Geological jaunt close to home

Farmland on the Otago Peninsula, which was once an ancient forest of podocarps and southern beech...
Farmland on the Otago Peninsula, which was once an ancient forest of podocarps and southern beech trees. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Bill Morris
Exisle Publishing


About 200 million years ago, the Antarctic was joined to South America, Africa, India, and Australia in a single large continent called Gondwana.

In his search for the lost supercontinent, Bill Morris starts and ends his journey at the Captain Scott memorial in his hometown of Port Chalmers.

In 11 superbly illustrated chapters, we are taken on a geological jaunt which covers half the globe and examines rocks, fossils, and life forms such as Glossopteris seed ferns which once thrived on Gondwana and which are revealed to the author in Patagonia.

Good writing allows the reader to share the emotion of such a discovery - “I sniff the rock, almost imagining I can smell the mouldering vegetation in the water.”

Travels through many countries, described in a fine mix of human and geological history, produce a sobering account of the damage we have caused and the weak excuses for interfering with the landscape.

Humans cannot be blamed for volcanic eruptions and the consequent death of the forests but they form part of the Gondwana saga. Part of making sense of all this is the input of retired geology professor Chuck Landis, who takes the author to the Takatimu mountains in Southland. Here, at an insignificant waterway called Productus Creek, the professor points out marine deposits clogged with seashells - dramatic evidence of the great upheavals as the once unified Gondwana broke up to form the still-moving earth’s crust of our own time.

The Road to Gondwana abounds with similar discoveries and even the most unscientifically minded reader will soon be regretting their previous ignorance of geology.

In a final section, labelled ‘‘Reckoning’’, Morris points out that Glossopteris was just one of the millions of forms of life that have lived on the planet and then vanished. He warns, though, that other plants are thriving and especially so at the point where he began and ended his search.

Below the Captain Scott memorial are sycamores and eucalyptus, banana passionfruit and old man’s beard, while gorse smothers much of the landscape and the hills of the Otago Peninsula, once an ancient forest of podocarps and southern beech trees, now carry only introduced pine and macrocarpa.

With attractive layout, a useful glossary and an impressive reading list The Road to Gondwana is a fine way to start your ecological journey.

Read the book carefully, and the threat to our planet and what might be done about it becomes clear. The publisher has produced an attractive book designed to enthral and inform readers of any age.

You will be well-rewarded in taking the road to Gondwana.

Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer