For the people who know it, "Central" Otago conjures up images of a diverse landscape - snow-clad peaks, rocky outcrops in a parched terrain, the mighty Clutha River carving its way through the land to the sea, and the wide, windswept Maniototo. Goldrush history, high country farms, Roxburgh apricots, skiing and bungy-jumping and the burgeoning wine industry all combine to give the region a unique flavour. While the region provides many attractions, its natural history has often taken a back seat. Award-winning authors Neville Peat and Brian Patrick reveal some fascinating facts about this distinctive and spectacular region in their book Wild Central: Discovering the Natural History of Central Otago . They describe a region set apart from the rest of the country by its geology and climate, which nurture a diverse range of flora and fauna. The dryness of Central Otago has preserved an astounding array of fossil creatures from the past few thousand years - extinct birds, bats, tuatara and possibly the world's largest gecko. The lizards are a highlight, with seven skink species and seven gecko species identified from the region.
The book covers a rather larger area than what most people define as "Central." The authors have followed the schist boundary in defining Central and that taking in the lakes region, and even bits of Northern Southland. The book is packed with interesting information. For example, did you know that Central Otago was home to crocodiles and gum trees fifteen million years ago? Or that seabirds, including the banded dotterel, breed high up in the mountains far from the sea? From strange alpine plants to the secrets of valley floor insects, Wild Central introduces a magnificent environment. Illustrated in full color throughout, the book will appeal to both locals and visitors alike. The text and pictures work well together, with color photographs bringing out the features of the landscape and natural history subjects. The book is attractive and the information easily accessible, with specific topics highlighted in boxes for easy reference. There is a very good map, a comprehensive index and a bibliography for further reading. Wild Central is the third in a series of regional natural histories by the same authors.
The other two books are Wild Dunedin (winner of the Natural Heritage category in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, 1995), and Wild Fiordland (shortlisted in the Montana, 1997).
Neville Peat, a Dunedin-based writer and photographer, is the author of numerous guides to southern New Zealand natural features and attractions. Brian Patrick is Collections and Research Manager at the Otago Museum, Dunedin.