The centre of things

Over the summer I stayed with my mate in the Benneydale back country. One day, left to my own devices, I did a bit of tiki-touring. A few years ago my mate was based at Pureora, a few minutes east of Benneydale, so he was able to give me directions to a couple of places to go in the forest park. First stop was Pureora village itself – well, the half-dozen houses that now make up that community.

After the town I hit the dirt road in search for the ‘Centre of the North Island‘. A spot ‘discovered’ a few decades ago by a DSIR scientist who clearly didn’t have enough work to keep him busy. The plaque on the ‘monument’ (below) tells the story of how he worked it out.

The 'monument' at the 'centre' of the North Island

The 'monument' at the 'centre' of the North Island

The plaque on the 'monument'

The plaque on the 'monument'

The ‘monument’ itself was rather disappointing, though probably in keeping with the method of discovery. Call me fussy, but I couldn’t help thinking that if you wish to find the centre of balance for any geological formation, you really should take into account the three-dimensionality of the real thing, and not assume that the landmass is equally distributed.

I was reminded of a family holiday years ago when we visited the ‘Centre of New Zealand‘ in/near Nelson with its far more grandiose monument. I remember Dad asked us how they came up with that being the centre. I threw him a few ideas, none of which were right. He never did tell us.

Nelson's 'centre' of New Zealand monument

Nelson's 'centre' of New Zealand monument

Apparently the ‘real’ ‘Centre of New Zealand’ is in the Spooners Range near Tapawera (41 deg. 30 min S., 172 deg. 50 min E.), though this too was found via a gravity survey that took in Stewart Island, the North and South Islands, and the smaller inshore islands, but not the Chathams. The Nelson point was merely a somewhat arbitrary point for an 1870s survey project.

Besides gainfully occupying some surveyors or scientists for a few hours or days and being a nice bit of trivia, I’m not really sure what purpose these centres have. They do make for pleasant enough detours though, and on the way to the ‘Centre of the North Island’ you can do the much more pleasurable (and not terribly strenuous) walk to the summit of Mt Pureora, with its stunning views of the centre of the North Island.

Stunning views from the top of Mt Pureora (click to view panorama)

Stunning views from the top of Mt Pureora (click to view panorama)

2 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Ben || January 31st, 2011

    Great story Andy.

    You may be pleased to know that I found out the purpose of Nelson’s Centre of New Zealand monument late last year, when I stumbled up to it in near darkness with family members and the half the city’s population.

    It is, I discovered, a tradition to climb up to the monument at dusk a week before Christmas carrying lanterns and glow sticks. As ‘pilgrims’ progress up the hill – or are pushed up by the heaving crowd behind – one passes grottos of fairies, goblins and witches. Some play flutes, others cast spells, and still others sing ditties. At the top people gather round the monument where they listen to fancifully-dressed people playing medieval-like tunes and singing songs.

    It’s all a bit weird that an event ostensibly celebrating the lead up to Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ – is more pagan than Christian but I guess it shows the substantial influence of Nelson’s hippy sub-culture. In other words the Centre of New Zealand monument is really Nelson’s version of Stonehenge. Take the trip!

  2. Comment made by Kerryn || January 31st, 2011

    I came across reference to King Country’s ‘centre of the north’ claim when researching for Te Ara’s places entry on this part of the country. I too found the cardboard- based methodology a little dubious. I will look into the matter as research progresses!

    Re the purpose – it’s all about putting your town (or forest) ‘on the map’. These sorts of claims are ways of gaining public recognition of a place that would otherwise only remain known to a select few – boosterism. The ultimate purpose to ensure the survival and success of that place. Not that it looks like there are many shops to spend my dollar in around this particular centre. And I guess in this case there’s some scientific interest in determing the island’s centre…?

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