New Zealand – A diverse array of geotourism resources
Handbook of Geotourism
Edward Elgar Publishing
Place of Publication
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK
Dowling, R. & Newsome, D.
School of Business and Law
It was the German meteorologist and explorer Alfred Wegener who first proposed the concept of ‘continental drift’ in 1912 (Wegener, 1912). His theory of moving continents later gave rise to the birth of ‘plate tectonics’ which became a unifying explanation for the geological phenomena of earthquakes, volcanism and rapid mountain building (Cooper, 2015). To explain this theory simply, we can liken the surface of the earth to a football. The ball is made up of pieces of leather sewn together so that they are fixed. However, the earth’s surface (called the lithosphere) is made up of pieces of earth’s crust (plates), which are not fixed and are moving relative to each other. The plates sit on the relatively mobile mantle (made up of magma) which in turn sits on the earth’s very hot core. The heat from the core rising through the mantle causes the plates to move, either up, down and/or sideways and this is usually accompanied by volcanic activity or earthquakes.
Two of the earth’s major plates are the Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate and the two meet at a boundary in New Zealand (NZ; Figure 35.1). The country forms part of a continent called Zealandia, most of which is under the ocean (Wright and Wood, 2015). Broadly speaking, the Australian plate is heading north while the Pacific plate is heading west. The combination of these motions means that the Pacific plate, which includes much of the South Island, is moving relative to the Australian plate at a rate of about 40 millimetres each year in a south west direction. It is the motion between these two plates, and the deformation that occurs in the boundary zone between the plates, that has given rise to much of New Zealand’s geology and led to the country being referred to as ‘The Shaky Isles’ due to its many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (Stirling and Rhoades, 2015). Thus, New Zealand’s unique geological heritage is what gives rise to its range of diverse geologically based tourism attractions and experiences.