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!).


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!

Two Day Trips and a Hard Drive Crash

What better way to take advantage of your fancy new set of wheels than to explore the bounty of Auckland region’s awesome stuff?


So fancy! But he/she/it still needs a proper name!

Auckland has quite a few nice regional parks with lots of neat hiking tracks and awesome views. Most of them are pretty easy to get to within an hour or so drive, making them great for day trips.

This post turned out mostly pictures and not too much history or description because, honestly, these are just pretty places that I don’t know all that much about. Hope you enjoy them.


The first of the three parks I’ve visited recently was probably my favorite. Tawharanui is a little peninsula on NZ’s east coast north of Auckland, almost all the way up to Northland (the region that goes all the way to the northern tip of the country). It has a refuge for birds, cool beaches, big rocks to climb on, and pretty shells to find.

After a hour’s drive north on Route 1 (and a detour along a more scenic coastal road), you drive out onto the peninsula and lose elevation until you get to the park entrance.

Once you get into the park, you immediately get to see the awesome beaches and nice views of the Hauraki Gulf to the south.

We just looked around Tawharanui beach for a short while before heading farther into the park. The weather was a bit all over the place, so it was overcast and a bit misty at many points during the day.

The road through the park passes through a bird sanctuary with some cool blue and black long-necked birds, finally ending closer to the north side of the peninsula. While the beach on the south side was a bit rockier, the north side was a more traditional long strip of light colored sand.

Not sure if it has a name, but there was a large rock that we climbed up on towards the western end of the beach that gave pretty good views of the rest of the area.

After fully exploring the western end of the beach, we found a trail leading east along the beach towards the end of the peninsula. Along the way were some cool sea caves and ridges to climb.

We continued over the ridge to the second part of the beach, where we spent quite a while looking for awesome shells, and we found plenty! As you can see, by this point the weather had gotten quite nice (for the moment), great for sitting around and enjoying the scenery.

We actually spent so long hanging around this part of the beach that the tide started to go out! Things looked quite a bit different during our walk back to the car.

Since we didn’t have time to hike all the way out to the end of the track, I definitely need to come back here again to see the rest of the park!


The second park I visited was in Mahurangi West, in the same direction as Tawharanui, just not quite as far north. This was a little less impressive, more of a nice place to have a picnic (as some people were) than a place to go hiking. There were just a couple short walks that we took to explore.

We did the two main hikes in the park which both led to views overlooking the water and took a little walk along the beach.


Disaster Strikes!

I said 3 regional parks, didn’t I, so where are the pictures from the last trip to Karekare/Mercer Bay? Gone into the aether, unfortunately…

My hard drive died last week, and though I was able to replace it successfully and restore my most recent backup, I hadn’t yet backed up my most recent photos, which sadly means they’re all gone.

More sadly is that I was next going to do another sciency post on my latest round of fieldwork in Taranaki and my first round of labwork in Wellington. Sadly, those are long gone as well, so it’ll have to wait for the next time. Luckily, that shouldn’t be too long, as I’m going to Wellington next week for labwork and a conference and back to Taranaki for some fieldwork just a couple weeks later.

A Mission Statement (and a Smorgasbord of Other Stuff)

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks, and will probably continue to be so, in terms of geology. A combination of factors (weather, people’s availability, etc.) mean we probably won’t do another trip for a bit, so I can talk about a mishmash of other random stuff in the meantime.

So what are you actually doing?

I’ve mentioned bits here and there so far about the work I’m doing, but I haven’t yet really explained what it is I’m doing in New Zealand, so here goes… While understanding the mechanics of how volcanoes erupt is extremely important and interesting,  and lava and explosions are super cool, the part of volcanic eruptions that interest me the most is the way in which they impact the people living nearby (and not so nearby). I want to look at how the hazards that come from volcanoes affect people and how to communicate to people the dangers they face as a result of living near an active volcano.

For my project I’m focusing on a particular volcano, Mt. Taranaki, and a particular type of hazard, lahars. As I may have mentioned at some point, lahar is the general geological term (taken from Indonesian) for a volcanic mudslide. What makes lahars different from other volcanic hazards is that they can (like lava, ash clouds, etc.) happen during an eruption, but they can also happen shortly after an eruption, or during a period in which there is no eruption at all. This is because they can be triggered by all sorts of things, from eruptions to earthquakes to snowmelt to excessive rainfall. They can travel at speeds up to 60 mph and distances over 100 mi from the volcano, so they’re obviously pretty dangerous.

What I’m doing is using a variety of methods including sedimentology, geochemistry, and paleomagnetism, to reconstruct the history of lahars on Mt. Taranaki. Basically, where did they go, when did they go there, and how often did they go to different locations? I’ll get into the methods more as I actually do them, but it always starts with going into the field. We’ll be hiking around the river catchments to find lahar deposits and then taking good notes, photos, and samples when we find them. Hopefully the result will be a better understanding of the hazards posed by the volcano, which we will then communicate to the people living in towns and farms on the flanks of Mt. Taranaki.

While I’m in the office, I mostly read lots academic papers that relate to my research and try to compile all the useful information from them in an organized way. I also look at maps and create plans for future fieldwork. For example, based on papers I’ve read I’ve picked out a number of sites to go look at on our next trip (whenever that is). Once we’ve taken a good look at different spots and picked the best ones, we’ll gather our equipment (hopefully in August or September) and go collect some samples to take back to the lab for various tests.

So what are you actually doing? (Non-geology edition)

In between planning more research trips and getting work done at the university, I’ve had time to get around and outside of Auckland a bit more. Whether it’s just taking a walk, playing with all the awesome cats that seem to hang out on my street (and getting to work late as a result), or checking out some of the local establishments, it’s good to see new parts of the city whenever I get the chance.

For example, there’s a really nice French market pretty close to my house that I go to every weekend that has awesome producey type stuff and awesome Italian cheeses. And there’s a nice walk that I can take to or from work though Auckland Domain (a massive park) if I’m not in a hurry and the weather is nice.

For getting out of the city, a couple weekends ago I took a trip with some friends to Muriwai beach on along the coast about an hour west of Auckland. It was a nice black sand beach to take a walk along, and there were lots of people kite surfing on some pretty rough looking waves.

And I wouldn’t be a geologist if I didn’t spend at least a couple moments geeking out over the cool dunes and ripples and stuff.

On another recent weekend, we took a trip to the beach house (called a Bach in New Zealand, see below) of a friend. It was a chance to head east of Auckland, I hadn’t gone in that direction yet. After the insanity of Houghton winter and a particularly harsh NJ winter over the last two years, I wasn’t really looking forward to skipping summer and immediately having another winter upon arriving in NZ. But if “winter’ and “beach weather” can sometimes be synonymous here, I guess I can’t complain.

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A quick lesson in NZ English. Study up, there will be a quiz later.

The Kiwi accent and vocabulary is definitely distinct. In terms of accent, out of American, British, and Australian, it’s probably closest to Australian, but very clearly different once you hear it enough. And in terms of vocabulary, it has an interesting mix of words from other types of English (siding with American over British English more often than you’d expect), and plenty of unique words on top of that. Here are a few of the ones I’ve encountered so far just for fun:

Bach – A beach house. Doesn’t have to be particularly fancy, not just for rich people.

Superette/Dairy – A corner store/convenience store.

Scroggin – Definitely my favorite new word. Kiwi for trail mix.

Four wheel drive – SUV (and a mini van is a people-mover).

Pissing down– Raining really hard.

Flash – As an adjective instead of flashy, showy, etc.

Yum – As an adjective instead of yummy, ie. “That dish is so yum!”

Several foods/cooking terms – Bell pepper = capsicum, zucchini = courgette, granola = muesli, ribeye = scotch fillet, broil (us) = grill (nz), grill (us) = barbecue (nz),  ketchup = tomato sauce (pretty much, at least), sweet potato = kumara, kiwi = kiwifruit (to distinguish from the bird and the people!), entree (us) = main (nz), appetizer (us) = entree (nz), jello (us) = jelly (nz), jelly (us) = jam (nz)

Tramping – Hiking, but sort of more serious than just day-hiking. Stuff at outdoor shops would be called tramping gear.

Keen – Enthusiastic or interested. You’d really commonly say “I’d be keen” to go somewhere/do something.

Good on ya, mate – Praise if someone says something you approve of or does something good. This is one of those stereotypical ones that are just fun to see that people really do say, like when I got to Italy and realized people actually do say Mamma mia!

And that’s the deal!

Slow times, but I’m still trying to take a trip or two somewhere when I can. In the meantime, I can work on more mundane stuff like getting an NZ driver’s license (almost done), finding a place to play tennis (and people to play with; still working on it), and watching the world cup at work instead of working (though I guess that form of procrastination is no longer available. Yay America!).

I Like Feijoas (and Other Interesting Stories)

Exploring the Neighborhood

Now that I’ve been living here almost a month, I’ve had the chance to get a better feel for Auckland, explore my neighborhood, get started with my studies, and pick up on some small things that might be different from back home.

Once I finished moving into my flat, I took the opportunity to walk around Parnell and the adjacent neighborhood, Newmarket. Parnell seems like the place to go for bars and restaurants of varying fanciness, while Newmarket is upscale area that seems to be a major shopping center for Auckland and also where my nearest supermarket is.

Timeout for NZ difference number one! And it’s an obvious one that affects you in a less obvious way. Like in England, they drive on the left side of the road here. Of course once I eventually drive that will affect me in a big way. However, it might be even more important when walking. Remember when you were taught to look both ways before crossing the street? Look left, then right. It’s surprisingly hard to relearn it in the opposite order, especially when trying to figure out where cars are going to be turning from or where they’re going to be entering and leaving roundabouts. I haven’t become a pancake yet, though! So far, so good.

The food in the supermarket here is actually surprisingly similar–compared with Europe, it’s actually super easy to even find the same brands of most things that we have in America (though I’ve been told some things taste different, Snickers bars were the example given. I’ll have to do a test for science!). There’s a couple things I’ve encountered here that are new to me, though.

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One of my first days in the office, there was a big bowl of feijoas up for grabs. What are feijoas? They’re awesome little green fruits that you eat by cutting open and scooping out with a spoon or your teeth. Sort of like a Kiwifruit, but they have their own unique taste, and it’s really good! I’m hooked! Unfortunately, I’ve been told they’re only in season for a couple months, and that time is almost over, so I’d better enjoy as many as I can fast.

Be honest, you’d be skeptical of “tasty” flavored cheese too, wouldn’t you? I assumed that in the same way we in America give our worst cheese the best name, they would do the same in New Zealand. Thankfully, not the case. For some reason it’s what they call sharp cheddar cheese. Tasty indeed.

Marmite (and its Australian cousin vegemite) is super polarizing. It’s a super-salty yeast-based sandwich spread that most people only like if they grew up eating it. My flatmate let me try some the other day and, while I can’t say I loved it, I’m not ready to give up on it. It tastes kind of like eating a really salty beer, if that statement makes any sense at all. I’ll have to revisit it sometime.

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Getting Out and Around

In the months leading up to coming to Auckland I was lucky enough to make a few Kiwi friends who are in Auckland now and are really cool (and have cars) and are willing to show me new places that I might not get to on my own.

Last weekend I went with a couple of friends hiking west of Auckland (it’s good to know you don’t have to go too far outside the city to get to some nice nature). We did a tricky and super muddy but very fun trek along the Huia Dam Reservoir.

After reaching the dam (where the water level was super low–google it to see a comparison of where it can be), we took a different route back that gave some great views of the banks of the reservoir and even a waterfall.

While we were originally expecting to get back to the car after dark, thanks to some short-distance hitchhiking (on the first car that went by! Points to Kiwis for hitchhiking friendliness) we actually had the time to drive all the way out to Piha on the western coast to catch the tail end of the sunset. Piha itself is supposed to have really pretty beaches (and good surfing), so I’ll have to get back out there sometime, but even viewing it from afar was nice.

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Volcanoes Volcanoes Volcanoes!

Did I mention that Auckland is built on a volcanic field? Sort of like the area I was in France, it’s full of what are called monogenetic volcanoes–very little volcanoes that are formed when they erupt just once and then never again. Frequently, after a lot of time has passed, they just look like big grassy hills. But I know what they really are. You can’t hide from me, cinder cones! I’ve got your number!

Today another one of my New Zealand friends who I met in the US took me around to look at some Auckland volcanoes. We started out by going to Mt. Eden, the highest natural point in Auckland. A tricky thing about NZ geology is that many locations have both a Maori and an English name, and it’s not consistent which language is the primary name. For example, Mt. Eden’s Maori name is Maungawhau, but it’s primarily known as Mt. Eden, whereas my volcano is called Taranaki rather than its English name Mt. Egmont.

Anyway, from the top of Mt. Eden you can see all of Auckland and out into the water that surrounds it and lots of the other little volcanoes, whose names I have yet to memorize (but there’s time…).

After that we drove along the coast to the east to the Mission Bay and St. Heliers areas, suburbany towns with really nice beaches and great views of the even more volcanoes.

Volcanoes Volcanoes Volcanoes! (Work Edition)

At work, I’ve been mostly busy reading lots and lots of articles and theses on Taranaki, similar volcanoes, and possible methods to use in my research. The short-term goal is to have some ideas about what I want to do and see when we go there later this week. There’s surprisingly little written specifically about the things I want to look at. While that makes it harder to learn about my subject, it’s also cool because it means that there’s a better chance that I’ll be breaking new ground with what I do. It also makes the fieldwork even more important. If I (and by extension, you) can’t learn what I want from papers, I’ll have to do it up close and personal!

The Kiwi Has Landed

Kia ora from the southern hemisphere!

After 20 hours of flying and 3 days of volcano hiking, I’m finally in Auckland, where I’ll be living for the next three years. It’s a really nice, modern looking city, and it gets suburban/residential pretty quickly as you move out of the central district, which makes it less overwhelming. Since I didn’t have a place yet when I arrived, I stayed with a nice airbnb couple who live a short walk from City Centre. After arriving late last Friday night after my initial field trip to Ruapehu, I walked around the city for the first time the next day.

After walking down Queen Street, the main street with lots of restaurants and shops on it, I ended up near the harbor.

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The city also has some nice parks, including the absolutely massive Auckland Domain (which used to be a volcano!), Auckland’s oldest park that sits just east of the university. I happened to arrive on Anzac Day, the NZ/Australian Memorial Day with particular focus on the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI, so there were a number of celebrations of that as I went around.

I also had a chance to walk around some of the suburbs to get an idea of where I wanted to live, though I didn’t take many pictures, except for a nice Anglican Church in Parnell, a suburb on top of a hill east of the city.


Unfortunately, the aforementioned celebration of Anzac Day meant that lots of stuff was closed all weekend, and people were away on vacation. As a result, I couldn’t actually start most of the things I need to do to get settled in NZ, like start a bank account, register at the university, and make housing inquiries, until Tuesday. And also I got sick, jet lag kicked in, and the weather turned nasty, so I decided to stay inside and write this instead of exploring further.

Nonetheless, I got all those things done over the course of this week, and even found an apartment to boot, which I move into tomorrow! It’s in a really nice suburb called Parnell on a hill just east of the city. The neighborhood is really nice and pretty with lots of shops and pubs, and it’s just a 20-30 minute walk through or around the previously mentioned Auckland Domain, which means I can walk to the university every day if I want (or still take the bus if I’m tired or the weather is bad).

I think that’s enough for now. I don’t like writing too much without photos to go with it. I’ve got fun pictures to share from my trip to Ruapehu right off the plane, but I’m already going back next week (yay fieldwork!), so I’ll save it and do it all at once. And I’ve already got some interesting impressions of the department (hint: geology in NZ involves just as much, if not more, beer than it does everywhere else!), but we’ll get to that soon enough.