Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Friday, March 20, 2015

Karamea: End of the Road on the West Coast of New Zealand

If you drive far enough north along the remote west coast of New Zealand the road eventually ends in an anti-climatic parking lot.  This is the trailhead for one of the ends of the Heaphy Track.  Luckily we had parked our van here before the hike and caught a bus to the other end of the trail.  We decided to spend a few days exploring the area surrounding the tiny town of Karamea, which sits just a few miles from the end of the road.  Thanks to a guidebook called New Zealand Frenzy we found some beautiful and less touristy places to explore.  This book is now called our New Zealand bible. 
The giant tunnel of Oparara Arch.
Oparara Arch
Caves were the name of the game for most of the exploring around Karamea.  There are a number of caves with glowworms inside.  If you don’t want to pay to go on a guided tour to see these critters then this is the place to go.  Headlamps are a must for getting through these smaller caves.
Glow worms in the Tunnel Cave along the Fenian Caves loop.  

Moria Gate Arch.
There is also a host of giant caves and arches, which I would argue are actually natural bridges, to explore.
Looking out the Moria Gate Arch.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

New Zealand's Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track is one of nine of New Zealand's Great Walks.  These are multi-day hikes through what is touted as some of New Zealand's most scenic landscapes.  While most of New Zealand is beautiful and it is even more beautiful when there aren't hoards of people along a trail like there are on the great walks, but the Heaphy Track was still beautiful.

Who brings extra shoes to leave on a pole while hiking?
The first, third, and fourth day of the hike are through a green tunnel of strange trees and ferns and small fantail birds that hop and fly around you to defend their territory as you stop for a snack break or larger flightless chicken-duck birds called weka's that will steal anything from underwear to food out of an open pack or picnic table.

The second and fifth days hold the most spectacular scenery.  Day two takes you from the highest point along the trail (just over 3000 feet) through high grasslands and open river valleys with the only real view of surrounding mountains along the whole hike.

Day five takes you along the violent west coast with waves crashing just feet from the trail and palm trees dividing the ocean from the dense rain forest.

After 5 months in Antarctica everyone on the hike wanted greenery and rain and ocean.  That's exactly what we got.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Exploring Western Antarctica

It seems strange to write about my time in Antarctica while I'm 
sitting in the sunshine surround by trees and wearing flip flops.  

A three and half hour flight from McMurdo Station on a LC-130 will bring you to the US Antarctic Program's biggest field camp: WAIS Divide.  WAIS stands for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.  This is almost at the location where the ice sheet divides and flows into two different oceans.  The elevation of camp sits over 6000 feet, but the ice there is over 10,000 feet thick.  Wrap your mind around that and leave a comment on how that is possible.
Under that hatch at the bottom of this pit is a drill hole that goes down 10,000 feet!

Ice crystals on the wall of the drilling arch where 10,000 feet of ice cores were removed.

I was working with a group of scientists and grad students from the Polenet program.  We were flying out on a twin otter to GPS and seismic sensors and digging them out of the snow.  These measure isostatic rebound as the glaciers melt thanks to global warming.  But due to the government shutdown last year none of these sites were serviced so each of them was buried under 10 to 14 feet of snow.  Each one had to be dug out and set back on the surface of the snow.


After.  Thanks congress.

The first site was surrounded by flat white with the exception of a few volcanos in the distance.
The second site we visited was called Bear Peninsula and was one of the prettiest places I've visited in Antarctica.  The flight was a few hours via twin otter from from WAIS Divide.  The peninsula is along the west coast-the other side of the continent from McMurdo Station.
Looking out toward the ocean from Bear Peninsula.

I found living things at Bear Peninsula!

Mountaineering with a Twin Otter.  Often the plane land in a safe spot and taxi for miles to the sites...just like snow machining in an airplane.
Mountains along the west coast of Antarctica.