Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tongariro Crossing

Tongariro National Park became New Zealand's first National Park on Sep. 23rd 1887 when a Maori chief donated the land to the people of New Zealand with the agreement that it would remain public property for all time. In 1990 it was listed as a World Heritage Site. The crossing is 10.5 miles with about 3000' of climbing. As it is a through hike, you have to arrange for transportation. We opted to take a bus from Taupo that dropped us off at the Mangatepopo trail head and picked us up 8 hours later at the Ketetahi trail head. At first I was a little stressed due to the fact that we had to go 17 kilometers (at that time I was still trying to remember the conversion so I wasn't sure how far that was), we weren't moving all that fast, and I was not too sure how well Kriss would do on the hike. It didn't take long though to realize that Kriss was doing fine and we would be OK with time. In the end we slowed down to kill time so that we wouldn't have to wait too long in the parking lot and we still finished in 7 hours.

Here you can almost see Mt. Ngauruhoe, the youngest of the three volcanoes in the park which formed a mere 2500 y.a. If you could see it better you may recognize it as Mt Doom from the Lord of the Rings movie. Mt. Ngauruhoe last erupted in 1975.

Red Crater was in my opinion the most aesthetically interesting feature of the hike. It is a scoria cone replete with iron ore, hence the color, that was formed 3000 y.a. The most recent activity in this crater was between 1855 & 1890.

This feature is a dike that formed underground and was then exposed as the crater eroded away.

These are know as the Emerald Lakes.

This is a basaltic lava flow.

In this photo you can see just how much traffic this trail gets. Although not immediately obvious, the ground behind Kriss is vertical. This was a trench dug by many years of hikers using the same trail.

This is one of several mountain valleys that the Track crosses.

Lichen growing on rocks.

Nearly every stream originated at a hot spring and often you would know of its presence in advance due to the steam.

For about the last mile the trail dips below the tree line for the first time and you get to experience a natural New Zealand forest with all of its exotic flora.

Friday, January 4, 2008

White Island

White Island is an active volcanic island that is located in the Bay of Plenty approx. 30 miles from the town of Whakatane (the fun part of the Maori language is that wh makes an f sound, therefore Whakatane is pronounced fuck-a-tonny). It takes about an hour and a half for the boat pictured below to get to the island.

Once we reached the island we all took turns piling into this inflatable that ferried us to the landing area.

After clambering onto the jumble of concrete blocks that is the landing dock we all meet up in small groups and the guide, surprisingly knowledgeable of the geology for a girl in her early twenties, proceeds to walk us around the island. White Island is shaped like a horseshoe with a crater rim that drops to sea level where the boat lands and there is only a slight elevation gain from there to the crater lake. The photo below was taken from the landing area looking toward the crater lake.

Because of the geological hazards of White Island the New Zealand government has restricted access to only four different guiding companies. Part of the agreement was not only to have limited group sizes, but they also insist that everyone wear a hard hat and at least carry a gas mask. They also pass out "lollies" (hard candy) because sucking on them helps to ease the scratchy throat caused by the sulfuric gas that pours out of fumaroles scattered throughout the island.

Where the sulfuric gas hits rock the sulfur precipitates out and crystals form.

One thing I learned on this trip is that ph levels can drop into negetive numbers. The ph level of the water in this lake is said to be -.5, pure acid.

Kriss is the one with the black tank top.

Here's some group shots to give scale.

The colors here are from minerals precipitating out of the water that periodically flows through here. Mostly sulfer and iron ore.

This is the remains of an old sulfer mining operation.

Sulpher mining on White Island began in 1885 and was finished a year later when the Tarawera eruption covered the island in a blanket of ash. It was feared that the elevated activity may mean that White Island was next. In 1898 mining resumed for four years producing about 1500 tons per year, then was closed down again until 1913.

In 1913 the island was purchased by a Canadian company and mining operations were once again started up. In September 1914 a section of the southern rim of the crater wall slumped, causing a massive lahar that wiped out all the buildings on the island as well as the men who were living there. This disaster halted production again until 1923 when the miners came up with the brilliant idea of making camp on the coast side of the crater rim thus affording themselves some protection from landslides/eruptions. 10 years later the company went bankrupt due to the depression and the island was declared a private scenic reserve in 1953.

New Zealand

Kriss and I had a great time in New Zealand. We were busy just about every waking moment. We did a few of the typical touristy things such as a "Maori cultural experience" and the Waitomo Caves, but for a geology student like myself, the best part was the fact that New Zealand is one of the most vocanicaly active areas of the world. What this means is that my wonderful wife and I spent a lot of time checking out volcanoes and their related formations. It is times like this that I really know I found the right woman for me. Not only did she not mind spending her vacation looking at stinky (sulpher) rocks, but she claims to have enjoyed it as much as I. Kriss has done an excellent job of covering our day to day activities on her blog So instead of going over everything again, I am going to pick a few of our highlights and cover them in a little more datail. The first post will cover our trip to White Island which is one of the most active volcanic islands in the world. Then I will cover Tongoriro Crossing which is a 17km hike through a UNESCO World Heritage site that is the most volcanicaly active area in New Zealand. I also encountered more than 30 species of birds that I have never seen before and shot pictures of most of them. All together I took over 1100 pictures while in NZ and while I obviously can't post them all here, I will over time cover most of the best.