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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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The most remarkable feature of the Pacific Ocean floor in the vicinity of New Zealand is the long, narrow, and very deep Kermadec Trench that runs north-easterly towards Tonga in the general direction of the main mountain axis of the North Island. The Kermadec Islands stand on the inner edge of it in latitude 30° S and longitude 178° W, some 600 miles north-east of Auckland. Instability of this part of the ocean floor is reflected in the volcanic structure of the islands, the evidence of volcanic activity in the recent past, and the frequency of local and sometimes severe earthquakes.

The biggest island of the group is Raoul (or Sunday) Island (7,260 acres), of volcanic origin with a large crater occupying much of its area. Though the highest point is only 1,760 ft, its surface is broken by deep ravines and rocky spurs that end at the sea in steep cliffs. North-west of it is the little group of the Herald Islets, seven in all and of similar volcanic origin, and a little to the south are Curtis, Macauley, and L'Esperance Islets. These, too, are of volcanic origin with evidence of recent activity in Curtis Island.

Macauley and Curtis were discovered by Lieutenant Watts, RN, in 1780, but it was d'Entrecasteaux who found the whole group in 1785 and gave it the name Kermadec after the captain of one of his ships l'Esperance. The first settlers (Baker and Reid) came in 1837 and lived by growing potatoes and subtropical crops for sale to visiting whalers. The islands were abandoned on account of volcanic action in 1872, but in 1878 settlement started again with the coming of the Bell family. The last of these was evacuated on the outbreak of war in 1914. It was in this war that the island group became better known in connection with the German raider Wolf and the recapture there of Count von Luckner. The islands were formally annexed by New Zealand in 1886. Settlement since the 1914–18 war has been sporadic and unsuccessful, mainly on account of the isolation of the group.

Before and during the 1939–45 war, new interest was taken by the New Zealand Government in setting up a military outpost, and later some Cook Islanders were settled there to grow oranges. At present a meteorological and radio station is maintained on Raoul (Sunday) Island. The total population of this, the only inhabited member of the group, including the official staff of the station, numbers only 10.

by George Jobberns, C.B.E., M.A., D.SC., Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Canterbury.


George Jobberns, C.B.E., M.A., D.SC., Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Canterbury.