Two Kiwis, a Swiss, a German, and an American Walk onto a Volcano…

If you’re going to a country to do lots of geological fieldwork, then there’s no better way to get started than to just get out there and pee in the woods as soon as possible, and that’s exactly what I did. When I arrived in New Zealand at 7:30am, my adviser and a couple of his postdocs picked me up from the airport, and within half an hour of my arrival in the country I was already on my way to a volcano. Along the way we picked up a PhD student, my future officemate. Since these are the people I’ll probably be spending a lot of time with over the next few years, it’s fortunate that they are all pretty awesome. A German, a Swiss, a Kiwi, and an American–good to have a group just as geographically diverse as I’m used to from the last year in Houghton. We stopped for lunch in Taupo, a medium size town (about 25,000 people–that’s biggish in NZ–everything is relative!) on a huge lake (Lake Taupo) that is in one of New Zealand’s main volcanic zones.

In fact, Lake Taupo itself is part of a huge volcanic caldera (calderas are super huge volcanoes so big that they don’t even really look like volcanoes–think Yellowstone) that formed around 26,000 years ago by the largest eruption the Earth has seen in the last 70,000 years or so. The last time it erupted is estimated to be about 2,000 years ago and was on the magnitude of 1815 the eruption of Tambora the eruption usually taught about as the largest eruption in recent times. The volcano is still technically dormant, not extinct, so I’ll keep my eyes peeled and let you guys know if you have anything to fear. From there we headed down to the mountains of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, which contains a number of active volcanoes, including Ruapehu, the one we were planning to work on for our trip. While I won’t be doing any of my own work there, it’s still good to get a look at NZ geology. In this case, we were looking to map and identify different types of deposits from the volcanoes recent and past eruptions.

The first day was pretty laid back, just stopping the van at a few interesting places to dig around a bit, look at the different layers, and maybe collect some plastic baggies of rocks and ash to take home. It was the second day that provided the most interesting part of our trip. We hiked the main track out in around the northern side of Ruapehu (the tallest peak on the North Island at about 2,800 meters), running between it and Mt. Ngauruhoe, the youngest volcanic vent in the area. If you zoom in on google earth you can actually see the track. After a while, we cut in towards Ruapehu off the track and started climbing in and out of the valleys and river basins–a lot more direct than the path, but pretty strenuous stuff.

As we got further in, the weather got nicer, and the views got better. We stopped every time we saw good exposures of the particular layers of deposits we were looking for to do more mapping and sampling.

On a mostly unrelated note, there was this awesome fluffy white moss stuff all over the place in certain sections–in some places it was like the whole area was covered in a really comfy rug. It made for an interesting landscape, and later on, in harsher times, I would very strongly consider using it as a pillow.

I say harsher times, because though we traversed the tricky route quite quickly on the way out, we might have made too good time for our own good. We planned to meet up with the track much farther on and then take it all the way back. Only problem was, we misjudged our return trip by a bit. And by a bit, I mean by a couple hours. Oopsa. I mentioned the track was long and windy. It was the “easy” route back, but not exactly a stroll in the park. There were tons of hills and staircases and bends and bridges. The last hour plus was in the pitch dark–lucky I happened to throw my headlamp in my backpack and not my suitcase when I was packing! All in all it was a 30km day–pretty hard work, but I guess I’d better get used to it! There’s probably lots more of those in store for me. The third day was back to van-ology–driving to interesting places and taking short walks.

Just a little more sample collecting, and then it was a late drive back to Auckland for a team-bonding dinner at my adviser’s house.

Originally we had planned to go back for more fieldwork this week. Unfortunately, the weather there for the next few days is supposed to be exceptionally bad, so it will have to wait. Luckily, we’re already planning a trip to Taranaki a week or two from now so I can get some quality time with my volcano. In the meantime I’ll have to satisfy myself with copious amounts of reading about the volcanoes of New Zealand.

7 thoughts on “Two Kiwis, a Swiss, a German, and an American Walk onto a Volcano…

  1. that looks like too much reading

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    • That’s what a PhD is, largely! 😀

      I’m almost finished with the stuff in that picture already, actually, though now I already have lots more to read. A bunch of articles on my computer seems less intimidating than a physical pile of books, though.

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  2. Great pictures. Thanks for not making us wait till you visit your volcano. Those must be some spiders!

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  3. Great start, awesome pics! Makes all that hiking worthwhile 🙂

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  4. sweet 🙂

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  5. What an interesting terrain.

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