The Kermadec Islands are a subtropical island arc in the South Pacific Ocean northeast of New Zealand's North Island, and a similar distance southwest of Tonga. The islands are part of New Zealand, 33 km2 in total area and nowadays uninhabited, except for the permanently manned Raoul Island Station, the northernmost outpost of New Zealand.
Raoul Islands 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 metres, above the cliffs of Fleetwood Bluff. It is the northernmost inhabited outpost of New Zealand.
Polynesian people settled the Kermadec Islands in around the 14th century (and perhaps previously in the 10th century), but the first Europeans to reach the area - the Lady Penrhyn in May 1788 - found no inhabitants. The islands were named for the Breton captain Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec, who visited the islands as part of the d'Entrecasteaux expedition in the 1790s. European settlers, initially the Bell family, lived on the islands from the early nineteenth century until 1937, as did whalers. One of the Bell daughters, Elsie K. Morton, recounted the family's experience there in her memoir, Crusoes of Sunday Island.
The islands lie within 29° to 31.5° south latitude and 178° to 179° west longitude, 800–1,000 kilometres 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. The total area of the islands is 33.08 km2.
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:
L'Esperance Rock, formerly French Rock, is 80 kilometres south-southwest of Curtis Island at 31°26′S 178°54′W, 250 metres in diameter, 0.05 km2 in area, 70 metres high.
Seamounts north and south of the Kermadec Islands are an extension of the ridge running from Tonga to New Zealand.
The islands are recognized 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 metre high canopy. A native nikau palm 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. The area also hosts rich habitats for cetaceans. 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, sperm whales, less known beaked whales, killer whales, and dolphins frequent in adjacent waters. Vast numbers of southern right whales were historically seen in southwestern areas although only a handful of recent confirmations exist around Raoul Island. The deep sea hydrothermal vents along the Kermadec ridge support diverse extremophile communities including the New Zealand blind vent crab.
The climate of the islands is subtropical, with a mean monthly temperature of 22.4 °C in February and 16.0 °C in August. Rainfall is approximately 1,500 mm annually, with lower rainfall from October through January.
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