Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rocking geology and some geologic wonders!

March 15th – 28th
We stayed at South Brighton Beach Holiday Park for five days – where Darrell could work and I could walk on the beach and go to the library where there is free wifi and a spectacular view of the ocean.  We also had Maria over for chicken fajitas (definitely our “signature” meal of the NZ sabbatical) and she made brownies for us. She is now off sailing in New Caledonia but I’m sure, someday, we will bump into her again!

On the 19th we returned to Waipara, just north of Christchurch, and collected samples at the incredible loess exposure we had seen earlier. Our reward after a day of climbing up and down the steep silt cut was a Pinot Noir tasting at Mudhouse Winery. Lovely wines, and we also learned about the council campground at Amberley Beach. Council campgrounds are fantastic as they are usually in nice, uncrowded places, and are inexpensive.

The next morning I sieved the silt and shells Darrell had collected (just call me geology slave) and then we headed to the other huge cliff exposure at Glenafrick Station and collected more shells. This is a 90-meter cliff exposure, but thankfully there was a slump at the top so we could work where falling wouldn’t be fatal.

90 meter drop to the ocean!
That night we camped at Waipara Sleepers where there are old converted train cars, and the camp owner prepared bread each night to pop out of the bread oven at 8 am! Plus there were fragrant flowers and hedges to divide the sites that really enhanced the normal campground ambience.

Being a complete hot spring junkie I convinced Darrell to drive to Hamner Hot Springs, a small resort town with a developed hydrothermal area. The drive itself was one of the nicest we’ve been on, winding along a river valley with spectacular terraces and nice autumn colors.

And the hot spring complex was amazing. Though of course I love natural undeveloped hot springs the best, these were quite tastefully done. Plus there were three aquatherapy pools with a variety of jets, waterfalls, showers, etc. so you could focus on almost any muscles you wanted to with a jet blast or something more gentle. I alternated between just soaking in the 42 degree C (almost 108 F) pool and then getting massaged under waterfalls in the aquatherapy pools where the water was the same temperature as your body. You literally couldn’t tell where your body ended and the water began. Heaven.

Google image of one of the aquatherapy pools
We camped one night near the pools so I could enjoy them again in the morning, and then the second night we camped at a DOC site by the river near Lewis Pass. The pass itself was shrouded in rain and clouds so we didn’t have good visibility, but camping by a river is always a treat.

As soon as we descended from Lewis Pass we were back in the sun. On the way south we stopped in the small town of Geraldine where I bought myself some birthday presents at the farmer’s market; good cheese, some possum-merino blend wool, and a little purse. I may not be into shoes, but I definitely have a bag fetish…

From there we continued on to Twizel (for the third time!) and found Heidi Roop and her new colleagues from GNS and the University of Victoria in Wellington. GNS (originally the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences) has been around since 1865. Considering New Zealand straddles two tectonic plates (earthquakes anyone?) and was the home of Ernest Rutherford, they have a long and successful history in science.  Their Māori name is Te Pū Ao, which means “the foundation, origin, and source of the world”. Cool name, eh?

Heidi is beginning her PhD with a project based on understanding more about the glacial geology and sedimentation at Lake Ohau. She could tell you a lot more about it!

Heidi is excited to begin her PhD!
This area around the big lakes (Tekapo, Pukaki, and Ohau) reminds us some of Wyoming. See what you think of the view framed by the wooden fence.

Twizel "Wyoming"
When they damned the river near Twizel for the beginning of a series of hydroelectric dams, they formed a large lake that is now used for national canoe and rowing races. It was too windy for the races when I was there, but there were over 40 team tents set up for the South Island competition!

Racing lake to the left and team tents to the right.
Darrell took the day off for my birthday (I take every day off) and we had a great hike on the South Branch trail off Lake Ohau. We had to cross some huge talus fans on the trail.

Darrell crossing one of many talus fans
After three hours of hiking, we reached the hut and a view of one of the melting glaciers sending water to the Lake.

South Branch hut and glacier
We didn't stay at the hut, so walked back across the talus fans and crossed the river to our van. You can barely see our white dot of a van in the middle of the landscape as we returned from the hike!

Lost in the landscape
We camped at the trailhead, and the next morning drove to the Clay Cliffs that we also read about in the NZ Frenzy book. These crazy pinnacles formed after 2 million years of erosion along an active fault line.

Darrell in the shadow of the clay cliffs
Our last stop before we met up with Chris again in Dunedin was a campground in Hampden, just north of the Moeraki boulders.  In fact, you can walk all the way along the beach to the boulders, so I was able to get this sunrise view. Some people end with sunsets, but I'll end with this!

Moeraki sunrise

Super dooper secret places on the way to Christchurch

March 11th – 15th
 Darrell, Vera and I enjoyed a nice morning with Chris and then said our goodbyes and headed north. Our first stop was a “secret” place revealed in Scott Cook’s NZ Frenzy guide. The explicit directions delivered us to an almost hidden trail. It was raining and we literally slid to the coast, but oh the rewards!

Vera at the Mermaid's Bath!
It would have been so awesome if it was hot and sunny as the rocks, exposed at low tide, were Mermaid’s baths!

Birthplace of the concretions!
Another egg being hatched!
Some of these 70-million year old concretions yielded important fossils including this plesiosaur that I later took a photo of at the Otago Museum.

Plesiosaur from Kapiti Beach formation
We may not have seen any plesiosaurs when we were there, but you can imagine some of the concretions could hold large fossils - or mermaids...

Another awesome tide pool bathtub!
We continued along this road to Kapiti Point where there was a bird blind so you could watch the resident Yellow-eyed penguins. There were penguins there even during the day but were far away and required binoculars to see well from the blind. Once again though, NZ Frenzy told us what trail to take to get an up-close-and-personal view of the penguins. A couple that lived here had taken in some injured penguins and really improved the habitat including building penguin “nests”. There is now a fairly large population, somewhat used to people, that make this area their home. Amazing!

Yellow-eyed penguin!
There were also seals and sea lions and lots of shags (cormorants). Great spot!

It rained off and on all day and was raining when we camped at Trotter’s Gorge, a DOC site nearby. Vera and Darrell had the brilliant idea of setting up the tent inside of the van so we could put it up dry. I could not imagine this as the van is NOT that big, but it actually worked! We even had the fly over the tent before we set it up outside.

The next morning we saw the sun again so Vera and I walked up the slippery mud trail and did a circle tour of the gorge area. Then we headed to Moeraki Boulders just a bit farther north on the coast and part of the same formation as the Mermaid’s Pools we had seen the day before.  These boulders are well known though and draw many tourists.

Darrell and Vera watching the turtles, aka Moeraki Boulders
The boulders have happy mussels at high tide and
 happy people at low tide!
After a brief walking tour of the historic town of Oamaru, complete with women wearing clothes from the 1800’s, we continued on to a fishermen’s campground at Rakaia Huts along the coast. It was loaded with men and fishing poles, since it was at the mouth of a large river. It was our last night camping with just the three of us…

The next morning we drove to the Banks Peninsula, named by Captain James Cook for his naturalist Joseph Banks in 1770. This peninsula formed from two volcanic eruptions and there are numerous harbors in the steeply incised coast.

I just discovered an image of the Banks Peninsula taken from the Space Station!

Christchurch is to the right, Akaroa is in the center of the peninsula
Akaroa, the main town, is on the largest harbor and has a Mediterranean feel. Cruise ship passengers wander the once-French town and even Vera and I got in the shopping spirit here. We also took a hike up to a peak, getting great views of the area.

Pretty garden and cottage in lovely Akaroa
Akaroa beach and harbor
The Banks Peninsula is just southeast of Christchurch so we arrived at Matt and Margaret’s house in time for Mutton Stew and the accompanying great dinner conversation! Vera and Matt are long-time colleagues and had lots to catch up on. The next day, Matt took Vera and I back up Arthur’s Pass into the mountains. Matt wanted to refamiliarize Vera with some of the NZ plants so he took us to a variety of habitats. Vera has done a lot of work in Chile and Argentina so some of the plants are the same or similar, but New Zealand has an ENORMOUS number of endemic species. According to the Wellington Botanic Garden, roughly 85% of NZ’s 2,300 species of “higher plants” (who needs mosses anyway?) are endemic!

Vera and Matt looking out over Arthur's Pass
The next day, March 15th, was Vera’s last day in New Zealand. We took the bus downtown and then walked through the Christchurch Botanic Garden and back to Matt’s and Margaret’s to gather her bags. It was lonely saying goodbye to Vera after our 3 great weeks together. And then we skyped with Lindsey, for her 20th birthday, and I got even more homesick. It didn’t help that it was gray and cloudy...

So I don’t end on a down note - it did get sunny the next day, and we settled ourselves back at South Brighton Beach Holiday Park and slowly got back in the groove of just the two of us. We even saw Maria, our wandering friend from Spain, and she made us brownies. Sunshine, chocolate and friends are all good ways to beat the blues!