No particular place to go

Published: May 4th 2020
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Crusin' and playing the radio

With no particular place to go

Chuck Berry

After leaving Doubtful Sound, we had to make a long drive to the Fox Glacier area. We planned to see the glacier while we were there, but also had hoped to have great views of the Southern Alps from the western side along the way. We were frustrated in both aspirations. In the more southern part of the trip, we saw some beautiful lakes, such as Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown and the side-by-side lakes Wanaka and Hawea. But as you drive along the western coast of the South Island, you are largely in vegetation-covered foothills, and only rarely catch glimpses of the mountains themselves. We frequently crossed wide snow-fed alluvial streams, with the typical shoals of gravel, now barely flowing at the end of summer. The trip was one of our longest days, and we arrived at Fox Glacier just about dinner time.

The next morning, we decided to eschew a visit to see Fox Glacier. The nearest you can get to it is over two kilometers away, unless you take one of the time-consuming and very expensive helicopter trips up onto the glacier itself. Since this was by no means our first glacier rodeo, we decided to skip the two hour trip up and back to view it from a distance, and drove on to Takaka. This little town serves as one of the terminus points for trekkers doing the several day trek along the coast through Abel Tasman National Park, most of which can only be accessed on foot. We wanted to see what we could of it before heading back to the North Island. In the course of that day's travel, we went through rich agricultural land, including large stretches of hops growing for one of the main New Zealand food groups. In tribute to the agricultural mainstay, we felt compelled to sample some of the hops in finished form with dinner that night. On the way to Takaka, you must pass over Takaka Hill, and even for New Zealand this was an unusually steep and twisting road, but gave us some beautiful vistas out over Tasman Bay and Golden Bay.

The following day consisted of a return trip over Takaka Hill then a rather mundane drive back to Picton, where we caught our ferry back to the North island and our overnight in Wellington.

The next day we started our grand loop of the North Island, driving from Wellington to Auckland through Whanganui National Park and along the Whanganui River. The Whanganui National Park, interestingly enough, does not include the river itself, but does include the land on both sides of it. The river is a popular place for jet boat excursions in its lower reaches, and is the longest navigable river in New Zealand at 290 km. It headwaters are in Tongariro National Park (more on that later).

The landform through which the river runs is a large sedimentary basin, and the rocks are mudstone and limestone. At one stop where we wanted to see a river vista, we serendipitously found several large local boulders which were being used as barriers to prevent cars from getting a closer look at the river than they could tolerate. These were mostly large masses of fossilized oyster and clam shells, and I found a small 30 million year old clam shell which I brought home with me.

I should briefly mention the geology of New Zealand. New Zealand was formerly part of Gondwana, the large land mass that included South America, Arica, India, Madagascar, Antarctica, and Australia. During the Carboniferos Era it was merged with Euramerica, but that union broke up and during the Mesozoic Era (striating about 250 million years ago) Gondwan began to break up, with Antarctica as a sort of central hub from which the other continents detached, beginning at the Weddell Sea. By about 90-95 millions years ago Australia and NZ had separated from Gondwana, and than about 83 million years ago NZ began separating from Australia, starting in the south and proceeding northward. The separation was complete by about 73 millions years ago, and thus NZ missed out on snakes and large land mammals which came to Australia after that time. Even Australia's famous marsupials came about too late to make the journey to NZ before it separated. There are no native snakes or La==land mammals (other than bats) in NZ now.

The entire North Island and a northwest sliver of the South Island are part of the Pacific Plate, while the bigger portion of the South Island is part of the Australian Plate. In the north, the Pacific Plate is subjecting under the Australian Plate, while the opposite is true in the Fiordland area of the South Island. In between, the Southern Alps were formed by obduction of the Pacific Plate over the Australian Plate. There are no active volcanoes in the South Island, but several in and around the North Island. The collision of the plates makes this entire region a geologically active one, with frequent earthquakes. The largest one in the south in recorded history was the 7.1 Canterbury earthquake, and the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch 6 months later is considered an aftershock of the Canterbury event.

Pardon that diversion. Leaving Whanganui NP, we proceeded on up to Auckland, along the way getting our first glimpses of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom to you Lord of the Rings fans - you are never far from a LOTR filing site while in NZ).

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