Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Questions and Mount Cook

South Island to Jackson

One of the things we have got into the habit of doing as we drive around is to write down questions which occur to us as we pass various places or things. We then look up the answers to these when we get home. I know you are now thinking that this is a bit peculiar and taking holiday research a bit far, but we are always curious about where we have been and we have the time to find the answers so why not!

Currently there are 26 questions and no doubt there will be more by the time we get home. Examples are:

What is £120 in 1848 worth now? This question came up because the Settlers Museum in Dunedin had an exhibit which said that settlers had to pay the New Zealand Company £120 in 1848 to buy various parcels of land in NZ when they decided to emigrate. It did not however say how much this was worth these days nor how much the cheapest £15 steerage ticket would have cost at current prices. We are wondering how much it cost to emigrate for someone on a non-subsidised ticket. The museum did not know.

Did the Maori have slaves? We saw a painting in Invercargill and they description of it referred to a Maori Chief handing some birds to a slave.

What are the dimensions of Lake Wanaka? (it is big and took a long time to drive around); what is the height of the Lewis Pass? (it seemed not to high when we drove over it); what information is available on the NZ sub-Antarctic islands? (we went to an exhibition about shipwrecks and wartime activity on them when in Invercargill); 1 metre of snow equals how much rain; etc etc.

Heading for Mount Cook

Having seen Mount Cook from one side we decided to see it from the other side. With a bit of juggling of our route and time, we have just enough time to fit it in on our way north.

The road north from the Gold Fields region is interesting and again, the landscape surprises us. Before we get to the interesting bits, we pass through the town of Cromwell which Rough Guide dismisses very brutally. We do however note the town statue which we assume is proudly displaying what the town in famous for.

Cromwell Fruit

The road north passes through the Lindis Pass – nothing remarkable in that other than the fact that the countryside is again totally different to that we have experienced elsewhere.

Lindis Pass 3

Gone is the lush green and it is replaced by a burnt brown. Apparently this is not due to a lack of rain but due to the fact that the soil is very poor at holding rain and therefore it drains straight through.

The road to Mount Cook is another long cul-de-sac running parallel to a lake. The views are large and wide

View up lake from Peters View

this valley was filled with the Tasman Glacier some 18,000 years ago.

Width of Mount Cook Valley

Mount Cook is a centre for tourists of all kinds who come to see this icon. As well as the thong brigade (aka those who wear flip flops not matter what the terrain or the occasion !), there are the tidy, clean pressed groups who stay in the local expensive hotel and those who go out to see more of the countryside whatever the weather.

Mount Cook Valley

Apparently, Mount Cook is somewhere in the fog up the end of this valley.

It is raining and so we set off on a walk to see the Muller Glacier at a place called Kea View.

Wet at Kea Point

We got soaked of course and much of the landscape covered in fog

Kea View 2

and we could not see the end of the Muller Glacier which

Kea View

supposedly can be seen from here (and all of the Keas were in bed).

New Zealand's largest glacier, the Tasman Glacier is nearby and you can go out onto the melt water lake at its base in small boats to see icebergs and the glacier edge.

Glacial Boats

Although we have seen many icebergs in Antarctica, we have not seen inland trapped glacial icebergs before and so we set forth.

Boats in Harbour 

There are about ten bergs in the lake which have broken free from the glacial face or the ice shelf below the water at the face plus lots of bergy-bits.

Glacier edge

This is the glacial edge from a distance of about 500m, it does not look much from here but it is too dangerous to go closer.


The bergs have lots of glacial debris in them (rocks etc) gathered as the ice moved down the glacier.


Most of the bergs have flipped in the water over the past few months, the above berg would have been


this way up a few months ago (you have to imagine that from the heavy midpoint line downwards would have been underwater etc)

Ice Berg

they constantly change their position as their centre of gravity changes. The tall pinnacle on the above berg will collapse soon and this could cause the remainder of the berg to rotate to a new position.

Pat and Ice

Ice from deep within the berg is crystal clear and very blue

Stress and Gravel

but as soon as it is exposed to the air, it rapidly starts do develop stress fracture lines (top part of the above picture), crack and eventually melt. It was a very interesting trip and well managed with good explanations.

And then we set off towards Christchurch because our route takes us close to it as we head further north – then there was the earthquake. 

Postscript: Although 200 km away, the earthquake caused the collapse of a part of the face of the glacier which we had been viewing a few hours before. A 30 million tonne chunk of ice 1.2 km long by 300m high by 75 metres thick fell off the glacier face into the lake. This chunk has subsequently broken into smaller bergs up to 250 m long.

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