4 Oct 2013

New book offers first comprehensive history of Kermadecs

6:07 pm on 4 October 2013

A new book about the Kermadec islands is the first comprehensive history of New Zealand's northern islands.

"Raoul & the Kermadecs is published by Steele Roberts and was released this week in New Zealand."

Johnny Blades spoke to the book's author Steven Gentry about these fascinating small islands which are uninhabited, except for Raoul Island where a meteorological station is permanently manned.

STEVEN GENTRY: It's the size of Rangitoto, but much, much more rugged with an active volcano in the middle. I can't see that there'll ever be any development. The whole thrust at the moment by the Department of Conservation, who run the islands now, is on conservation, getting the sea birds back, getting rid of the exotic plants. The mammals and what-have-you have already been taken off or destroyed.

JOHNNY BLADES: There aren't many books out there about the Kermadecs, are there?

SG: There's practically nothing. There is the Crusoes of Sunday Island , which was written in the '50s, and that's about it. So there was an opportunity there for this history to be written.

JB: Is there a limited history because there have been so few people living on these islands?

SG: Well, that's probably true, but it's a very rich history nevertheless of man's interaction with the islands, the islands' interaction with man, in reverse, 'cause they're volcanoes and they have earthquakes and whatever, and they have storms, as well. But it's still a history that goes back... If one likes to start at the beginning, the islands came out of the sea about two million years ago more or less and developed their own vegetation over that time. So the vegetation is quite special, and that is one of the attractions for me. And then there's the Polynesian history - the Polynesians were there for about 100 years in the 1300s, 1400s.

JB: Is this Polynesians who had come down from Tahiti area?

SG: Probably from the Cook Islands. The Maori canoe traditions talk about the stopping-off place - 'Rangitahua', they called it. And a couple of the waka in particular have this very strong in their traditions. And artefacts have been found on Raoul Island of Polynesian origin. They're all dated to about a period of what's talked about as the Great Migrations - 1300 to 1400. So there's all that history, as well, and then the European discovery, whaling, European settlements really began there to service the whalers, who needed water and wood and food and what-have-you. And then World War I, they were used by the Germans, although they were part of New Zealand and New Zealand didn't know about it. So in World War II, it appeared on the horizon and New Zealand took an active interest. That's when the meteorological stations started.