Last fall I was privileged to visit New Zealand for a month. My good hiking buddy and his wife who now live there invited me to come visit. I stayed with them in their home on Queen Charlotte Sound and we took a two-week driving tour of the island. We experienced New Zealand’s unique plants and wildlife. We hiked in the Southern Alps and came to appreciate the tectonic and climatic forces that are actively shaping them today. We got our boots on the ground among dramatic peaks and active valley glaciers. We saw the glaciers’ sizeable imprint on the land, not only among the peaks and fiords but also where they’ve extended far out from their mountains in the past.
The flight, walking the land, and meeting the people emphasized for me the truth that we are all world citizens. We’re interconnected by our humanity, not to speak of modern travel, communications and global trade. But the direct experience made it all the more real.
For the next several posts I’ll be sharing my experiences, learnings, feelings and pictures. For now, I’ll share some over-all impressions.
Air travel makes it so easy to be in a far-off part of the world in a matter of hours, from one hemisphere to another (Magellan, eat your heart out).
The rain forests of the West Coast are prodigious and display an extravagant force of life. Great trees with massive trunks inspire awe. Vines, ferns and other plants grow on or hang from their mighty branches. Closer to the ground, tree ferns and countless other green plants and smaller trees seemingly take up every square metre of soil.
Caught between two major plates of the earth’s crust moving in different directions, tectonic movements are rapid and dramatic. Not only do the plates move past each other along the Alpine Fault, but there’s a significant compressional element, forcing the Southern Alps upward against the fault. As rapidly as the rainy climate tries to wear them down, the Alps rise even faster, creating mountains with exceedingly steep slopes. With prodigious precipitation blowing in from the Tasman Sea to the west, large valley glaciers still actively work, and the evidence of their much greater size and excavating power in the past abounds.
Where the mountains have been pushed high and the rock is hard, massive cliffs rise far over glaciated valleys and deep fiords, exuding a feeling of solid unmovable strength. With nothing to compare them to, it’s hard to realize how big they are.
Near Mt. Cook (Aoraki to the Maoris), actively moving glaciers fill long valleys. Icebergs break off into lakes at their feet. Fresh moraines hundreds of feet high flank their snouts. And above them, cliffs and icefalls rise tier upon tier nine thousand feet to the summit of Aoraki.
In country like this, you’ve got to believe.