Kermadec Islands

The Kermadec Islands /kərˈmædɛk/ (Rangitāhua in Māori[1]) are a subtropical island arc in the South Pacific Ocean 800–1,000 km (500–620 mi) northeast of New Zealand's North Island, and a similar distance southwest of Tonga. The islands are part of New Zealand, 33 km2 (12.7 sq mi) in total area and uninhabited, except for the permanently manned Raoul Island Station, the northernmost outpost of New Zealand.

The islands are listed with the New Zealand Outlying Islands. The islands are an immediate part of New Zealand, but not part of any region or district., but instead Area Outside Territorial Authority.

Karta NZ Kermadec isl
map of the Kermadec Islands
STS008-36-1403 cropped rotated
Raoul Island from space


Polynesian people settled the Kermadec Islands in around the 14th century (and perhaps previously in the 10th century),[2] but the first Europeans to reach the area—the Lady Penrhyn in May 1788—found no inhabitants. The islands were named after the Breton captain Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec, who visited the islands as part of the d'Entrecasteaux expedition in the 1790s.

British, American and Australian whaling vessels cruised offshore in the 19th century and often visited the islands in search of water, wood and food. The first such vessel on record was the whaler Fanny that visited Raoul Island in 1823.[3] European settlers, initially the Bell family, lived on the islands from the early nineteenth century, growing food for the whalers, and remained until 1937. One of the Bell daughters, Bessie Dyke, recounted the family's experience to writer Elsie K. Morton who published their story in 1957 as, Crusoes of Sunday Island.[4]

Raoul Island Station

The Station consists of a government meteorological and radio station, and a hostel for Department of Conservation officers and volunteers, that has been maintained since 1937. It lies on the northern terraces of Raoul Island, at an elevation of about 50 m (160 ft), above the cliffs of Fleetwood Bluff. It is the northernmost inhabited outpost of New Zealand.

Nuclear testing proposals

In 1955 the British Government required a large site remote from population centres to test the new thermonuclear devices it was developing. Various islands in the South Pacific and Southern Oceans were considered, along with Antarctica. The Admiralty suggested the Antipodes Islands.[5]. In May 1955, the Minister for Defence, Selwyn Lloyd, concluded that the Kermadec Islands would be suitable. They were part of New Zealand, so Eden wrote to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sidney Holland, to ask for permission to use the islands. Holland refused, fearing an adverse public reaction in the upcoming 1957 general election in New Zealand. Despite reassurances and pressure from the British government, Holland remained firm.[6]


The islands lie within 29° to 31.5° south latitude and 178° to 179° west longitude, 800–1,000 km (500–620 mi) northeast of New Zealand's North Island, and a similar distance southwest of Tonga. The centre of the Kermadec Islands group is located at approximately 29°16′37″S 177°55′24″W / 29.27694°S 177.92333°WCoordinates: 29°16′37″S 177°55′24″W / 29.27694°S 177.92333°W. The total area of the islands is 33.08 km2 (12.77 sq mi).


The climate of the islands is subtropical, with a mean monthly temperature of 22.4 °C (72.3 °F) in February and 16.0 °C (60.8 °F) in August. Rainfall is approximately 1,500 mm (60 in) annually, with lower rainfall from October through January.


Nugent Meyer Dayrell Islands
View from Raoul Island

The group includes four main islands (three of them might be considered island groups, because the respective main islands have smaller islands close by) and some isolated rocks, which are, from north to south:

Seamounts north and south of the Kermadec Islands are an extension of the ridge running from Tonga to New Zealand (see Geology).

  • Star of Bengal Bank, 103 km (64 mi) south-southwest of L'Esperance Rock, with a least depth of 48 metres (157 ft)


Kermadec Arc
Bathymetry of the Kermadec volcanic island arc and surrounding areas
Parma kermadecensis (Kermadec scalyfin)
The Kermadec scalyfin – part of the rich marine biota of the Kermadecs

The islands are a volcanic island arc, formed at the convergent boundary where the Pacific Plate subducts under the Indo-Australian Plate. The subducting Pacific Plate created the Kermadec Trench, an 8 km deep submarine trench, to the east of the islands. The islands lie along the undersea Kermadec Ridge, which runs southwest from the islands towards the North Island of New Zealand and northeast towards Tonga (Kermadec-Tonga Arc).

The four main islands are the peaks of volcanoes that rise high enough from the seabed to project above sea level. There are several other volcanoes in the chain that do not reach sea level, but form seamounts with between 65 and 1500 m of water above their peaks. Monowai Seamount, with a depth of 120 m over its peak, is midway between Raoul Island and Tonga. 100 km south of L'Esperance Rock is the little-explored Star of Bengal Bank, probably with submarine volcanoes.

Further south are the South Kermadec Ridge Seamounts, the southernmost of which, Rumble IV Seamount, is just 150 km North of the North Island of New Zealand. The ridge eventually connects to White Island in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty, at the northern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. The islands experience many earthquakes from plate movement and volcanism.

Raoul and Curtis are both active volcanoes. The volcanoes on the other islands are currently inactive, and the smaller islands are the eroded remnants of extinct volcanoes.

From 18 to 21 July 2012, Havre Seamount (near Havre Rock) erupted, breaching the ocean surface from a depth of more than 1100 m and producing a large raft of pumice floating northwest of the volcano. The eruption was not directly observed, but it was located using earthquake and remote sensing data after the pumice raft was spotted by aircraft and encountered by HMNZS Canterbury.[8] [9]



The islands are recognised by ecologists as a distinct ecoregion, the Kermadec Islands subtropical moist forests. They are a tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests ecoregion, part of the Oceania ecozone. The forests are dominated by the red-flowering Kermadec pōhutukawa, related to the pōhutukawa of New Zealand. The islands are home to 113 native species of vascular plants, of which 23 are endemic, along with mosses (52 native species), lichens and fungi (89 native species). Most of the plant species are derived from New Zealand, with others from the tropical Pacific. 152 non-native species of plants introduced by humans have become established on the islands.

Dense subtropical forests cover most of Raoul, and formerly covered Macauley. Metrosideros kermadecensis is the dominant forest tree, forming a 10 – 15-meter high canopy. A native nikau palm (Rhopalostylis baueri) is another important canopy tree. The forests had a rich understory of smaller trees, shrubs, ferns, and herbs, including Myrsine kermadecensis; Lobelia anceps, Poa polyphylla, Coprosma acutifolia, and Coriaria arborea. Two endemic tree ferns, Cyathea milnei and the rare and endangered Cyathea kermadecensis, are also found in the forests.

Areas near the seashore and exposed to salt spray are covered by a distinct community of shrubs and ferns, notably Myoporum obscurum, Coprosma petiolata, Asplenium obtusatum, Cyperus ustulatus, Disphyma australe, and Ficinia nodosa.


The islands have no native land mammals. An endemic bird subspecies is the Kermadec red-crowned parakeet. The group has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because of its significance as a breeding site for several species of seabirds, including white-necked and black-winged petrels, wedge-tailed and little shearwaters, sooty terns and blue noddies.[10] The area also hosts rich habitats for cetaceans.[11] In recent years, increased presences of humpback whales indicate Kermadec Islands functioning as migratory colliders, and varieties of baleen (not in great numbers) and toothed whales including minke whales,[12] sperm whales, less known beaked whales, killer whales, and dolphins frequent in adjacent waters.[13][14] Vast numbers of southern right whales were historically seen in southwestern areas although only a handful of recent confirmations exist around Raoul Island.[15] The deep sea hydrothermal vents along the Kermadec ridge support diverse extremophile communities including the New Zealand blind vent crab.[16]


The introduction of cats, rats, and goats devastated the forests and seabirds.[17][18] Overgrazing by goats eliminated the forests of Macauley Island, leaving open grasslands, and altered the understory of Raoul Island. Predation by rats and cats reduced the seabird colonies on the main islands from millions of birds to tens of thousands. The New Zealand government has been working for the last few decades to restore the islands. New Zealand declared the islands a nature reserve in 1937, and the sea around them a marine reserve in 1990. Goats were removed from Macauley in 1970 and from Raoul in 1984, and the forests have begun to recover. The islands are still known for their bird life, and seabird colonies presently inhabit offshore islets, which are safe from introduced rats and cats. Efforts are currently underway to remove the rats and cats from the islands, as well as some of the invasive exotic plants.

Visits to the islands are restricted by the Department of Conservation. The Department allows visits to Raoul by volunteers assisting in environmental restoration or monitoring projects, and other visitors engaged in nature study. Visits to the other islands are generally restricted to those engaged in scientific study of the islands.

On 29 September 2015, New Zealand prime minister John Key announced the creation of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, a 620,000 km2 (239,383 sq mi) protected area in the Kermadec Islands region.[19][20]


  1. ^ Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "Kermadec Islands – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  2. ^ Gentry, Steven (2013). "2: Rangitahua – the Stopping-off Place". Raoul & the Kermadecs: New Zealand's Northernmost Islands, a History. pp. 37–51. ISBN 978-1-927242-02-5.
  3. ^ Robert Langdon (ed.) Where the whalers went: an index to the Pacific ports and islands visited by American whalers (and some other ships) in the 19th century, Canberra, Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, p.145. ISBN 0-86784-471-X
  4. ^ Morton, Elsie (1957). "Author's Note". Crusoes of Sunday Island.
  5. ^ Lorna Arnold and Katherine Pyne, Britain and the H-bomb (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), p. 96.
  6. ^ Rebecca Priestley, Mad on radium—New Zealand in the atomic age - "Cold War and Red Hot Science" (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2013)
  7. ^ Chart NZ 2225 Archived 12 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Hydrographic Office, Royal New Zealand Navy, 1994. Retrieved 7 May 2007.
  8. ^ "NASA Satellites Pinpoint Volcanic Eruption". NASA Earth Observatory. NASA. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  9. ^ Noted. "'Massive' Kermadec volcanic eruption rivalled Mt St Helens". Noted. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  10. ^ BirdLife International. (2012). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kermadec Islands. Downloaded from on 3 February 2012.
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2016.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Noted. "A surprise encounter while sailing to the Kermadecs Islands – The Listener". Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Sir Peter Blake Trust". Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  16. ^ McLay, Colin. "New crabs from hydrothermal vents of the Kermadec Ridge submarine volcanoes, New Zealand: Gandalfus gen. nov.(Bythograeidae) and Xenograpsus (Varunidae)(Decapoda: Brachyura)." Zootaxa 1524 (2007): 1–22.
  17. ^ Courchamp, F.; Chapuis, J. L.; Pascal, M. (2003). "Mammal invaders on islands: Impact, control and control impact". Biological Reviews. 78 (3): 347–383. CiteSeerX doi:10.1017/S1464793102006061. PMID 14558589.
  18. ^ Towns, D. R.; Broome, K. G. (2003). "From small Maria to massive Campbell: Forty years of rat eradications from New Zealand islands". New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 30 (4): 377. doi:10.1080/03014223.2003.9518348.
  19. ^ "John Key announces one of the world's largest ocean sanctuaries". Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  20. ^ "Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary" (PDF). Retrieved 29 September 2015.

External links

1812 in New Zealand

With the outbreak of the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain American whalers are forced to avoid Port Jackson. However they still operate at various points around New Zealand including the Kermadec Islands as do the colonial vessels. Sealers are still operating mainly at Macquarie and Campbell Islands. Occasionally there are Māori in the crew. Timber ships are also visiting New Zealand.

2012 Kermadec Islands eruption

The 2012 Kermadec Islands eruption was a major undersea volcanic eruption that was produced by the previously little-known Havre Seamount near the L'Esperance and L'Havre Rocks in the Kermadec Islands of New Zealand. The large volume of low density pumice produced by the eruption accumulated as a large area of floating pumice, a pumice raft, that was originally covering a surface of 400 square kilometres (150 square miles), spread to a continuous float of between 19,000 and 26,000 square kilometres (7,500 and 10,000 sq mi) and within three months dispersed to an area of more than twice the size of New Zealand.The thickness of the raft may initially have been as high as 3.5 metres (11 feet) and was reduced to around 0.5 metres (1 foot 8 inches) within a month.Three months after the eruption, the mass had dispersed into very dilute rafts and ribbons of floating pumice clasts. Most pumice clasts became waterlogged and sunk to the sea floor while some flocks have stranded in the Tonga islands, on the northern shores of New Zealand, and eventually on the eastern coast of Australia one year after the eruption.

Cheeseman Island

Cheeseman Island is a 7.6 ha (19-acre) rocky volcanic island in the southwest Pacific Ocean (located at 30°32′12″S 178°34′05″W). It is named after Thomas Frederick Cheeseman of the Auckland Museum - who was on board the New Zealand Government steamer 'Stella' when it visited the island in 1887. Partly named after Matthew Cheeseman who was first to map the island with his brother. It neighbours Curtis Island to the east and lies about 20 km (12 mi) south of Macauley Island. They are part of the Kermadec Islands, an outlying island group of New Zealand, located halfway between New Zealand's North Island and the nation of Tonga.

Coprosma repens

Coprosma repens is a species of flowering shrub or small tree of the genus Coprosma, in the family Rubiaceae, native to New Zealand. Common names include tree bedstraw, taupata, mirror bush, looking-glass bush, New Zealand laurel and shiny leaf.

Curtis Island, New Zealand

Curtis Island is an island in the southwest Pacific (located at 30°33′S 178°34′W). It is a volcanic island with an elevation of 47 m (154 ft) and an area of 40 ha (99 acres). Together with neighbouring Cheeseman Island it belongs to the Kermadec Islands, an outlying island group of New Zealand, located halfway between New Zealand's North Island and the nation of Tonga.

Cyathea kermadecensis

Cyathea kermadecensis is a species of tree fern endemic to Raoul Island in the Kermadec Islands, where it is locally common in damp, and sometimes drier, forest and scrub. The trunk of this plant is erect, slender, and up to 20 m tall. It is often covered with scars of old stipe-bases. Fronds are tripinnate and up to 4 m in length. The rachis and stipe are both brown in colouration and bear basal scales that are brown, glossy, and often twisted. Sori are borne on either side of the pinnule midvein. They are covered by hood-like indusia.

Braggins and Large (2004) note that C. kermadecensis is similar to Cyathea cunninghamii.

C. kermadecensis should be cultivated in good humus and provided shade as well as shelter from the wind. Nevertheless, it is a hardy species that will survive full sun and slight frost.

The specific epithet kermadecensis refers to the Kermadec Islands. C. kermadecensis is one of two tree fern species endemic to the islands, the other being Cyathea milnei.

Kermadec Plate

The Kermadec Plate is a very long and narrow tectonic plate located west of the Kermadec Trench in the south Pacific Ocean. Also included on this tectonic plate is a small portion of the North Island of New Zealand and the Kermadec Islands. It is separated from the Australian Plate by a long divergent boundary which forms a back-arc basin. This area is highly prone to earthquakes and tsunami.

Kermadec Trench

The Kermadec Trench is a linear ocean trench in the south Pacific Ocean. It stretches about 1,000 km (620 mi) from the Louisville Seamount Chain in the north (26°S) to the Hikurangi Plateau in the south (37°S), north-east of New Zealand's North Island. Together with the Tonga Trench to the north, it forms the 2,000 km (1,200 mi)-long, near-linear Kermadec-Tonga subduction system, which began to evolve in the Eocene when the Pacific Plate started to subduct beneath the Australian Plate. Convergence rates along this subduction system are among the fastest on Earth, 80 mm (3.1 in)/yr in the north and 45 mm (1.8 in)/yr in the south.

Kermadec petrel

The Kermadec petrel (Pterodroma neglecta) is a species of gadfly petrel in the family Procellariidae. It is 38 cm long with a wingspan of 100 cm. It is polymorphic, with light, dark and intermediate morphs known. It eats squid, fish and other marine creatures.

L'Esperance Rock

L'Esperance Rock, formerly known as French Rock and Brind Rock,(named after William Brind) is the southernmost islet in the Kermadec Islands, to the north of New Zealand. It is 80 km (50 mi) south of Curtis Island and 600 km (370 mi) northeast of East Cape on New Zealand's North Island. The smaller L'Havre Rock lies 8 km (5 mi) to the north-west of L'Esperance; it is a reef that barely reaches the surface. L'Esperance Rock is 250 m (820 ft) in diameter with an area of 4.8 ha (12 acres). It rises to a height of 70 m (230 ft).

List of earthquakes in New Zealand

This is a list of large earthquakes that have occurred in New Zealand. Only earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.0 or greater are listed, except for a few that had a moderate impact. Aftershocks are not included, unless they were of great significance or contributed to a death toll, such as the M 6.3 2011 Christchurch earthquake and the M 7.3 aftershock to the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.

Earthquakes occur frequently in New Zealand as the country is situated in the collision zone between the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, part of the Pacific Basin Ring of Fire, where many earthquakes and volcanoes occur. Most events occur along the main ranges running from Fiordland in the southwest to East Cape in the northeast. This axis follows the boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates. Large earthquakes are less common along the central Alpine Fault, where the plates are not subducting and the forces are accommodated in different ways.

The largest city within the highest-risk zone is the nation's capital, Wellington, followed by Hastings then Napier. All these cities have experienced severe earthquakes since European settlement. About 14,000 earthquakes occur in and around the country each year, of which between 150 and 200 are big enough to be felt. As a result, New Zealand has very stringent building regulations.

Quite early on, European settlers were faced with the reality of earthquakes in their new home. On 26 May 1840, the new settlement at Port Nicholson was struck by the first of a number of earthquakes and tremors. Early settlers learned fairly quickly the importance of using appropriate building methods in an earthquake-prone country. The 1848 earthquake, centred in Marlborough, caused great damage to the brick and masonry buildings in Wellington, and the city was rebuilt mainly in wood; consequently it suffered comparatively little damage in the 8.2 magnitude earthquake of 1855, which lifted the land 2–3m. Many buildings in Hastings and Napier were damaged in the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake. New building regulations meant that any new buildings constructed afterwards attempted to take earthquake shaking into account in building design.

List of volcanoes in New Zealand

This is a list of active, dormant, and extinct volcanoes in New Zealand.

Macauley Island

Macauley Island is a volcanic island in New Zealand's Kermadec Islands, approximately halfway between New Zealand's North Island and Tonga in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Its co-ordinates are 30°14′S 178°26′W

Metrosideros kermadecensis

Metrosideros kermadecensis, with common names Kermadec pōhutukawa and New Zealand Christmas bush is an evergreen tree of the myrtle family which is endemic to the volcanic Kermadec Islands about 900 km north-east of New Zealand. The tree produces a brilliant display of red flowers, made up of a mass of stamens and is the dominant forest tree on Raoul Island, growing to 15 m or more. The trunk is up to 1 m or more in diameter. It is very similar to, and often confused with, the pōhutukawa of mainland New Zealand, differing mainly by having smaller, more oval leaves, and by flowering throughout the year. It also resembles the ʻōhiʻa lehua of Hawaiʻi.

Raoul Island

Raoul Island (Sunday Island), the largest and northernmost of the main Kermadec Islands, 900 km (560 mi) south south-west of 'Ata Island of Tonga and 1,100 km (680 mi) north north-east of New Zealand's North Island, has been the source of vigorous volcanic activity during the past several thousand years that was dominated by dacitic explosive eruptions.

The area of the anvil-shaped island, including fringing islets and rocks mainly in the northeast, but also a few smaller ones in the southeast, is 29.38 km2 (11 sq mi). The highest elevation is Moumoukai Peak, at an elevation of 516 m (1,693 ft).

Although Raoul is the only island in the Kermadec group large enough to support settlement, it lacks a safe harbour, and landings from small boats can only be made in calm weather. The island consists of two mountainous areas, one with summits of 516 metres (1,693 ft) and 498 metres (1,634 ft), and the other with a summit of 465 metres (1,526 ft), the two separated by a depression which is the caldera of the Raoul volcano.

Scaly gurnard

The scaly gurnard, Lepidotrigla brachyoptera, is a searobin of the family Triglidae, found around New Zealand including the Kermadec Islands, at depths of between 35 and 300 m. Its length is up to 15 cm.

Tom Iredale

Tom Iredale (24 March 1880 – 12 April 1972) was an English-born ornithologist and malacologist who had a long association with Australia, where he lived for most of his life. He was an autodidact who never went to university and lacked formal training. This was reflected in his later work; he never revised his manuscripts and never used a typewriter.

Typha orientalis

Typha orientalis, commonly known as bulrush, bullrush, cumbungi in Australia, or raupō in New Zealand, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the genus Typha. It can be found in Australia (all 6 states plus Northern Territory and Norfolk Island), New Zealand including the Chatham Islands and the Kermadec Islands), Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, China and the Russian Far East (Sakhalin and Primorye).T. orientalis is a wetland plant that grows on the edges of ponds, lakes and slow flowing rivers and streams.

White-necked petrel

The white-necked petrel (Pterodroma cervicalis), also known as the white-naped petrel, is a species of seabird in the family Procellariidae. During the non-breeding season it occurs throughout a large part of the Pacific, but it is only known to breed on Macauley Island in New Zealand's Kermadec Islands and the Australian territory of Norfolk Island and Phillip Island. It formerly bred on Raoul Island, but has now been extirpated from this locality. Reports of breeding on Merelava, Vanuatu, are more likely to be the very similar Vanuatu petrel, P. occulta, which some consider to be a subspecies of the white-necked petrel. The IUCN rating as vulnerable is for the "combined" species.

Kermadec Islands
Administrative divisions of the Realm of New Zealand
Countries  New Zealand      Cook Islands  Niue
Regions 11 non-unitary regions 5 unitary regions Chatham Islands   Outlying islands outside any regional authority
(the Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Islands, and Subantarctic Islands)
Ross Dependency  Tokelau 15 islands 14 villages
Territorial authorities 13 cities and 53 districts
Notes Some districts lie in more than one region These combine the regional and the territorial authority levels in one Special territorial authority The outlying Solander Islands form part of the Southland Region New Zealand's Antarctic territory Non-self-governing territory of New Zealand States in free association with New Zealand

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