Monday, November 09, 2015

Mt. Cook National Park, South Island New Zealand

One of New Zealand's most iconic natural treasures is Mt. Cook National Park, located in the Southern Alps southwest of Christchurch. The area has been in the consciousness of the Kiwi's since the 1880's when the 12,214 foot peak was first climbed. The Hermitage Hotel was built a few years later and excursions to the park have continued since.

Leaving Christchurch across the Canterbury Plains, the landscape soon gave way to our first view of the Southern Alps, still snow and ice clad in this spring time scene.

As series of three glacially-carved lakes are found along the route. Two of the lakes have their elevations raised by hydroelectric schemes, including Lake Tekapo.

The lake is situated 2,300 feet above sea level and covers an area of about 32 square miles. The glacier that carved the lake basin came out of the Southern Alps in the background.

This is the Church of the Good Shepard built in 1935 and one of the most photographed churches in the entire country. As you can see we had a beautiful day.

Towards the end of the day and as we neared the high mountains and the park, clouds had obscured the view of the majestic mountain. It is said that Mt. Cook is only visible 30% of the time. There is nothing to obstruct the weather from the wild Southern Ocean between the Southern Alps and Antarctica. 120 inches of precipitation on the western side of the range proves it.

The next day was also quite cloudy and a fresh snowfall was evident on the lower slopes of the mountain.

However, I decided to take a lift on one of these ATV vehicles, called an Argo. Developed in 1967 in Ontario Canada, these vehicles can tackle very rugged terrain and an amphibious version is also made. We drove by 4X4 vehicle to a parking lot and then by Argo on the track shown here.

The objective was to travel along and then walk on top of the lateral moraine of the Tasman Glacier. Here is the moraine as viewed from along the road in. The moraine is about 70 feet high here and note the large boulder that has rolled off of the top.

At the destination, it was an easy 5-minute walk to the top of the moraine and then the world opened up before us! The photo was captured using a wide angle lens (17mm) so the features seen here are much larger than they appear. This is a view to the northeast with the present day snout of the Tasman Glacier (photo center) sticking out into Tasman Lake. The glacier is covered with thick mantle of rock and dirt up to 50 feet thick. This is material that has fallen off of the walls of the mountain and onto the conveyor belt of the Tasman Glacier, which is New Zealand longest at 17 miles long.

This is looking south from the same vantage. The road we took up is visible in the small valley on the far right. Tasman Lake (left) is now 3 miles long and one mile wide. However, it was just a minute fraction of this size only 20 years ago and in 1973, there was no lake at all!. The glacier has been retreating about 600 feet per year since the 1990's and as it has retreated, a large lake has formed where the ice used to be.

Each winter, 160 feet of snow accumulates on the top of the glacier in the headwall area. At the end of the summer, only 21 feet of that amount remains but that is enough to power the downward trend of the ice.

It is projected that the Tasman Glacier will be gone within about 20 years and that the lake will attain its largest dimension at 10 miles long. Here is a space photograph of the area from about 15 years ago. Note the small size of the Tasman Lake beneath the words "Mt. Cook." I took my photographs above from where the black arrow begins just left of the label "Mt. Cook."

Across the way were thick sequences of moraine material

A last view toward the south along the west side of the Tasman Glacier and Lake. Imagine ice filling the space on the left side of the photograph only a few hundred years ago.

The Hermitage Hotel was a delightful place to stay. The hotel has produced a film about the life of Sir Edmund Hillary, a native New Zealander who first fell in love with the outdoors, camping, and climbing here at Mt. Cook National Park. The film was excellent!

Later in the day, the mountains began to appear from behind their cloud cover

And we got a quick view of Mt, Cook

But by the following morning, it was out in its regal glory, standing two miles above the photographer

These are glacial scenes very reminiscent of what is found in Antarctica with entire slopes buried in hundreds of feet of year round ice.

This is a view looking up the Hooker Valley to the mountain

Crevasse appears to be tumbling down over the rocky slopes

This is Lake Pukaki with a view of Mt. Cook in the distance as we drive on towards Queenstown

Mt. Cook has been uplifted along the Alpine Fault (behind the mountain) in the last 10 million years. It is a beautiful mountain!

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