New Zealand Adventure – Part 2

New Zealand Adventure – Part 2

Julius von Haast – Naturalist

No one explores New Zealand’s hidden treasures with more determination and passion than Julius von Haast. He is the “Moa Man”, the discoverer of the extinct giant bird, the Moa. The courageous and persistent Haast is not only an expert in geology, but also a leading figure in New Zealand’s emerging academic world. His writings on geology and landscape are precise and detailed. His travel reports are sometimes written under the most difficult conditions: on icebergs, in the bush, or in the wet forests of the West Coast. With their vivid presentation, they accurately portray the splendor of New Zealand’s nature. An exceptional researcher, Haast was thrilled by this double island at the other end of the world and explored the country with every ounce of his senses and mind.

Tasked with investigating immigration opportunities for Germans, Julius von Haast set foot on New Zealand on 21 December 1858. Shortly after, Haast explored the North Island with Austrian geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter. The researchers wandered into a world where everything was new: animals, plants, Maori. Their culture, language and way of life were of great interest to Europeans.

A year later they both crossed to the South Island. In Nelson County they search for evidence of sources of gold, coal and copper. However, the knowledge the two researchers have gathered in just a few months goes beyond mere discovery. They study moa remains and kiwi life. Vast quantities of previously unknown animals and plants are recorded and collections of rocks, minerals and fossils are created.

After Hochstetter's departure, Haast sets out on his first expedition of his own. He wants to explore the almost impenetrable mountain forests of Nelson on the west coast. On the other hand, the provincial government requires Haast to find sources of raw materials, assess timber deposits and explore routes through the mountainous wilderness. In the face of constant torrential rain, Haast crosses raging torrents, makes his way through a thicket of sharp leaves, and is attacked by sandflies during the day and mosquitoes at night. But the expedition is a complete success, not least because of his sensationalist approach: Haast confirms the existence of the legendary coal deposits on the Grey River, whose four-metre-thick vein extends to the surface of the earth. Haast has a great desire to explore. Only the coastal areas have been well researched, and large parts of the inaccessible interior remain “white spots”.

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With his next assignment in 1861, Haast finally made a name for himself as a very capable geologist. He was to explore the Canterbury province and search for minerals. And for mountain passes so that settlers could cross the New Zealand Alps. The high mountains push themselves like an impenetrable wall between the flat areas to the east and the narrow coastal area to the west. The first attempt to tunnel through the mountains between Lyttelton and Christchurch had failed. The rock was too hard. Haast examined the sequence of lava flows and the walls of the old crater. His report ensured that the tunnel was successfully completed. He finally earned a title: he was appointed provincial geologist for Canterbury and was granted British citizenship.

His next journey took him into the central Southern Alps to the Waitaki source area. He then explored the glaciers of the Tasman Region. Within four months he had named several major peaks, glaciers and rivers, some of which he had climbed. Expedition after expedition.

The expedition to the Mount Cook area began in early 1862. The search for gold veins was still unsuccessful. The Makaror expedition followed in December. Despite great difficulties, Haast managed to penetrate the west coast. A few months later, in his report to the provincial government, Haast described the natural beauty he had discovered in grandiose words full of natural romanticism. But this is not enough for some politicians. They want practical results: gold veins and other mineral resources. They doubt whether the German is worth his money and whether he is really making his contribution to the development of New Zealand. It is a painful experience for Haast that even in New Zealand, not everyone sees pure science as a worthwhile investment.

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Perhaps also due to political pressure, Haast set out again in 1862, this time to the southern regions of Canterbury on the border with Otago. He wanted to find out if gold veins might extend to Canterbury. The Maori also told him of a pass behind Lake Wanaka through which one could reach the west coast. Such a pass would be a major step forward in the opening up of the country.

Surprisingly, it turned out to be relatively easy to follow the Makaror to its source. Only 40 kilometres up the river did they reach a place where the water suddenly flowed north: the watershed had been reached. The pass is only 220 metres above Lake Wanaka, surrounded by glaciers. The pass is now called “Haast Pass”.

In 1865, the explorer set off again for the New Zealand Alps. His mission: to investigate the newly discovered gold fields of Westland. This time, Haast's research project involved exploring a huge glacier. At the time, it was three kilometers long and almost reached sea level. Haast named the giant iceberg “Franz Josef Glacier” after the Austrian king.

Finally, in 1866, Haast made sensational discoveries: he unearthed the bones of a moa and Harpagornis mori, a giant eagle, which was later named “Haast's eagle” after him. He was subsequently made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1869, director of the Canterbury Museum. In the following years, he was mainly involved in supporting young scientists and went on only small expeditions.

In the 1880s, Haast still had two notable distinctions: an aristocratic title and a scientific knighthood. In 1885 he was appointed commissioner for New Zealand's contribution to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. The stay in Europe in 1886 was a great success. “Hast” became “von Haast”: the Austrian emperor raised him to the peerage. In Great Britain he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge. After returning from his trip to Europe, Haast died unexpectedly on 16 August 1885. His funeral was attended by more than 1,000 people, including the highest representatives of the government.

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The German researcher not only discovered New Zealand's many geological riches, but above all he opened people's eyes to a much more valuable treasure: its magnificent landscapes.

Bibliography of Julius von Haast:

Heinrich Ferdinand von Haast: The Life and Times of Sir Julius von Haast, Wellington 1948

Mark Edward Caudill, Julius Haste: Towards a New Appreciation of His Life and Work, MA thesis, University of Canterbury 2007

Mike Johnson, Sasha Nolden: Hochstetter and Haast's Travels in New Zealand, Nelson 2011

Rodney Fisher: Sir Julius von Haast, in: James N. Baade (ed.): A World of His Own. German-Speaking Settlers and Travellers in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand, Bremen 1998

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