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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Bruce W. Hayward talks about Mountains, Volcanoes, Coasts and Caves


Bruce W. Hayward is a retired geologist and marine ecologist based in Auckland. He is a former member of the Auckland Conservation Board and New Zealand Conservation Authority, and former president of the Geological Society of New Zealand. His wide interests in natural and human history have resulted in twenty previous books on topics as diverse as archaeology, the kauri timber and gum industries, the history of Auckland cinemas, New Zealand fossils, volcanoes, building stones and conservation. Bruce talks to NZ Booklovers about his latest book.


Tell us a little about Mountains, Volcanoes, Coasts and Caves.

The book features my personal selection of the 100 most outstanding natural features in New Zealand. These are all landforms or larger geological features. With each I have tried to explain through photographs, diagrams and text, why they are spectacular or significant, how they were formed and their place within the 500-million-year history of the formation of our amazing country Aotearoa New Zealand.


What inspired you to write this book?

I have been advocating for better protection for New Zealand’s amazing geoheritage for most of my life. It is so often forgotten when we think about conservation and heritage protection, yet it is what makes our country so beautiful and the primary drawcard for international and domestic tourists. The most effective way for achieving improved protection for our geoheritage is to win over public support by opening their eyes to the stories held in our landforms and rocks about how they and Aotearoa were formed, over millions or even just the last few thousand years. Thus, I have been planning a book like this since the 1990s. A book to celebrate the best of the best geoheritage in New Zealand in photographs and words that tell their origin stories.


What research was involved?

As part of my commitment to geoheritage protection I have guided the compilation of the New Zealand Geopreservation Inventory since the 1980s. This publicly accessible database provides information on the location and significance of over 3200 geoheritage sites that are of scientific, educational and aesthetic significance. All entries have been nominated and assessed by members of the New Zealand geoscience community under the auspices of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand. Through this major project I have become aware of most of the outstanding features and places in Aotearoa, and over the years I have led groups of geology enthusiasts to more than 90% of the sites featured in the book. In writing the book I have searched for all the most recent research about each site. I have then tried to convert this into everyday language so the book’s readers can understand how each was formed. I have also included twenty sections that provide more general background to the big picture concepts that explain the origins of our country and these sites.


Which is your favourite among Aotearoa New Zealand’s natural wonders.

Each one is special and intriguing and often contains surprising elements. Rather than choosing one of the better-known natural wonders like Pohutu geyser, Franz Josef Glacier or Milford Sound, I have picked a lesser-known site from each of our two main islands. In the North Island, I have chosen Pungarehu debris avalanche mounds that cover a huge area of the western ring plain of Mt Taranaki. Here, 250 km2 of land is covered in a field of giant mole hills (each 5-30 m high) that were left behind when the top half of the volcano collapsed in an almighty volcanic avalanche 25,000 years ago. From the South Island I have chosen Rawhiti Cave, above Takaka, where visitors are awestruck by the spectacular, rare tusk-like stalactites that stretch like a theatre valance across the top of the wide entrance to this ancient marble cave.


The photographs are a key component of the book, how did you work with the photographers Alastair Jamieson and Lloyd Homer?

Yes, I am thrilled with the quality and range of photographs in the book. A major part of preparing the book was the process of finding and selecting the best photos that illustrate the significant features of each site’s origin story. More than half of the photos come from my own collection but I was extremely fortunate to gain sponsorship from GNS Science that gave me access to Lloyd Homer’s extensive library of aerial photographs. Lloyd was a pioneer of oblique aerial photography of New Zealand’s landforms and geology in the days of negative film. He retired just as digital photography was taking off in the late 1990s. It was a revelation to see him in action when I flew with him in the 1980s. Alastair Jamieson is another skilled photographer who specialises in aerial work, primarily of natural landscapes. He and I have worked together on three previous books. I give him my list of chosen sites and he works with the helicopter operators to figure out the best weather days, sun directions and the most cost-efficient, GPS-guided route to fly around the places in a particular region. When it comes to flying, we need to be well-rugged up with our helicopter doors off. We both go up with the pilot where we choose the best angles, elevations and distances for the “money shots” to be included in the book. These can be full-on exhausting days as we may take 3000-4000 shots between us on a single flight.


Who will enjoy this book?

I hope anyone who has an interest in natural New Zealand and how it was formed will find this book full of interesting explanations. Hopefully too, readers will discover places they did not previously know about but will now be keen to add to their bucket list. I try to make my writing accessible for inquisitive people of all ages, from 10 to 100 years, ranging from those with no previous exposure to earth science up to professional geoscientists.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Nothing, as the book preparation never really has a finishing point until it is publicly released and even then, there are the on-going commitments to help publicise it. I began writing the book in mid-2020 and submitted it to the publisher in mid-2021. Since then, there have many things to do including waiting for the perfect weather to fly some of the aerial photographs, completing computer drafting of diagrams and maps, proofing and suggesting improvements to the many versions of the book layout, checking indexes and other tasks. The greatest pleasure I get from finishing any book is to hear from readers that enjoyed it or were inspired by it to go out and rediscover some of these wonders for themselves.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

The recently published “Fossil Treasures of Foulden Maar” by paleontologists Daphne Lee, Uwe Kaulfuss and John Conran, provides a wonderful and clear description in words and photographs of New Zealand’s most special fossil locality. It contains so many perfectly preserved fossils of groups that are otherwise extremely rare in the New Zealand fossil record, such as a diversity of extinct insects, spiders and flowers, some still with anthers bearing pollen. All are preserved within the layered sediment that accumulated on the floor of a freshwater lake that filled a volcanic crater in north Otago, 23 million years ago. The authors bring the fossils to life by using the biology and ecology of their living descendants to infer their roles in the ancient ecosystem that existed in the lake and surrounding forest. The book documents the ancient origins of many of New Zealand’s modern plants and insects as well as a number of groups that have now become extinct in our part of the world.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

Since finishing the book, I have been trying to complete some of my micropaleontological research projects that were put aside while I worked on the book. Maybe next year I will start on another of the book ideas that are burning a hole in my back pocket.


Auckland University Press


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