Nau mai haere mai – and welcome to our final newsletter of the year.

And so we say haere ra to 2021 – otherwise known as 2020: the director’s cut. Quite a year it’s been, too, from that last golden, post-elimination summer, to the arrival of Delta and more lockdowns, a massive vaccination drive, and now ominous Omicron at the door.

If the year has taught us anything, it’s that predictions in a pandemic are a fool’s game. Modelling and epidemiological forecasting have been wonderful tools in the nation’s COVID response, yes, but no one can confidently say where we’ll be in a few months, let alone how this global crisis will play out in the long term.

For now, though, we have relative freedom of movement and another summer is here. Hopefully it’s a time to take a step back, reflect, relax … and maybe even read a little more. To that end, my colleague Veronika Meduna and I have choses ten of the more timeless stories from the year that might help start the odd conversation around the barbecue. (And not one is about the virus!)

We’ll be back in January and will be publishing intermittently until then, too. From all of us to all of you, Meri Kirihimete and all the very best for the holidays. Mā te wā.

Finlay Macdonald

New Zealand Senior Editor & NZ Editor: Politics, Business + Arts

The mysterious existence of a leafless kauri stump, kept alive by its forest neighbours

Sebastian Leuzinger, Auckland University of Technology; Martin Karl-Friedrich Bader, Auckland University of Technology

Research measuring how water flows between living kauri trees and a leafless stump adds evidence that trees use their underground root systems to support each other.

The viral ‘Wellerman’ sea shanty is also a window into the remarkable cross-cultural whaling history of Aotearoa New Zealand

Kate Stevens, University of Waikato

The whaling story behind ‘Soon May the Wellerman Come’ reminds us of the crucial connections between Māori and Europeans that shaped early 19th century settlement.

Let’s choose our words more carefully when discussing mātauranga Māori and science

Emily Parke, University of Auckland; Dan C H Hikuroa, University of Auckland

Ambiguous language and a rush to judgment have defined the debate about mātauranga and science. It’s time to slow down and stop talking past each other.

From Parihaka to He Puapua: it’s time Pākehā New Zealanders faced their personal connections to the past

Richard Shaw, Massey University

This year marks 140 years since Parihaka pā was sacked. As He Puapua reignites the debate about the impacts of colonisation, how do the descendants of early European settlers respond?

The world is desperate for new antibiotics, and New Zealand’s unique fungi are a source of promising compounds

Siouxsie Wiles, University of Auckland

Penicillin originally came from a fungus, and with thousands of fungi to explore, Aotearoa New Zealand has a potential treasure trove of bacteria-killing compounds.

Aggressive marketing has driven the rise of the double-cab ute on New Zealand streets — time to hit the brakes?

Kirsty Wild, University of Auckland; Alistair Woodward, University of Auckland

Eight of the ten top-selling passenger vehicles in New Zealand are now utes or SUVs. With carbon emissions reduction an urgent priority, that’s not a sustainable trend.

NZ’s next large Alpine Fault quake is likely coming sooner than we thought, study shows

Jamie Howarth, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Rupert Sutherland, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

New Zealand’s Alpine Fault has ruptured in a major earthquake on average every 250 years. New research shows a 75% chance of the next one within 50 years, and it’s likely to be magnitude 8 or more.

The tie that binds: unravelling the knotty issue of political sideshows and Māori cultural identity

Caroline Daley, University of Auckland

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi has won the right not to wear a tie in parliament — his party’s legacy can’t end there.

Widespread collapse of West Antarctica’s ice sheet is avoidable if we keep global warming below 2℃

Dan Lowry, GNS Science; Mario Krapp, GNS Science; Nick Golledge, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

A new modelling approach improves projections of Antarctica’s future ice loss. It shows a low-emissions scenario would avoid the collapse of West Antarctica’s ice sheet and limit sea-level rise.

Sure they’re comfortable, but those leggings and sports bras are also redefining modern femininity

Julie E. Brice, University of Waikato; Holly Thorpe, University of Waikato

The booming activewear industry markets an idealised feminine form and lifestyle, but women have also been liberated by its functional and versatile clothing.