Island hopping

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Following yesterday’s earthquakes which affected New Zealand (and raised the alarm for potential tsunami), I read a few Wikipedia articles which led me from one subject to another, skipping across a pond like stones.

This is how everyone reads Wikipedia, right? Hopping from article to article?

I started on the Kermadec Islands, as this was near to one of the quakes. They’re a mostly uninhabited arc of subtropical islands about 1,000km from New Zealand, out in the South Pacific. There’s one island with a sometimes-staffed scientific station.

I read this article with interest because, well, it’s kind of a favourite genre of mine: the article about an isolated island(s). Just drop me on a random page about some random islands and I will lap up the Wikipedia article for it. The more fine-grained the history section the better.

On the Kermadec Islands page, this sentence jumped out:

Polynesian people settled the Kermadec Islands in around the 14th century (and perhaps previously in the 10th century),[4] but the first Europeans to reach the area—the Lady Penrhyn in May 1788—found no inhabitants.

Tell me more about the Lady Penrhyn, o oracle. I expected the article to be a single sentence or so. Used my Kindle to look up the phrase Lady Penryhn on Wikipedia*, then opened the page. Turns out, she wasn’t just a random ship: she was one of the First Fleet of eleven ships that took European settlers/prisoners to Australia. Brilliant! The article expands on this, and also details her actions following that first important task – which included stopping in on the Kermadec Islands on a subsequent voyage.

* On recentish Kindles you can highlight a word or phrase, and a box pops up with three lookup options: Dictionary, Translate, and Wikipedia. The dictionary and Wikipedia options are a great way to get a quick overview of the word or phrase you’re checking, if there is an entry at all. And you can expand the Wikipedia description if need be, which just opens the page on the Kindle’s serviceable browser. **

The First Fleet article is great. There’s a lot of detail of all the ships, the passengers and crew, and their immediate actions on settling Australia. My knowledge of Australia’s early European occupation is limited – I know far more about that of New Zealand. One thing implied/not directly discussed in the article that stood out to me was the time between Captain Cook claiming New South Wales for Britain and the First Fleet’s arrival: just eighteen years.

The First Fleet article kept me occupied for some time, but I was so glad to find it so thoroughly written up.

After all that, I went back to the Kermadec Islands page and clicked (tapped?) through to the page on Raoul Island, the occasionally-inhabited one, and found some really interesting stuff, about its longtime caretakers, and about more recent scientific occupants and occasional accidents due to the tectonic instability.

** Although the Kindle browser is sufficient for reading the odd bit of a Wikipedia page, my preferred Wikipedia/Kindle dream team is sending the articles directly to my Kindle using FiveFilters’ Push to Kindle tool. I recently stopped using Pocket and have come to the arrangement whereby an article either gets read (or opened to be read later) on my desktop or phone browser, or it gets sent to my Kindle to be read that evening. Fivefilters’ tool is the best I’ve come across. The above Kindle shot shows how a Wikipedia article gets formatted via the service.


As a side note, I should add yet again that these remote-island-lookup sessions often begin with reading a page from the absolutely wonderful book Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will by Judith Schalansky. It’s just the most gorgeously-illustrated book, and each island covered has one page of text and a facing page showing a map. I regularly pick the book up (it lives by my bedside), read about one island, and then head off down a Wikihole or similar on that island or some related subject.