenseless, at least until fully grown, although for the first 70 million years or so this wasn't a problem since there were no predators on the Island. The Maori and Europoeans introduced rats, mice, possums, ferrets, cats, dogs, and stoats, which have driven the Kiwi to the brink of extinction. 95-98% of chicks are killed within the first 100 days of life, and only about 20,000 birds remain; there were untold millions when the Maori arrived 30,000 years ago. There is a program that takes the eggs from the wild, raises the chicks on predator-free islands, then puts the grown birds back into the wild. It's not clear that it will work, and the biologist at the preserve said that within 5-20 years the bird may be extinct in the wild.

We will be blogging sporadically, as internet access at the hotel is very expensive.

Off to the Antarctic Exploration Center today.


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