If you happen to be in the Greenwich Royal Observatory in London, it’s possible to stand with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other in the western hemisphere. In the Indonesian city of Pontianak, you can stand with one foot in the southern hemisphere, and the other in the northern hemisphere.

But at Marble Hill in the Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve in the South Island, you can do something far more impressive – stand at one moment on the Pacific Tectonic Plate, then move a few metres and stand on the Australian Tectonic Plate.

The Royal Observatory in London is home to what’s known as the global ‘prime meridian’, an imaginary line running north-south through the Observatory and both the North and South Poles, marking the boundary between the eastern and western hemispheres, just as the equator marks the boundary between the northern and southern hemispheres. Both these lines were created by humans for the purposes of navigation and to enable us to pinpoint any position in the world.

Marble Hill is a National Reserve and is surrounded by stunning forest of red and silver beech

The equator is a simple concept because it lies exactly midway between the South and North Poles. There is no similar simple location for the prime meridian however; it is simply a line, established in 1851 by English astronomer Sir George Airy at the newly created Royal Observatory, and was adopted as the world’s prime meridian by international consensus at the 1884 International Meridian Conference in Washington DC. Prior to that, every country had its own meridian line – the starting line from which longitude was measured. The reason the Royal Observatory’s meridian line was chosen was mainly because more than 43 of the world’s shipping lines at that time already used it as their navigational reference. The French, however, didn’t adopt it until 1911, preferring instead their own Paris meridian.

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