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Middle ground pinpointed

Artist Billy Apple with GNS data technician Jenny Black at the unveiling of a canvass that points out the centre of the Extended Continental Shelf of New Zealand, 11km northwest of Greytown. PHOTO/GLENN EVANS

Tararua is at the very centre of our world
When most people think of New Zealand, geographically speaking, they think of the two islands we call North and South. However, the Aotearoa we know is just a tiny part of a much greater geographical shelf that we can’t see. And the centre of it sits right in Wairarapa’s own backyard. JOHN LAZO-RON reports.

GNS principal scientist Cornel de Ronde and conceptual artist Billy Apple have been friends for a long time.

The pair have been getting together for more than a decade to talk about each other’s work.

In one of those discussions, de Ronde told Apple about how GNS scientists and Niwa had conducted surveys from 1998 to 2002 that discovered New Zealand was sitting on a landmass two times the size of Mongolia. That the land we stand on today was just 4 per cent of a continent that lies below the sea called the Extended Continental Shelf of New Zealand.

It is 1.6 million square km, to be exact.

Intrigued, Apple asked de Ronde, “so where is the centre”?

Billy Apple [right] with GNS data technician Jenny Black and GNS principal scientist Cornel de Ronde.
That question sparked a mighty quest between the pair, GNS data technician Jenny Black, and the Department of Conservation, to find exactly where the middle point of the Extended Continental Shelf of New Zealand was.

After much work and debate, they eventually discovered the centre of the Extended Continental Shelf of New Zealand was in the Tararua Ranges, 11km northwest of Greytown – adjacent to the Mount Reeves Track.

The finding was set in concrete with a plaque near the location in 2019.

The plaque recognises that since 2008, the United Nations has acknowledged that New Zealand’s territory includes the undersea continental shelf and the landmass above the sea.

But now, Apple and GNS have teamed up again to acknowledge the scientific discovery with a brand new full-colour framed canvas unveiled at GNS Science’s Wellington base last Thursday.

Apple’s latest artwork now hangs on the wall at the GNS base, a companion piece to the plaque.

Apple told Midweek he gifted the piece of art to GNS to acknowledge all the hard work they had done to find the centre in South Wairarapa.

“I feel very privileged, and [the canvas] is a souvenir of the work [GNS] did,” Apple said at the unveiling.

“They did a tremendous job with all the helicopters they had to get in and getting the plaque in. This is a way of saying thank you for getting all this done.

“All I actually did was ask a simple question, but it’s really all Jenny Black. She’s a remarkable woman.

“For me, it’s been an amazing association with Cornel and GNS, and again I feel quite privileged to have someone entertain these kinds of thoughts.”

De Ronde said Wairarapa should be proud they were the centre of the discovery, saying the breakthrough discovery of the landmass below the water was “extremely significant”.

“They should feel very proud because they live in the centre of this huge piece of real estate, which is about 3 per cent of the entire surface of the earth.”

Black, who did all the calculations in the discovery, said it was exciting to think the continent’s centre could be calculated and that you could physically stand in that very spot.

“You do genuinely feel like you are standing in the centre because you can see in every direction,” she said.

“You’re not in some little valley surrounded by bush, and you can see all the gloss of Wairarapa.

“It’s a beautiful location, and this is the centre of everything from a New Zealand point of view.”

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