Wednesday, January 19, 2011

after Cyclone Zelia

It's possible to make fun out of anything when you are young. These learner flyers took advantage of the wind building up before Cyclone Zelia. Happily she reduced her intensity and quickly went through the motions in  a few hours; just like the big storm that had been predicted she went exactly where she was expected to but instead of taking a few days about it, it was all over in a few hours. We would have appreciated some rain but will be grateful that we were not damaged to any extent.

The days after .... It's been sunny days in Norfolk Island, with gentle breezes and clear skies to see the moon rising full and smiling gently over the island in a benign sky. The gentle sou'westerly breeze is bringing welcome relief from the humidity that so often surrounds a cyclone.

The red-tailed tropicbirds are calling overhead and the Tasman boobies are sitting inscrutably on their clifftop, as if nothing happened last night. They would definitely prove themselves to be good confidantes if you needed to tell someone a secret.
The whistles of the black-winged petrels as they circle over their nest burrows bear no resemblance to the howling calls they made last night as they were tucked in on our verandahs sheltering from 135+ kmh winds.

Perhaps by way of apology, we were treated to a beautiful sunset the day after the storm. Just about makes it worthwhile.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cyclone Zelia

Norfolk Island is bracing for the arrival of Cyclone Zelia. We watch the news and weather on Australian tv and the only mention is that this Category 3 cyclone is nothing to worry about as it is heading out to sea.
We have a slightly different view of the world, as we are in the middle of the sea it's heading into.

We have been warned to expect winds of up to 185 kmh, possibly gusting higher and for the first time ever (and we've been through  few of these ) the seas are descibed as dangerous to phenomenal!

 With no harbour all the island's boats use the cranes on the piers to be placed in or pulled out of the water. These pictures of Cascade Pier were taken after Cyclone Ivy. There's the crane, there's the wave, and see below ... now you see it, now you don't!

This is why The Pacific Pearl would not try to unload her passengers today.

The tropical depression that passed through yesterday had been a cyclone that had an identity crisis, forgot its name and just became depressed. It was a fairly good wind, but nothing compared to what we should now be preparing for. The birds are hunkered down behind the grass and have barely moved since Saturday, the winds being persistently quite strong. Only the frigatebirds continue to sail on it in a leisurely way as if it were no more than a wafting breeze.

There will be some rare photo opportunities over the next few days. Trees are destined to fall, and there will be destruction. It's always sad, but it's natures way or renewing and refreshing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Visiting Ships

The first cruise ship for 2011 is due to visit the island early next week.

P & O's Pacific Sun and Pacific Pearl have been coming to the island for over a year now, and visitors almost always wish to stay longer after the glimpse they get during their few hours ashore.

Many of the interesting things about Norfolk are due to her isolation. The difficulty for animals and plants to colonise the island so far from any mainland has given rise to species evolving here unmolested by mammalian predators, the most efficient of which is Man. Until human beings came to Norfolk Island there were over 15 species of birds that could not be found anywhere else, having evolved in the island's isolation to become new species and subspecies. There are now 7 species remaining, the other 8 lost since European settlement.

 There were two species of lizard as well, a gecko and a skink, both of which have only one other home, in the Lord Howe Island group.

 Rats brought to the island by Polynesian seafarers around 800 years ago had completely removed the lizards from the main island (Norfolk) by the time European settlers arrived in 1788, however they continue to exist, and perhaps even thrive, on the offshore islands of Phillip and Nepean and on the rocky stacks offshore to the island's north.

It is extraordinary that the rats have never reached those offshore stacks, given that they are only a few hundred metres from the shore.

Had Norfolk been possessed of a harbour there is no doubt that there would have been a permanent population of humans living here when Capt James Cook sailed by in 1774, but there was no human habitation found at that time. It is possible that the isolation and vast distance from any other land may have been a limiting factor in colonisation, and in fact the European settlements were abandoned due to these factors.
It's an interesting fact that every time this island has been settled, it has been devoid of occupants and the new settlers had to discover afresh the useful plants, and other useful materials and animals in order to live off the land.

There are signs of Polynesian settlement, or perhaps long-term visitation. As well as bringing the rats which remain today artifacts have been uncovered both close to stone paving (a marae) in the Kingston area, during archaeological expeditions, and also occasionally discovered in other areas of the island. (Thanks to the Norfolk Island Museums for the image of Polynesian artifacts discovered on the island.)

However the island was empty when Cook 'discovered' it in 1774.
In 1788 when the first Europeans arrived to establish a small colony for the purposes of procuring timber and fibre, it was still empty.

That settlement was disbanded in 1814, when the last of the residents of Norfolk were shipped off to Tasmania and the island remained devoid of humans for 10 years.

The 2nd European settlement, infamous for its cruelty and depravity, as a place for convicts of the worst kind, was established in 1825. The buildings remaining from that era have recently brought World Heritage Listing to the island as a historic site that makes up a part of the story of deportation to the antipodes from England, the other sites from this era being found in the Australian state of Tasmania and on the Australian mainland.

The final settlement that continues today was begun after the convict settlement had been disbanded, and the island was to provide a home for the 194 Pitcairn Islanders, descendants of the Tahitian women who had created a home and community in 1790, with the mutinous sailors from the infamous ship "Bounty", on remote Pitcairn Island, 3000 miles east of Norfolk. The burgeoning population was too large to remain at Pitcairn and Norfolk has been their home since 1856.

Each year on 8 June their arrival is commemorated with a re-enactment of the landing, and a community picnic,  followed by a formal ball in the evening.

The effects of humans on the wildlife of Norfolk have been many, and in many cases tragic.
Had Norfolk had a harbour however, and the island had been settled continuously over the last 800 years, we could possibly have lost every one of our endemic species, and most of the seabirds that nest here and would continue to have incursions through unmanageable arrivals that would have radically changed the face of the island's biota.
Saving what we have left is an important task and the responsibility of all the residents and visitors. The utmost care is required to prevent invasive pests, predators and pathogens.

The majority of our food, vehicles and other requirements come to the island by ship, and have to be brought ashore in small boats called 'lighters'

We look forward to welcoming our visitors, by air or by sea, and it is obvious when visitors come in contact with the local people, that the isolation and distance from many modern 'necessities' are considered a reasonable trade-off for the pleasure and privilege of living in this charismatic and most beautiful of islands.

Sometimes the weather prevents disembarkation from ships, if they are on a schedule that doesn't allow them to wait a few days for the landing places to be more welcoming. As disappointing as it might be, we need to remember that that very difficulty of access is what has kept Norfolk unique in her wildlife, and continues to prevent unchecked arrivals, and therefore the ongoing security of the gentle, fragile biota.