Top of the New Zealand!

Well that attempt to get caught up didn’t go as planned…still have Vanuatu and Chile to catch up on, but in the meantime, I’ll tackle something more manageable…

Cape Reinga

I’ve wanted to visit the northern tip of New Zealand ever since I got here. Not sure why exactly…thrill of exploration? Something about extremes? It’s not like there are any volcanoes up there. But still. Point is, wanted to go there. Didn’t go there. Went part of the way there. But still not there. Now I did. Sweet as.

The opportunity arose as a final trip for my friend and traveler-extraordinaire Aurelia who was finishing up hear nearly-a-year in NZ and Australia. She was already up in Northland, so I drove up to meet her in the quiet seaside town of Whangaroa. The town also contains an interesting landmark, St. Paul’s Rock. I can’t tell you a whole lot about it other than that it is a remanent of millions of years old volcanic activity in Northland.

From there, we drove north toward the top of Northland, stopping several times along the way at some nice beaches and other stops, including Ninety Mile Beach, an extremely long, straight beach that runs all the way up northern Northland’s west coast. You can drive on it (when the tide is far enough out, anyway), but I’m a bit of a chicken, and it didn’t seem like the view would change much in two miles (or 20), so we were content to take a look around and continue on.

Next stop was Cape Reinga! We did it! Woo! Cape Reinga isn’t technically the northernmost point on the North Island. That would be Surville Cliffs, which is about three km farther north (but 30km away). But it is the end of Route 1, NZ’s end-to-end highway, so close enough…for now, anyway. There’s a lighthouse and some great views into the endless Pacific Ocean.

Next up was the Giant Sand Dunes. Remember the ordinary-sized sand dunes in the earlier photo? Forget them. These earned their name, for sure! Big enough that people rent boogie-boards and slide down them. We passed on that in favor of wandering about, geo-nerding out over the dune structures, and generally hoping we wouldn’t get sunburned.

Our campsite for the night was Spirits Bay, still way up north, with a good view of Cape Reinga. You can even see the lighthouse shining once it gets dark. The beach there was beautiful and made up of all sort of shells. There were wild horses. Sunset over the cape. What more could you want?

The next day cemented for me Northland’s claim to some of NZ’s best beaches. We leisurely worked our way back south, stopping along the way in the Bay of Islands, another of NZ’s older volcanic areas. On the recommendation of a friend, we stopped in a town called Rawhiti, which was tiny, but very nice. We got to take a walk around the beach and listen while a local guy strummed away on guitar.

Our best discovery, however, came purely by luck. We saw a sign for a beach parking lot on our right, and an awesome looking tree on our left, so we decided to make a quick stop.

That quick stop turned into a longer one, as it turned out to be one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen. From the cool rock structures on the beach, to the clear water, the bright green hills right alongside the sand, everything about it was just awesome. Definitely a place to make a return trip.

Farther south, we found another nice place to camp for the night, so we pitched our tent and enjoyed the sunset.

Our final stop before getting back to Auckland was the Mermaid Pools at Matapouri. They are essentially large tide pools that form on the rocky area by the water, large enough to swim in. You do a short climb over a big hill, and then you’re there!

From there we raced back down to Auckland so I could go to some meetings at uni, and our 3-day trip was done!

It’s been long as, let’s catch up!

Well I’ve been pretty slack with this blog thing lately… There’s no way I’ll do justice to most of the stuff that’s been going on, so how about we just do a quick, mostly photo-based run through of some cool NZ places I’ve been in the last several months?

Rangitoto: Auckland’s youngest volcano

It’s sitting out there in Auckland harbor…Auckland’s most recently erupted volcano (~600 years ago), looking pretty and green and just a bit intimidating. Could it erupt again? Not likely (as part of a volcanic field, it’s classified as monogenetic–that is, it’s one shot only by definition), but that’s actually a pretty intense academic debate that I’ll leave alone here. Lucky for me I just got to have a nice ferry ride over, a short climb to the top, and a walk through some cool lava tubes.

More Taranaki Fieldwork and the coldest night of my life

Did a few more fieldwork trips to Taranaki for a bit more sample collection back before winter began. Mostly little of note, but on my last trip of the season, I camped overnight on the way from Auckland to Wellington with the hope of collecting a few last samples. Let’s just say I slightly underestimated how cold it would get at night and ended up so cold that by 3am I couldn’t sleep anymore and had to sit in the car. Oops. Unbelievably clear and beautiful night sky, though, and I did get my samples, so not so terrible in the end!

Also messed around with some time lapses during the sunset. So you can see what it looks like for the sun to set in Taranaki on a clear day!

I continued down to Wellington afterwards to experiment on the samples I’d just collected–here’s what it looks like from my lab at the University of Victoria perched high up on the hill above the city centre.

A bit of Auckland regional geology

A few field trips, some uni-related, others just for fun to check out some cool regional parks with some cool rocks.

Tongariro Fieldwork

I never pass up a chance to help out a fellow PhD student with fieldwork, which meant I took a couple trips down to Tongariro National Park to help out Mia, one of the other PhD students in the department who is researching the last several thousand years of tephra deposits from Tongariro volcano. We did a lot of driving around–it’s important to learn what deposits from each of the volcano’s eruptions look like (many of them have distinctive characteristics) and then identify those deposits in as many locations as possible.

Here’s an example of what we do when we investigate an outcrop–mostly walk around pointing at stuff, discuss things, take notes (in superspeed!).

Coromandel

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few friends come visit me in NZ already. And when they do, of course I take them to see something geological! Recently my friend Katherine stopped by Auckland during her trip to NZ from the US. We took a trip out to the Coromandel Peninsula to see Cathedral Cove. It’s a pretty sweet collection of arches and sea stacks formed from millions of years-old ignimbrite deposits (volcanic deposits resulting from huge pumice-filled eruptions).

Vanuatu…just a peek!

I mentioned not passing up a chance to help with fieldwork…that goes double when I get offered a chance to travel to do it! My officemate, Ben, is living in Vanuatu for three months monitoring Yasur, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. In September I got to go help him…and to see my first eruptions. That’s a YUUUGE moment for a volcanologist! I’ll try to do a whole post on that later, I certainly have enough photos!

A Little Bit of Culture

Quick pivot back from science to fun! (Not that I mean to say those things are in any way mutually exclusive. I think all my science posts are fun. But this post is all fun and no science, so be forewarned. Wooooooooooo…)

Way back when it was still nice out I took a long-weekend trip with my flatmates to Hawke’s Bay region, on the east coast of the North Island. While most of my trips are nature and tramping-based (which is somewhat governed by the fact that those are the best things to do in NZ), this trip was actually a bit more about culture and man-made stuff. The trip started with a long drive towards Taupo and then a few hours more, luckily I was buoyed by a coffee that fully justifies all the fun-making I do about the Kiwi accent.

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Saying it funny is one thing, but this?

Along the way, on the advice of our soon-to-be couchsurfing host, we made a couple stops: a historic site of a Maori ambush of some British soldiers, a nice waterfall, and an awesome bridge where you can walk on the scaffolding underneath to get a great view.

We didn’t have much planned for the first night, so we just took a look around Napier, one of the main cities in the region, while we were killing time until we could meet our host. Napier is known for its “art deco” style architecture. The whole city has the same style because it basically was completely destroyed in a 1931 earthquake, which meant all the current buildings were built at roughly the same time, hence similar styles. To me it feels like walking around inside a comic book (with the street signs being a really nice extra touch)!

After dinner in town, we drove out to the countryside (waaay out there in the dark) to meet Dave, a 50something British transplant schoolteacher who loves hosting couchsurfers in his free time. He was super nice and gave us good advice on how to spend the rest of our days in the region.

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I got my own room! It may have been the storage closet, but it was cozy and it was mine! 🙂

Based on the weather, we decided to make our next day our “nature stuff” day and go do all the outside things in the area. First up was Te Mata peak, a high point near Hastings, the region’s other big city. It was a nice nature reserve with some redwood trees and a few options for hikes. We took the longest one, a 2-3 hour hike that went to the top of the peak (it’s only 400m high, so not all that difficult of a climb). There was also a road to the top, so it was one of those instances where you get there only to find a bunch of tourists getting out of their cars…but we earned our view the hard way!

From there we took a drive over to Cape Kidnappers, a peninsula on the east coast a bit south of Napier and Hastings. It sticks a few km out into the Pacific Ocean, and got its name from an attempt by a few Maori men to kidnap one of Captain Cook’s crew members during his time in New Zealand. You can walk out along the beach under the high cliffs — if you walk far enough there is a gannet colony at the end. You can also take a tractor ride if you’re lazy. We didn’t make it out to the birds — you need to time your walk with the tides to make it all the way to the end — but we hiked out a decent ways before turning around..

Of course, more than anything, Hawke’s Bay is probably famous for its wine, so we couldn’t leave without visiting a winery! Dave had recommended his favorite, Abbey winery, so we drove over and hung out for a while. We got to taste a few of their wines and listen to a guy playing some nice acoustic covers of classic rock, a pretty chill afternoon.

That was it for the day, so after another dinner in Napier, we went back out to the country, where I noted Dave’s awesome taste in storage room wall posters.

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Anyone who has volcano posters on their walls is cool in my book.

The next day we decided to explore Napier a bit more. We checked out the botanical gardens as well as the museum (no photographs allowed!) which had some cool artwork exhibits and a really interesting exhibit on the 1931 earthquake that leveled the town. After that we decided to just take a break and lie out by the beach for a bit.

Finally, we were told the the lady in the museum that there was a conservation-based street art exhibit all around Napier, and she gave us a map to go search out the different pieces, done right on the side of buildings. So we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town, finding awesome graffiti murals.

And that’s it! The next day we headed back up to Auckland, having successfully explored one more region of the North Island!

Science, dammit!

Buckle up for some geology! Now that you’ve seen what it takes to get to the top of a 2518m high volcano, let’s see what happens when you do it a second time. Only with shitloads of stuff strapped to your back and actual things to accomplish once you get to the top.

As I mentioned, one of the best places to find recent material from Taranaki’s last eruptions is way up at the top. Looking at Taranaki’s most recent lava flows can help us in lots of ways. We can compare it to material we find lower on the volcano. We can look at fresher and more weathered material. We can look at different parts of the lava dome to see if the lava cooled at different rates in different places and try to learn what ways it affects the lava’s properties.

But the simplest thing we can try to do with those hot hot lava rocks (that are now cold) is try to figure out how old they are. If we decide that the lava dome at the top of Mt. Taranaki’s collapse was probably the last thing to happen there, then if we figure out how old those rocks are, we can probably tell when the volcano last erupted.

(The reason we don’t know this already is because the last eruption was before European settlement of the area. From this we know it must be older than at least the mid-1800s. Maori people were there at this time, for sure, but as far as I know there aren’t any datable written records or stories tied to an eruption.)

Our goal for this trip was to collect samples that I could try to date using paleomagnetic methods in the lab in Wellington. On my trips lower down you may remember me collecting rock samples that I would drill holes in in the lab later. But this time we decided to go full on and collect our cores in the field in order to be as accurate as possible.

This was a bigger job, though, so it required a bigger team. A both of my Auckland-based supervisors, Shane and Mike, and a couple fellow students from Auckland, Edgar and Jie, came with me, along with my friend Elisa, our Wellington-based paleomag expert.

For starters, the trip was longer than the first time. We’d be climbing two consecutive days, meaning we had to carry a whole bunch of food in addition to our gear (and possibly some lovely boxes of wine–we do our geology in style!). Oh, yeah…the gear. Hammer, chisel, chainsaw-sized drill and all its accessories, and more. Heck of a lot more than I had on my fun first climb.

We made our camp at the same awesome Tahurangi Lodge that I stayed at last time. It was definitely nice to have a little comfort at the end of the day.

From there, our first job was to hike to the top. Now, doing paleomag drilling is simple enough when your outcrops are by the roadside. Stop somewhere and fill up your water tanks, pull up on the side of the road, do your thing, go home. If you run out of water, just fill up again and get back to work.

 

In our case, however, we had to get all that same stuff to the top of the of the volcano to get to our sample sites, and there was nowhere to get more water once we were up there (we gave some thought to melting snow, but couldn’t come up with an efficient enough solution). That meant splitting up about 45 liters of water, a couple liters of fuel, and all the drill stuff between everyone for the trip up. It was probably the most difficult fieldwork I’ve ever done — steep enough as is, but even harder when weighed down by a super full pack.

But we did make it! Hooray! Once we were up there, we moseyed around to the western side of the summit to see the collapsed crater. That’s where the volcano’s most recent lava dome grew, then collapsed, leaving a giant horseshoe-shaped amphitheater behind. This was probably sometime in the 1800s, but we don’t yet know for sure.

In order to compare different parts of the dome and learn as much as we can about Taranaki’s most recent activity, we needed samples from lots of different parts of the dome, which meant climbing all around the collapse amphitheater and around the snow fields to pick out a few different sites to core.

Once we’d taken a good look, we picked some sample locations on different parts spread around the area and got to work drilling our cores. Drilling and orienting is a team effort. For the most efficient work, it takes two to drill–one to do the actual drilling and one to man the pump bottle to keep water running through the drill so it operates well. Then it takes another one or two to take accurate measurements and write careful on the cores and collect them to take home — that way the drillers can already move on to the next site. ***drilling note at end***

In order to learn more about the formation of the lava dome, we made sure to take samples from both the outside carapace of the dome that had cooled and remained in place as well as the fresh material that is newly exposed where the side of the dome collapsed. That way we can try to look for differences between the two types: Did one cool faster? Do they contain the same minerals? Are the mineral crystals different sizes? Did they record the same paleomagnetic field?

As you saw in the picture above, we usually drill about 8-12 small holes per site, and on the first day we were able to do five sites. Not bad for a day’s work! And we felt pretty good about having carried all that water since we used almost all of it. Imagine how upset we would have been if we’d worked so hard to get up there and then quit early because we ran out!

On the way down we were treated to some pretty awesome views or the surrounding area. The perfect circle of the edge of the park still impresses me. Combined with the shadow Taranaki casts in the evenings, it’s a pretty unusual sight.

Back at the lodge were were able to have some delicious soup packets, tea, dinner, and wine, and rest up for day two.

So did I complain about the first day being the hardest fieldwork I’d ever done? I was being a wuss. Day two was the hardest fieldwork I’ve ever done. Carrying all the same stuff up the volcano a second straight day was seriously hard work and at times frustrating (especially when constantly sliding backwards trying to climb the scree field) — early on I was genuinely concerned I might not make it! But after some tough times in the early going, we actually all made it to the top faster than we did on the first day.

The weather wasn’t nearly as good the second day, it was quite a bit chillier, and visibility was pretty low. Luckily my supervisor had a good idea where we were going. We did another four sites — some were more parts of the lava dome, but we also sampled The Turtle, an interesting feature a little ways down from the top that is very visible when looking at Mt. Taranaki from the west. Despite some tough conditions and a bit of slipping and sliding, we stayed focused, worked hard, and got everything we needed so that all our sarcastic comments about having to come up a third straight day could just remain jokes.

After staying another night in the lodge, we were able to head home with all the samples we needed to do a good investigation, and also comfortable in the knowledge that if we ever need to come back and get more samples, we’ll know exactly what to do. I’ve already gotten my teeth into testing the samples from this trip in the paleomagnetism lab down in Wellington, and though we don’t have any conclusive results yet, we’re well on our way to learning a lot more about the lonely volcano.

***Note on drilling: Mt. Taranaki is a beautiful and culturally important mountain. As such, we make our best effort to be as non-disruptive and non-destructive as possible when doing fieldwork. But sometimes the only way to do the science is to take the samples, as in this case. Before we even planned the drilling, we consulted with the NZ Department of Conservation and local iwi to get all proper permissions for the work and to make sure we did it in a way where all parties involved could be happy. When actually on the mountain, we always made an effort to drill our cores in places far off the beaten path where they won’t bother anyone, and often in areas where weathering and further collapse will likely remove them altogether over time.***

Who wants to climb a volcano?

I promised some more geology lessons way back when and I haven’t followed through very well on that, but now I’ll try to make good on that promise. Or at least, I’ll lay the groundwork for the some science.

While I’ve mentioned before I’m interested in all the deposits on the northwestern side of Mt. Taranaki because they are the most recent, the other best place to find really recent stuff is by going straight to the source. What’s younger than the lava right at the top of the volcano?

Before we did any serious sample collecting, I decided to take a recon/fun trip to the top to see what it was like. That way when I planned the serious fieldwork, I would know what I was getting us into. Where do we want to sample? How hard is it to get there? How much can we do in a day? Etc.

My plans for this coincided perfectly with my geo-friend  and super-adventurer Aurelia’s arrival in NZ back in February, so we headed down there to check things out. After driving up to the visitor’s centre, we hiked about 1.5 hours in to the Tahurangi Lodge, an awesome mountain house owned by the Taranaki Alpine Club (that generously let me join), where we stayed for the first night. This gave us a nice head start for the real climb.

The next morning we got an early start and headed up to the top. It was quite the climb! Not technically difficult in any sense, anyone in good enough shape could do it. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t pretty hard work! From the lodge, there’s three main sections to go through to get to the top. The first third is just dirt tracks and steep, long staircases. The second third is probably the hardest–a huge field of loose scree that shifts under you every time you take a step, meaning progress is pretty slow and frustrating. The final third is a scramble over a series of rocky, jagged lava flows called “the Lizard”.

Finally, after these trials, you reach the crater. And despite it being summer, it was full of snow! The crater contains Taranaki’s current summit lava dome, which was created during its most recent eruptions and rises to the volcano’s highest point of 2518m. It’s also collapsed to the northwest, as we’ll talk about later.

After exploring the crater for a while and taking note of good sampling sites (and even taking a short nap while we waited for some clouds to blow through), we were almost ready to head back down. We wanted to go up to the very top, but it was so foggy that it didn’t seem worth it. Luckily we decided to go for it anyway, because just as we reached the summit everything cleared up and we got a great view.

The way back down was quite a bit faster (from the lodge, it was a bit under 3 hours to the top but less than 2 hours to cover the same distance on the way down). As much trouble as scree fields are to climb, going down they’re super fun. If you’re willing to end up on your butt a few times, you can kind of jump from foot to foot and ski down as it shifts under your feet. Whee! After stopping for a short break at the lodge, we hiked out the rest of the way. Surprisingly, the final hour or so, which should’ve been the easiest part, was actually frustratingly hard because my stupid wobbly toddler legs wouldn’t go where I wanted them to and we couldn’t walk properly. Nonetheless, we made it! The next day was the sorest I’ve probably every been (but, you know, in a good way). And this was just the test run for the real thing!

Now that I’d been there and knew what things were like at the top of Taranaki, I was ready to plan our big sampling expedition! See, now you’re ready for the science next time.

Oh yeah, as a bonus, check this out! While we were up there we shot an (only slightly embarrassing) educational video for my mom’s 3rd grade class that my brother edited into an awesome geology lesson. I think it turned out pretty well!

The Big Tiki Tour

Alright, let’s do it. While I’ve got lots of cool pictures to share from the South Island trip, there’s too much science to get to to dwell forever on it, so let’s get the rest done in one fell swoop. I’ll go light on the paragraphs, with most of the commentary contained in snarky photo captions… Ready? Go!

Queenstown

Where the cool kids go to ski! And do other outsidy stuff! No snow when we were there, but a pretty cool town on a pretty lake with some pretty mountains, and lots of restaurants and buzz going down at night.

The most obvious and touristy (but still worth it) thing to do was to take the gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak above the town, with a great view down over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Bob was a pretty savvy businessman to build his restaurant/viewing platform/luge track up on His Peak. Maybe Donald could learn a little about winning from Bob. I bet Bob is tired of winning from winning so much. Anyway…

With a little more time to kill before dinner, we used the internet machine to look up more things to do, and settled on the drive north along Lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenorchy at the top of the lake. It is apparently regarded as one of the world’s top scenic drive. Having now driven it, I won’t dispute that. The views all along were absurdly beautiful, and the windy road was pretty fun to drive on, too!

Back in Queenstown, we got to enjoy a nice dinner and a sunset-ish from the lakeshore. The next day we also took a little walk around before heading out.

After finishing, we set off on the drive to Te Anau, the southernmost point of our journey, stopping for a few diversions along the way.

Te Anau and Milford Sound

After a long drive through not much of anything, we got to Te Anau–the last outpost of civilization on the way to Fiordland and Milford Sound. It’s possible to take a multi-day hiking trip out that way, but that will have to be for another time. Instead we opted for a bus to boat tour. We stopped a few times along the road back up to the west coast, finally arriving at a boat terminal where we’d get floated out to the sea.

The ferry took us out to the mouth of the Sound where it meets the Tasman Sea. Despite clouds earlier in the day, it was actually so sunny at first during the boat ride that all the photographs were super washed-out. So I sat back and let all the silly people take all their photos and enjoyed the view and waited for better lighting.

And then on the way back, I leapt into action!

After the Milford Sound part of the tour, we made a couple more short stopoffs on the way back to Te Anau, then headed towards Dunedin to start working our way back around to Christchurch.

Dunedin+

A lot of my colleagues make a lot of jokes about Dunedin having really crappy weather all the time. So of course when we got there it was raining. But contrary to the stereotype, it was actually quite nice there while we explored for a couple hours before moving on. So by my calculation, it rains 50% of the time in Dunedin.

On the drive back to Christchurch, we stopped at an interesting geologic site, the Moeraki Boulders. Located on the beach near the town of Hampden, they’re a bunch of super nice and round, sometimes interesting fractured…boulders. I know, you’re thinking only a geologist would care about a bunch of big rocks on the beach. But actually they were pretty cool! And lots of people were there, so I’m not alone in my nerd-dom.

Christchurch

The second time around in Christchurch we actually got to look around for a short bit. It’s pretty easy to see the impacts of the huge 2011 earthquake that caused so much damage. Pretty good 1st-world example of the devastation natural disasters can cause.

Back to the North Island!

Having had a pretty low-key New Years Eve at a little park gathering in Christchurch, we flew back up north to Auckland to start the new year with a short trip around the North Island. Since I’ve been to a lot more places up here, I could play tour guide and take my parents to some of my favorite spots. Unfortunately, the weather that was so perfect on the South Island was long gone, and things were pretty ugly for most of the second part of the trip. The biggest downside to this: NO VOLCANOES!!! Seriously, I look at volcanoes for a living and the few days we tried to go to Taranaki and Ruapehu, there was more or less nothing to be seen. What a bummer. At least we got half a look at Taranaki from the plane.

We did stop at a bird sanctuary, which is cool, because I like birds (#birds). And we got to see a Kiwi! They’re nocturnal so no pictures, but they’re super big and fluffy and awesome. And the place is on my way to do fieldwork every time, so I will get my fill of Kiwi-watching while I’m in NZ. We also took a stop to see the Waitomo gloworm caves. A bit touristy, but pretty cool to take a boat ride through the darkness with all the little glowy dudes on the ceiling (but, obviously it was dark so no pictures).

After an ill-advised drive over some pretty treacherous dirt roads in a torrential downpour, we arrived at Ruapehu, where we saw…nothing. I thought if we drove up to the ski field, we might punch through the clouds and get a view. Alas, still nothing. So on to Taupo, where we at least got to see a waterfall. We also stopped by some hot pools. I’d been to them before at night during the winter. In that setting they’re pretty creepy…but still better because they’re far less crowded than daytime during the summer!

Finally, it was on to Rotorua for the final bit of the trip. On the way we stopped at the Waiotapu thermal area, kind of a Yellowstone-lite. Nice enough, but nothing quite compares to Yellowstone, so it’s not really a fair fight. We also took a look at some of the lakes that I’ve been to on previous trips.

And that’s the deal! Lots of things! It was a bit rushed, but not too bad for two weeks. With those things covered, my glaring areas in NZ that I haven’t been to include the northern part of the South Island, and the North Island’s east coast, among other things. I’ll have to fix that soon!

In the meantime, coming up…science, geology, volcanoes!

 

Cold As (Gradually Melting) Ice

The South Island tour continues…

Glaciers

Aside from driving south along the Westland coast, our goal for the day was to see some of the glaciers of the Southern Alps. Though much of the snow in the mountains melts in summer, don’t try to tell these bad boys to go away, because glaciers don’t melt. Except now they do, I guess. Slowly. Because of climate change. Actually not really that slowly. Ugh.

To really get up on the glaciers, you have to take a guided helicopter tour that deposits you up on the glacier. Since we’d had the chance to walk up on a glacier in the Canadian Rockies years back, we decided to pass on this and just take a hike up to the glaciers’ terminal faces.

After stopping in the town of Franz Josef, where (though some pretty ridiculous luck with the weather being windy in the morning and us getting to the visitor center at exactly the right time) we got to say a quick hello to my glacier guide friend Janet, we continued on to do the hike up to Franz Josef glacier, named in the 1800s for the Austrian emperor of the same name (obviously).

The glacier is retreating pretty quickly, as evidenced by markers and photos on the trail showing where it used to be. But you know, glaciers go in, glaciers go out…you can’t explain that.

Then it was on to Fox Glacier, where you can also walk up to the terminal face. Both walks were similar, less than an hour each way, fairly easy except for a few steeper hills.

While still near the glaciers, we took a trip over to Lake Matheson, a glacial lake not far away that happens to be well located to create a reflection of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. Unfortunately for us, that only happens when the lake is perfectly calm, and when we were there it was too ripply to see a reflection. Fortunately, it was still quite nice.

Heading Back East

After having our fun in Westland, we started heading back east towards Queensland, taking Haast Pass. There were numerous stopoffs along the way to see various waterfalls and rivers.

Along the way, we passed briefly through Mt. Aspiring National Park. I’ve heard amazing things about this particular national park, and, while we only saw a tiny part of it, I can see why it has such a good reputation (and I’ll have to go back to see the rest of it).

The Lakes

From Mt. Aspiring parks, the main highway heads south past two big awesome lakes, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, and you get the opportunity to drive alongside each of them.

We got to stop in the town of Wanaka itself, which had a nice lakefront and some good fish ‘n’ chips. It’s also the location of the next GSNZ geology conference, so I’m looking forward to getting back there for a lot longer next year, hopefully.

From there we finished things off for the day by heading west to get to Queenstown, passing Cardrona ski field along the way (have to come back during winter!).

As I noted (and will surely note again), it was a heck of a lot of driving, which was tiring, but the routes were so pretty and windy and fun that it was definitely worth the effort.