THE LOST NATIVES OF NEW ZEALAND

Visiting the South Island of New Zealand in autumn, the eye is drawn to the vibrant golds, oranges and reds of autumn leaves, presenting a dramatic contrast to the greens, greys and blues of the landscapes. In the classic U-shaped glacial valleys, with flat bottoms and steep sides, the tall golden rows of elegant poplars are particularly pleasing to the eye. The historic town of Arrowtown lies at the base of a curve of steep hills which are densely covered with autumn colours and give a spectacular backdrop to the old-time character of the historic shops and buildings.

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Arrowtown celebrates an annual Autumn Festival, designed to attract even more visitors than usual. Among the many visitors drawn to the town, Japanese bridal pairs pose in their wedding finery with the autumn colours as the setting for a very memorable wedding album.

Over the winding roads of the Crown Range, Wanaka holds a biennial Festival of Colour on its lake shore, combining arts and theatre with the colours of autumn.

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The autumn colours are clearly important in New Zealand, but it is ironic that such high value is placed on imported exotic species from Europe and other countries. It is hard to find the local native species, like the lovely toi toi feathery grass now being out-competed by planted pampas from Argentina. Native flax is now most often found in council amenity plantings around New Zealand towns, sometimes with toi toi interspersed. The hills of the South Island can compete with the barren hills of Scotland, both cleared by centuries of grazing, burning and cutting of the original trees and shrubs. It is hard to find the original forest and woodland cover anywhere, even on steep hills.

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The Japanese newly-weds will have spectacular wedding pictures from New Zealand, but they would have been more unique if they had posed in front of native New Zealand species, like cabbage trees or toi toi grass. Sadly, the native plants of New Zealand are heading in the same direction as the extinct giant moa, hunted out of existence only 200 years ago. Perhaps there should be a campaign to convince the Japanese bridal market that they want to be photographed in front of the very special and unique New Zealand native plants. If the plants have value for the tourists, they will have a better chance of future survival.

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About redgumgirl

Dr Anne Jensen is an environmental consultant with a passionate interest in sustainable management of our natural resources, particularly the River Murray and wetland environments. She is particularly interested in using photographs and stories to explain issues around water and protecting natural ecosystems in terms that are understood by the wider community, so that we can manage our environment sustainably for our common future.
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