As weird as it is to think, there has been a continent hiding in plain sight for centuries. Somehow, most of the world did not notice it. This year, scientists officially re-discovered the continent lost to history initially known as “Zealandia.” Well, we officially mapped it all out at least.
We know the Māori people lived here, and once called it “Te Riu-a-Māui” in their language. Historically, many were a bit skeptical about the continent existing at all. Geoscientists would then start to get to work on trying to see if Zealandia exists, and they now know it does.
It’s odd that this 8th continent was somehow in hiding for so long. However, many have stated over the years that a continent of significant size was so large that it once housed Australia, New Zealand, and most of the local islands.
Zelandia is at least 1 billion years old, which is far older than most geoscientists’ original assumption. This discovery came through a peer-reviewed study back in 2021.
Over 500 million years ago, we had a large supercontinent known as “Gondwana” that included most of Western Antarctica as well as Eastern Australia. Zelandia was also part of this supercontinent. Yet once everything broke apart, two of these remained above the water.
Zelandia did too, for hundreds of millions of years. Then about 23 million years ago, scientists believe it was completely submerged. Until potential volcanic activity (among other things) led portions to rise above the water.
The land was reportedly discovered in 1642 by the Dutch businessman & sailor, Abel Tasman. At the time, Tasman was searching to uncover the “Great Southern Continent.” One would imagine he was searching for Antarctica at the time but then came across Zealandia first.
However, in spite of not finding the new southern land, he did meet several local Māori. They weren’t exactly thrilled to see him show up. Thankfully, Tasman was able to avoid any bloodshed (especially his own).
They were critical to his search, as they provided a lot of information about the surrounding land. In fact, the Māori even claimed a large landmass was to the east of where they were. It turns out that this large landmass was part of Zealandia.
In spite of what was said to have been discovered by Tasman, scientists still could not agree on Zealandia’s existence. To the point that it took nearly 400 years for everyone to mutually agree that it not only once existed, but now still does exist.
It was not until 2017, however, that geologists officially re-discovered the continent that had been sitting there for millions of years.
How Did Zealandia Form?
Zealandia started to pull away from Gondwana for reasons that scientists have no answer for currently. Most of this newfound continent is underwater.
Geologists at the Zealand Crown Research Institute, GNS Science, have used it as an example of how something seemingly obvious can still take very long to uncover.
Most of Zealandia is currently submerged under 6,560 feet of water. This is why it is simply so hard to see. Today, scientists are in agreement that Zealandia is now the world’s 8th continent. However, some are under the assumption that Australia connects to it, still keeping us at 7 continents.
However, roughly 85 million years ago, Australia & Zealandia separated through the seafloor. This would spread the Coral & Tasman seas until they died off 52 million years ago. This is important because we usually use the Tasman Sea to separate New Zealand waters from Australia’s.
Some might not know exactly what geoscientists consider to be part of Zealandia, so we wanted to help you out there. Currently, these areas are part of the continent:
- New Zealand
- New Caledonia
- Norfolk Island
- Lord Howe Island
- Cato Reef
- Elizabeth Reef
- Middleton Reef
Of course, to the shock of no one, New Zealand is the largest part of Zealandia still visible. The island nation currently has a population of a little over 5 million people. They also mysteriously seem to have all four seasons capable of experiencing on the island year-round. Allowing one to go to the snowy mountains and lovely sandy beaches within the same day.