Natural Attractions

hchristophersdoc —  16/06/2010

An isolated island archipelago in mid ocean with a relict population of plants and animals found nowhere else and under threat from invasive species. Does that sound familiar? Nahh!  Not New Zealand this time!

What’s natural?

The Azores are a group of volcanic islands in mid Atlantic and have small remnants of forest types that once covered much of the land around the Mediterranean Sea. These remnants are fragmented and scattered over the 9 main islands of this Portuguese autonomous region. The native plants and animals have taken a huge hit over the last 600 years of human occupation and live on the verge of oblivion with many already extinct from human induced activities. You know the story… Clear the land, bring in domesticated beasties to enable farming. Oh, and don’t forget a few unwanted hitch-hikers!

Indigenous Azorian forest remnant. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Indigenous Azorian forest remnant

What spins your wheels?

Still, the attractions in the Azores are stunning! The overlay of historic, cultural and natural attractions has put it among my favourite places on Earth – OK I haven’t been to Kazakhstan!

And weeds! Whoa! I was staggered to find so many of the weeds there are our dire enemies here too.  The cliffs are strewn with ginger, woolly tobacco weed and bamboo. The exotic forests are asserting themselves in the spread and conquer process and hydrangers are the adopted regional flower in spite of being a noxious weed.

Grapes, bananas and bamboo going wild. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Grapes, bananas and bamboo going wild


An interesting feature of the landscape was the use of New Zealand pohutukawa in main amenity areas. The islands are at the same latitude as Auckland and my guess is that the pohutukawa found their way back to the Azores with whalers in the 1800s. And, the former flax industry has left New Zealand’s  harakeke all over the main island.

Pohutukawa planted in a park on Sao Jorge. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Pohutukawa planted in a park on Sao Jorge

On the beaches, there is New Zealand spinach and on the shore line there are karaka trees and cabbage trees.

New Zealand spinach on the rocky shore. Photo: Herb Christophers.

New Zealand spinach on the rocky shore

In spite of any degradation in the original natural state of the region there is a fierce pride in retention of the remaining natural values and there are the same tensions we have here. You can imagine that power supplies on an island archipelago are difficult. Wind power is going full tilt ahead on the islands to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Dairy farming has intensified (the cheese is magnificent!) but cows dot the upland landscape to fill out the postcard quotas. The grapes eek out an existence in harsh conditions and produce good rich wines from rough volcanic soils. Quality water is at a premium.

So next time you are thinking that New Zealand is the only island archipelago with major invasive pest problems, give a though for the Azores and pop in to mid Atlantic to say Hola! They would love to see you.