May 25, 2020

Q&A with a Native Kiwi and Accidental Photographer

Anna Paton Photo | Auckland Botanic Gardens in New Zealand

Anna Paton Photo | Auckland Botanic Gardens in New Zealand

• By Janine Pineo •

Our New Zealand photographer for our journey to Middle Earth is Anna Paton of Auckland. We asked a few questions of her and liked her answers so much we thought we’d just let her speak about herself and that well-known land where she lives.

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If you would, tell me a bit about yourself.

I was born in Christchurch, childhood in Wellington, now in Auckland – a northward drift to the biggest city in NZ, a common pattern. I have a husband, 2 daughters in their early teens and a small inner city garden.

What is Auckland like?

I do live in Auckland and I love it. Wellington is much more picturesque but Auckland is multi-cultural, sprawling and a bit messy, but the longer you live here the more delightful pockets of it you discover. We have two harbours which are beautiful, and very gradually downtown Auckland is being opened up for use by people. Of NZ’s 4 million people 1.5 million of us live in Auckland.

Can you tell me a little bit about life in New Zealand? I see so many beautiful pictures from NZ and wonder if anything can be that beautiful. Can it?

Everyday life is not spent at the beach, on a mountain or in the bush. When I was growing up, middle class NZers did not have much disposable income, but a summer holiday was spent camping or staying in very basic cottages which are called baches in the North Island and cribs in the South Island. I mean basic; bathrooms with hot water and flush toilets were a rarity. NZ was very isolated then – air travel was much more expensive than it is now, no Internet and our TV was very much derived from England. So as a young adult, I wanted to see something of the world outside NZ. It’s only since coming back that I have appreciated what was here all along. And yes, it is stunning. It’s dramatic scenery and often daunting. It’s not soft and pretty.

 Is it like Middle Earth?

Hobbiton is not native or natural – it’s the landscape the English settlers tried to recreate when they arrived and started farming. The natural, native scenery is dramatic, as used in the rest of the films.

Much of the flora in New Zealand is unique to the islands. Are people aware of this special characteristic of NZ?

Yes we are. The theory is that when the plates broke apart, NZ was isolated quite early on. There were no people here and probably even more importantly no animals. This meant that our native birds filled habitats which elsewhere would have been filled by animals, e.g. Kiwi. The birds had no predators which is why we now have many endangered by the introduction of rats, dogs, cats, possum, ferrets and stoats. Possum, which are protected in Australia are culled here because of the damage they do to the bush.

Tell me a bit about your visit to the Botanic Garden. What are the gardens like?

The gardens are relatively new. Wellington’s gardens are much older. Volunteers have worked hard to establish shelter belts and propagate plants as the Gardens are quite large. Some of the pictures were taken in the Endangered Plant section.

And were any of the pictures you took particular favorites that you can expound on a little bit. You mentioned one that was the NZ Christmas tree.

Native plants do not usually have bright flowers. An exception is the Pohutukawa which has plentiful bright red flowers. If they bloom before Christmas, it’s going to be a good summer. It grows well even in coastal locations and will cling to cliffs. Older trees can be large, but it also works well as a shrub-sized plant.

How did all this come about? You can read about how Janine Pineo of Garden Maine found Anna Paton, more than 9,000 miles away, as the crow flies. If a crow could fly 9,000 miles like that. Click here for that story.

For a list of featured New Zealand plants featured, click here.