Friday, March 30, 2018

New Zealand - North and South Islands

After leaving Australia, our group headed first to the South Island and then the North Island. The two landmasses seem like different countries they are so different. The south is wild, mountainous, and sparsely populated; the north is tropical, lush, and has more people and infrastructure.

The South Island
Landing first in Christchurch, there is still evidence everywhere of the 2010-2011 earthquake swarm. What began as a memorial to the 185 persons who lost their lives on the February 22, 2011 M6.7 quake, is now a permanent art piece constructed of 185 empty chairs.

The cathedral in Christchurch was very badly damaged and the city has been agonizing for seven years what to do with the former city centerpiece.

Recently, the city fathers and the Anglican Church have decided that the city icon will be restored.

Leaving Christchurch, we head south across the flat Canterbury Plains and into the rolling Mackenzie Basin country. 

In the Mackenzie Basin there is much history...

...and this church sits on the shores of a great glacial lake, Lake Pukaki, covering nearly 69 square miles. It is very picturesque. The South Island is rife with glacial features.

We are now in Mt. Cook National Park and are driving in a 4X4 vehicle up to the Tasman Glacier. The ridge of rock on the right of the road is a lateral moraine from the glacier.

On the way up the valley we saw huge avalanche chutes filled with boulders. Some of them like this looked very fresh.

I have now climbed to near the top of the lateral moraine and the view is up valley. The skyline of the Southern Alps can be seen in the far distance.

Once at the top of the moraine we got a fine view of the Tasman Glacier, covered in rocky debris as the glacier ablates. In 1973 the snout of this glacier was four miles farther downstream...

...way out of sight in this downstream view. The Tasman Glacier is a rapidly retreating ice sheet and in 1973 this lake did not exist - the valley floor was covered in ice.

Close-up of the glacier snout and its rocky mantle.

Close-up of the lateral moraine ridge.

We got some excellent view of Mt. Cook from the large windows of the hotel. This lenticular cloud never went away but still, this is considered a clear day. (The next day was overcast). Mt. Cook is New Zealand's highest peak at 12,218 ft. Prior to December, 1991, it was 31 feet higher but a rock and ice fall shaved the 31 feet off of its total height.

Leaving Mt. Cook for Queenstown we passed the gold mining village of Arrowtown, established in 1862. 

Most of the rocks used for walls are local stone made of schist.

An Arrowtown store hawking local gold. The gold was emplaced in the early part of the Cenozoic Era.

This is Mirror Lake in the Fiordland National Park containing 2.9 million acres of preserved wet forest lands.

On the Chasm Trail, we were treated to a lush fern tree forest!

They are magnificent plants. There are over 200 types of native ferns in New Zealand and 70 introduced species. About 40% of the native ferns occur nowhere else in the world.

Some tree ferns can grow as tall as 30 feet. They are reminiscent of a much earlier time in earth history and the word that drifted through my mind as I wandered beneath them was "Jurassic."

Another important green treasury on the South Island is the mineral jade (nephrite, and bowenite). The Maori people had/have a multitude of uses for jade.

It rains a lot in Fjordland with over 200 days per year of rainfall and sometimes measuring 8 meters in a single year and about 320 inches! For that reason, Mitre Peak seen above is difficult to get a good shot. This peak is as iconic to the people of New Zealand as the Grand Canyon or Golden Gate Bridge is to Americans.

We saw some rain here in the very southern parts of the South Island but on our last day, we woke up to a bluebird day! Overnight, snow had fallen in The Remarkables, the range found on the south side of Queenstown.

We took a ride on the Earnslaw steamer ship, which was put into service the same year as the Titanic. Needless to say, this ship has had a longer run. Our trip to the South Island was very enjoyable! Now it was on to the North Island.

The North Island

Flying north, we got a great view of the Southern Alps, fresh with snow.

Somewhere out there is Mt. Cook in the high clouds. Low clouds fill the glacial valleys.

First stop is the geyser area in Rotorua (meaning Two Lakes in the Maori language). It was interesting - in Australia there were over 400 languages among the Aborigines. Here, across both islands, the people were united in a single language of Polynesian descent.

This is the Pohutu Geyser erupting. Watch a 4-minute YouTube video of the geyser erupting (note that the video begins in Russian but there is some English in it. Excellent footage of a big eruption. It's all about the geological plumbing in these systems.

Thermal pool near Pohutu.

A sulphur deposit surrounding a steam vent.

Ahh - the boiling mudpots, one of my favorite thermal features! These multi-storied pots were most fascinating.

This two photo sequence shows two small bubbles on the right that had just plopped and the larger one of the left in the act of plopping.

You got to be quick but I captured a bubble in mid-plop. I could watch these features for hours. Gases coming up through fractures in the rock thermally alter the rock and break it down. Hot water mixes with the decomposed rock to create the mud. Geothermal heat drives the boil.

Hangi is the Maori tradition of cooking food in a hot pit and we were able to taste the results.

A Maori warrior.

The Waitomo Caves are a great limestone cavern system located halfway between Rotorua and Auckland. This limestone is a mere 30 million years old and formed when this portion of Zealandia was submerged. Zealandia is the no-so-micro microcontinent. The continental crust here is half the size of Australia but only a small portion of it is emergent.

Cave formations. I set my ISO number to 6400 and there white balance on cloudy. It worked really well. My camera does not have a flash.

Bacon rind formation. or curtain formation with light filtering through it.

These caves are famous for the glow worms, actually a larvae. Check it out here. Shown here are the "food traps" they weave from the cave ceiling.

I managed to get a poor image of four glow worms.

Fossilized pectin shell in limestone.

Our last stop was in New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, population 1,300,000 people. It is a beautiful city located on a narrow peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea.

If you ever go to Auckland, I highly recommend a visit to the National Museum where we saw specimens of some of New Zealand's famous fossils - the nine species of large flightless birds called moas. They were ratites related to the Australian emu, the South America rhea, and the African ostrich. Overhunting by the colonizing Maori sent them to extinction within 150 years of their arrival by about 1250 AD.

This was the largest Moa, (Dinomis robustus) and stood twelve feet tall.

The old ferry building in Auckland where I caught the 15 minute ferry ride to Devonport.

In Devonport I climbed to the top of Mt. Victory for this sweeping view of the harbor in Auckland. That island is Rangitoto, a cone volcano that erupted about 550 years ago. Maori legends speak to the eruption, witnessed by many, This ends my discussion of my 2018 Smithsonian Journey's trip to Australia and New Zealand. Thanks as always for reading!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Australia - Tropics, Deserts and City

For the month of March I am lecturing on a Smithsonian Journeys trip to Australia and New Zealand. The flight over on the Airbus 380 was relatively easy - I can highly recommend the comfort on this exquisite and roomy jet (and I flew on cattle class!). I was able to take in four movies - The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, The Man From Snowy River, and Crocodile Dundee. Good fun. Once on the ground here, the distances are vast and we can only see but a small slice of this immense landscape. However, the rewards are grand and varied, from tropical forests, to deserts to a very expensive city.

We arrived in Cairns after torrential rains. This is the Barron River in flood.

The spray coming up out of the gorge behind the gondola is from the Barron Falls, normally a small trickle (due to dewatering in a hydro-electric scheme) that falls 900 feet.

This is Barron Falls in late October, 2015 - the last time I visited here.

View from the same platform in March, 2018. You can watch a one minute video of the flood here.

The newspapers were full of stories about the rain and the floods.

Some areas received 24 inches in three days and a few towns were cut off when bridges went out.

The rain had stopped by the time we arrived and our walk through the rainforest was on the cool side.

I wish I could remember the name of this emergent giant in the rainforest. Almost as tall as a California redwood, the species was harvested for wood and is nearly gone from this forest.

The Daintreee is considered the oldest continuously existing rainforest in the world, perhaps as old as the Cretaceous time period. The Daintree may be 125 million years old.

On to the Great Barrier Reef at Michaelmas Caye. The following are shots I took with my underwater camera. With over 600 species of coral found here, I have no idea what the names are.

But they are beautiful.

Corals are very tiny organisms that build calcium "homes" for themselves. The colonies are the great limestone factories on planet Earth.

A large colorful parrotfish.

Brain coral and giant clams.

Close-up of a giant clam, which can weigh over one ton! Here the animal has its shells wide open. Another brilliant snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. This time I had no issues with water leaking into my mask as I lathered the Vaseline real thick on the mustache.

So, it is time to leave green and rainy Queensland behind and head west to the Outback! Note the difference in color between this near-coastal scene and the one that follows from the interior of the continent.

Landing at Alice Springs in the Red Center of Australia. Note the water gap running through the upturned ridge of rock - that is Hevitree Gap cut by the Todd River.

Australia is no different from any other country in having its war memorial to remind the citizens that they are warriors. The many signs leading up to the hilltop view list every single war Australia has participated in. The one for Afghanistan still has no end date.

Although most people conflate the Outback with desert, this area is more akin to semi-arid with many trees and the invader grass called bufflegrass. The Outback as well had received a lot of rain in the previous 10 days.

We experienced an Aboriginal encounter with the local tribe. Here they are selling their art painted on canvas.

Mark is showing how to throw the boomerang.

We got to try a bit of kangaroo tail. It tasted like pork.

And we enjoyed some hot tea from the billie.

Next, on the open road west from Alice Springs along the MacDonnell Ranges. These Precambrian quartzite and shale rocks were folded during the Alice Springs Orogeny between 350 and 300 million years ago. Many water gaps are cut through these linear uplifts.

These are cycads, an ancient plant that evolved as early as the Jurassic period, some 200 to 145 million years ago. These MacDonnell cycads (Macrozamia macdonnellii) were seen in the Standley Gorge as refugia specimens held over from wetter times.

The sheer walls of the Standley Gorge, cut into the Hevitree Quartzite.

We visited another water gap called Simpson's Gap. This is my favorite as its form is gentler and more welcoming.

This is the reflecting pool in the narrows of Simpson's Gap.

An example of the Hevitree Quartzite, deposited as sandstone around 900 to 800 million years ago.

Now we are making our way over 450 kilometers from Alice Springs to the southwest and Uluru or Ayers Rock. The road was quite good and fairly lush given the recent rains.

That's Mt. Connor in the distance rising about 1200 feet above the plain. It is composed of a hard sandstone/quartzite caprock underlain by softer shales and mudstones.

Close-up of Ayers Rock with a nice cirrus cap.

The bare sandstone monolith funnels water off of the top into numerous pools at the base. These were much sought-after locations for water and animal resources, which were also attracted to the water.

View to the northeast on the south side of Ayers Rock. The rock is technically composed of a sandstone called arkose. These are sandstones that contain much pink feldspar, which suggests that the source area was not far away when this was deposited 550 Ma. Feldspar tends to weather chemically more rapidly than other minerals and its presence here means there was not much transport distance. See below for an explanation.

This is the northwest side of the rock and where the trail goes to the top. It was announced while we were here that climbing of the rock will be outlawed officially on October 26, 2019. It is now heavily discouraged but still attainable, although it is forbidden on days when the temperature reaches 36ÂșC.

This is the beginning of our champagne sunset from the viewing area.

We saw this one with about 700 other people. About 500,000 people visit Uluru every year.

Last shot of the evening.

The next day we headed further west to Kata Tjuta, formerly known as the Olgas. Kata Tjuta is the local Aboriginal name meaning "Many Heads" for the 36 domes of rock.

Telephoto shot of the Olgas across the plain.

While only 16 miles away from Uluru, the rocks here are much coarser being composed of boulder and cobble conglomerate. Some of the large clasts are well-rounded, while others are sub-rounded or even sub-angular.

The clast compositions suggest that the material was derived from the nearby Petermann Mountains, observed to the southwest of Kata Tjuta. I find it amazing that after 550 million years, the source area is still standing and still presumably shedding debris outwards!

Basalt clast from the Pertermann Mountains. This was the end of our Outback experience.

Flying into the city of Sydney, Australia's largest.

It is really quite scenic and easy to get around (at least in the city center where we stayed - the suburbs have terrible traffic).

The iconic Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House as seen from Lady MacQuarie's Chair.

This is the entrance to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbor) looking north. The open Pacific Ocean is to the right and the peninsula across the way is called North Head with the photo taken from atop South Head. Within this harbor are numerous inlets. Sydney-ites are obsessed with home prices and we were told that the median home price today is $1.2 million AUD.

Inside the Sydney Opera House.

It took 13 years to build and there really is no other structure quite like it. Inside of it are five venues offering everything from operas to ballets, to theater, to rock concerts!

The shells are covered in ceramic tiles made in Sweden.

The Harbor Bridge as seen from the upper terrace of the Opera House.

Sydney is known for its beautiful sandstone buildings and convict labor was used to quarry the stone. Near the Opera House you can see where carving of the sandstone has occurred. The deposit is called the Hawkesbury Sandstone and it is a Triassic fluvial deposit showing minimal mudrock lenses within Sydney. The source area was located to the south (modern coordinates), likely from a place now covered in ice in Antarctica!

It really has some beautiful textures and colors as seen on this wall on MacQuarie Street. This completes my 2018 trip to Australia. Now on to New Zealand!