Here’s a dollop of photos taken around and in Rotorua, where I was magnificently hosted by artist Geoffrey Cox and his wife, radiologist Barbara Hochstein.
On the long intercity bus ride from Wellington (7.5 hr), we stopped for lunch at a cafe where, the bus driver said, they had famous “lamburgers”, made from ground lamb. Of course I had to have one, and it was great, served with grilled onions, tomatoes, a special dressing, and salad.It was a juicy burger, and more people should serve these in New Zealand. I washed it down with a banana smoothie.
Waiting for the bus to leave, I found a ram to pet in a field next to the cafe. When I put my knee through the fence, he butted me!
Late afternoon sun on Lake Taupo, a large caldera lake that is the largest lake in New Zealand.
Sunrise from Geoffrey and Barbara’s house on Lake Rotorua. It was a gorgeous home, with a fantastic garden filled with native plants and a lovely interior filled with art.
The birds are New Zealand scaup, also called black teal (Aythya novaeseelandiae). It’s an endemic species.
Among Geoffrey’s interests are moas, and he’s illustrated books on them. He makes models of their skeletons, which takes weeks of work, since every detail is accurate and worked out in advance. First, a bit on moas from Wikipedia:
The moa were nine species (in six genera) of flightless birds endemic to New Zealand. The two largest species, Dinornis robustus and Dinornis novaezelandiae, reached about 3.6 m (12 ft) in height with neck outstretched, and weighed about 230 kg (510 lb).When Polynesians settled New Zealand around 1280 CE, the moa population was about 58,000.
Moa belong to the order Dinornithiformes, traditionally placed in the ratite group. However, their closest relatives have been found by genetic studies to be the flighted South American tinamous, once considered to be a sister group to ratites. The nine species of moa were the only wingless birds lacking even the vestigial wings which all other ratites have. They were the dominant herbivores in New Zealand’s forest, shrubland and subalpine ecosystems for thousands of years, and until the arrival of the Māori were hunted only by the Haast’s eagle. Moa extinction occurred around 1300 CE – 1440 CE ± 20 years, primarily due to overhunting by Māori.
Moa species names and numbers are in flux, as several species, once thought distinct, were found to be highly sexually dimorphic, with females 1.5 times as large as males and weighing up to three times more. Copulation must have been difficult!
A smaller moa; sadly, I’ve forgotten the species but I’ll ask Geoffrey:
H0w big were they? Below is a figure from Wikipedia. Given the lack of land mammals in New Zealand when the Maori arrived about 1280 AD, these birds would have been tempting targets, and easy to hunt. With drumsticks like these (the Maori didn’t eat much of the other parts), it’s no wonder all species were driven extinct in about 100 years of hunting.
Here’s Geoffrey’s preliminary sketch for the big moa model shown above. Tons of preliminary work go into the planning:
Moas lacked even external vestiges of wings, which even kiwis have. They were, in effect, the world’s only two-limbed vertebrates. The wing bones would have been attached to these bones underneath the ribs:
The moa’s tiny tail:
Geoffrey has done the artwork for three entire series of New Zealand postage stamps. One was of the extinct birds of New Zealand, and here’s a first day cover of the giant moa. The stamp itself is embedded in the portrait, center to the right:
A cast of the skull of a giant moa, with a $2 New Zealand coin for scale (about the size of an American quarter). This was made from a rubber mold used on a real moa skull in an Auckland museum. Surprisingly, many moa bones survive, though not many entire skeletons or the fragile skulls. Geoffrey even told me that two entire moa eggs, shells intact (but empty) were found by Europeans floating in a river in New Zealand.
Geoffrey also has a moa foot, with three big toes in front and a much smaller one in the rear. The bones are genuine except for one replica bone and all the claws:
Geoffrey’s model (see coin for scale) of the fearsome talon of a Haast’s Eagle (Harpagornis moorei), a giant raptor that made its living by preying on hapless moa. When the moa went extinct,the eagle did, too. After having killed a moa, the eagle could consume it at leisure since there were n0 other carnivores to steal its prey.
Geoffrey will make you a replica of almost any creature by special order. Here’s his lovely model of the skeleton of a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).
More Rotorua photos to come. . .