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New Zealand - Franz Josef

quad bikes and helicopters

Tuesday 9th February 2016 Helicopter flight to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Waking early to pretty bird song, we went for a short walk around the village, which is very small, then found a good parking spot (the staff in the Helicopter Line said there were no parking wardens in Franz Josef, so we could park for as long as we wanted even though the sign said 2 hrs max) and bought some supplies at the Four Square (a popular supermarket chain in NZ). We had time before our Twin Glaciers Scenic flight with The Helicopter Line http://www.helicopter.co.nz at 10am for a coffee and cake (for Steve) at Snakebite, then went next door for our helicopter ride. They retook our particulars, gave us the safety talk and then we walked across the road to the airfield. It was 4 to a helicopter (a AS350 Squirrel) and Steve was lucky enough to get the front seat, although we all had great views as the helicopter had loads of windows.
We flew over the Waiho river bed (now dry and dusty, but a bit wetter in the winter), then up the river to the head of Franz Josef glacier. I asked the young pilot how long he’d been flying and he said he learnt to fly helicopters before a car! Continuing up the glacier we had a great view of the ice flows before heading right over the top of the mountains. We could see Mt Cook not far away. In fact it was 20-30 mins helicopter from Franz Josef to Mt Cook, but 8 hours by car! After buzzing over the mountains, we landed on an ice field on Franz Josef glacier and had a walk around. Then, back into the helicopter for a flight over Fox Glacier and some small glacial lakes. We saw Chancellor Hut (a stop for glacier hikers) before heading back over the temperate forest between Fox and Franz Josef. We could see the Tasman Sea not far away, where the Waiho joined it in a wide estuary. We landed easily after our great flight.

Franz Josef (Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere) Glacier
The Glacier is 12km long and in Westland Tai Poutini Park. Together with Fox Glacier 20km away and a third glacier, it descends from the Southern Alps to less than 300m above sea level, just 19km from the Tasman Sea. It then becomes the Waiho River. The first mention of a glacier (probably Franz Josef) was in 1859 in the log of HMS Mary Louisa. It was named in 1865 by Julius von Haast after the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I. The Maori legend for the formation of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers begins with Hinehukatere who loved climbing in the mountains. One day she persuaded her lover, Tawe/Wawe, to join her. An avalanche killed Tawe and he came to rest in Fox Glacier or Te Moeke o Tauwe (bed of Tauwe). After Tauwe’s death, Hine Hukatere was heartbroken and cried many tears, which froze to form Franz Josef Glacier or Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere (tears of Hinehukatere). This name was formally added to the glacier’s name in 1998 with the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement. The glacier is fed by a 20km2 snowfield and has a cyclic pattern of advance/retreat, driven by the difference between the meltwater at the glacier’s foot and the snowfall feeding the névé (new, granular snow partially melted/ refrozen/ compacted, but not quite ice). It retreated several kms 1940-80, but between 2004-8 it advanced 280m (70cm a day- a flow rate 10x normal glaciers). In 2008 it entered a rapid retreat, possibly due to global warming, leading to some jokulhlaups (floods from water-filled ice tunnels). The terminal moraine (Waiho Loop) shows where the glacier extended to some 12,000 years ago. It remains forested up to the first icefall (a frozen waterfall). There is a second icefall further up.
Fox (Te Moeka o Tuawe) Glacier
The Fox is 13km long and named in 1872 after Sir William Fox, the Prime Minster of NZ. As with Franz Josef the Maori name was added in 1998. The Fox is fed by four higher glaciers and drops some 2600m from the Alps to lush rainforest near the coast. It retreated 1885-1985, when it began to advance 1m a week, until late 2009. During the advance, the vertical and overhanging faces kept collapsing. Since 2009 there has been a significant retreat, as can be seen in the tree line marking the previously boundary (new growth has not established yet). The outflow becomes the Fox River, which formed Lake Matheson, now a kettle lake (i.e. a lake formed by a glacial stream, now cut off from water).
How glaciers form- when snow remains year round, each new layer buries and compresses the previous layer. The compression forces the snow to re-crystallise into ice grains similar in shape/size to sugar. Over time the grains increase in size and the air pockets between them decrease. The snow becomes denser (about 2/3 water density) and after 2 years turns to firn, a state intermediate between snow and ice. Eventually the crystals can become several cms long with virtually no air gaps. Glacial ice becomes bluer as it become denser, as it absorbs the red spectrum, leaving the beautiful blue tint. Where the ice is white it indicates there are still many tiny air bubbles present. The sheer weight of the ice, combined with gravity, will move a glacier. The movement at the base of a glacier is slower than the surface due to friction as the ice slides along.

New Zealand Geology
New Zealand is part of a continent called Zealandia, most of which is now under the ocean. The country lies across two moving plates. As these plates collide, rocks are being pushed up, creating hills and mountains, including the Southern Alps. Most of South Island is made of a rock known as greywacke, which contains fossils that show the island was once under the sea. In the west and south, the rocks have been transformed by heat and pressure to schist. Greywacke also forms most of North Island, although it is mostly covered by layers of newer volcanic rock. About 540 million years ago (Cambrian), New Zealand was on the eastern edge of the supercontinent Gondwana. Over millions of years, rivers carried sediments to the sea, and offshore volcanoes deposited ash. The sediment and ash were buried, and hardened into rock. Several times these were raised to form mountains on the Gondwana coast. 100 million years ago (mid Cretaceous) hot rock began to well up beneath Gondwana, causing volcanic eruptions, mountains and large cracks (faults). These mountains were made of uplifted Western Arc and Murihiku rocks, and the same grey Torlesse rocks that make up today’s Southern Alps. Erosion immediately began to take its toll. By the late Cretaceous, the mountains had largely worn down to extensive lowlands with lush vegetation, river flood plains and swamps (now the coal beds of Otago, Southland, Westland, Nelson).
By 85 million years ago a large section (Zealandia) had broken off and moved into the Pacific Ocean, sinking beneath the sea. Along the coast and off the eastern shores are the remains of dinosaurs and marine reptiles such as mososaurs and plesiosaurs. At the same time that erosion was wearing down the land, the earth’s crust was shifting. Hot rock began to well up beneath Gondwana and move outward, pulling the land apart. A rift developed in Gondwana’s crust, well inland of the coastal mountains. Along this rift, molten rock rose to the surface, producing the volcanic rocks in Awatere/ Clarence valleys, and Mt Peel, Malvern Hills and Mt Somers areas of Canterbury. The sea flooded into the rift. New Zealand continued to move into the Pacific Ocean. At the end of Cretaceous, huge meteors and large- scale volcanic activity resulted in a mass extinction event, including dinosaurs. New Zealand rocks in Marlborough interestingly contain high levels of iridium, an element abundant in meteorites but rare on earth. The widespread destruction of forests is indicated by abundant soot in the clay layer, and changes in fossil pollen. As the New Zealand moved away, its crust cooled and become denser, with low-lying land sinking into the ocean during the early Tertiary. By the Oligocene, 35 million years ago, less than 1⁄3 of modern New Zealand was above sea level, as numerous islands. During this time, the bulk of New Zealand’s coal deposits accumulated, at Greymouth, Buller and Waikato. Then 25 million years ago Zealandia began to split apart. Still mostly undersea, it lay at the junction of the Australian and Pacific plates. Close to the plate boundary, part of the sunken continent was pushed up, creating land area, but splitting it into two islands. In the last 1.8 million years, huge changes have created the landscape of today. The Southern Alps have risen thousands of metres and volcanoes have violently erupted. In the ice ages, glaciers moved rock and carved out lake basins and valleys. In North Island, the boundary between the plates lies off the East Coast along a depression, the Hikurangi Trough, at the edge of the continental shelf. In the Marlborough region, the boundary cuts diagonally across South Island to the West Coast, continues south-west along the great Alpine Fault, and runs back out to sea near Milford Sound. The two moving plates are colliding at a glancing angle. In the process, the sunken New Zealand continent is crumpling. In the north, the ocean floor of the Pacific Plate plunges beneath the continental shelf off the eastern North Island. As it does, it pushes up the overlying rocks, creating the hilly terrain of eastern North Island. In South Island, the two plates are directly colliding along the Alpine Fault, causing a much greater uplift, the Southern Alps. At the same time, the country is being wrenched apart. New Zealand now lies across two separate rotating plates, with a sideswiping collision. Along the Alpine Fault in South Island, the West Coast region west of the plate boundary is moving north-east 2–3 m per 100 years, relative to the Southern Alps on the eastern side. As this movement continues, South Island is becoming elongated. Large areas of rocks, once contiguous, in north-west Nelson match rocks in Fiordland and Otago. A major section of the country has been wrenched apart and shunted over 480 km along the Alpine Fault over the last 20 million years.
Cutting across South Island is a straight boundary visible from space; the Alpine Fault. Immediately east of the fault, the greywacke and schist of the Southern Alps have been raised thousands of metres. In the regions west of the fault (Nelson, Fiordland, Stewart Island), the bedrock is of much older rocks, as well as granite solidified from magma. Greywacke also underlies large areas of the North Island, but is exposed only in mountains (Tararua and Ruahine ranges).
In the rest of North Island, they are buried under more recent sedimentary or volcanic rocks. Volcanic activity and uplift increased, and substantial mountain building began 5 million years ago. While many areas were being uplifted, parts of the New Zealand were warped downward, creating large basins. Layers of soft, grey mudstones and fine sandstones were deposited, such as the Taranaki and Whanganui basins along the North Island’s west coast. Rocks of the Taranaki basin contain oil and natural gas. As the land rose, the surface layers of younger rocks such as limestone, sandstone and coal fractured and folded. In the rising ranges of the Southern Alps, most of the younger rocks eroded away, exposing the underlying Torlesse rocks. The soft sediments deposited during this period are locally known as papa rock. Papa rocks have been uplifted and make up many of the hill areas of North Island. During this period, volcanoes erupted in areas now far removed from volcanic activity. Huge basaltic volcanoes formed the Banks and Otago peninsulas. Dunedin sits on the eroded remains of a volcano that first exploded 13 million years ago.
Immense changes in the last 1.8 million years (Quaternary) have created the New Zealand landscape of today. The Southern Alps have risen thousands of metres, eruptions have created lofty volcanoes and buried large areas of central North Island under rock, and huge glaciers have spread out from the mountains. The uplifting of the Southern Alps has accelerated, and today they are the fastest- rising mountains in the world. Many of New Zealand’s mountain ranges have long straight fronts because blocks of bedrock are being pushed up along major faults. The highest rate of uplift is at the plate boundary, along the Alpine Fault. The land east of the fault is rising at 1–2 metres per 100 years. The rock forming the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook was below sea level less than a million years ago. In other areas the rock is being bent, crumpled and squeezed up. Erosion has kept pace with uplift, however, so the mountains have rarely been higher than they are now. Rivers and glaciers have carved out landscape of the Southern Alps. During the Ice Ages, 2.6 million years ago, average temperatures dropped by 4.5 °C, and heavy snow fell on high mountains, hardening into ice and forming huge glaciers from Fiordland to Nelson, with smaller glaciers in North Island’s Tararua and Ruahine ranges and on the central volcanoes. Glaciers act as giant conveyor belts, moving rock debris from mountains to the lowlands, and dumping it in great ridges, or moraines, along the
flanks and front ends of glaciers. On South Island’s West Coast, moraine ridges hundreds of metres high extend down to the coast and out to sea. Remnants of moraines indicate that ice once reached the Canterbury Plains. Most of these old glaciers have been overtaken by newer glaciers and the most extensive moraines date from the most recent Ōtira Glaciation, 18,000 years ago. As ice retreated, the depressions left behind by the moraines have filled with water, creating lakes at Te Anau, Wakatipu, Tekapo and Pūkaki. The last 2 million years (Quaternary) was marked by violent volcanic activity in North Island. The largest and most violent volcanoes in New Zealand are not cone-shaped mountains; but huge basin-shaped volcanic depressions (caldera). New Zealand’s super-volcanoes include Taupō, Rotorua and Okataina calderas. Created by catastrophic eruptions during the last 1.6 million years, most calderas are now occupied by lakes (Taupō and Rotorua). The Taupō caldera, 1,800 years ago, unleashed the most powerful volcanic eruption on earth in the past 5,000 years, incinerating 1/6 of North Island. Most of New Zealand’s geothermal areas, Rotorua and Waimangu, lie in caldera. Deep molten magma provides the heat that keeps geysers, hot springs and mud pools bubbling. The major active volcanoes of North Island include Mt Taranaki/ Egmont, the peaks of Tongariro Park (Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe, Ruapehu) and White Island. Tongariro, Ruapehu and Taranaki erupt intermittently, and the striking volcanic cone of Ngāuruhoe has been built entirely within the last 2,500 years. Eruptions in Taranaki began 1.7 million years ago and the volcanoes of Tongariro date to the last 260,000 years. Auckland, covered with volcanic domes, is a recent volcanic field. The oldest, Maungataketake, is 50,000 years old, and the most recent, 600 years ago, is Rangitoto Island. The eruptions that built each cone were short-lived, perhaps as little as 10 years.

Accompanied by frequent earthquakes the continent of Zealandia is still being compressed along the boundary between the Australian and Pacific plates. Squeezed between the converging plates, the crest of the Southern Alps is currently rising at an estimated rate of 10 mms per year. This rise is not smooth; in large earthquakes, blocks of land may rapidly lurch several metres upward. Sections of countryside also move many metres horizontally; in the 8.2 earthquake of 1855, the land shifted 18 m along the Wairarapa Fault. However at the north-east corner of South Island is subsiding, on the edge of Taranaki basin. Here the sea has flooded into former river valleys, creating the maze of waterways of the Marlborough Sounds.
It was lunchtime, so we popped in to the Quad bike office we’d seen earlier to book a Tasman Valley quad ride in the afternoon. Then we headed out of the village, past the large Lake Makapourika, down Forks road to the village of Okarito. Okarito Lagoon is a coastal lagoon on the West Coast, 130 km south of Hokitika, and covers an area of about 12 square kilometres, making it the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand. We went right down to the Tasman “beach” but it was FAR too windy to consider going into the water (well, it is in the Roaring Forties!). We didn’t have long here as we needed to go back for our quad bike ride.
Tasman Valley Quad Bike
Returning to Franz Josef we signed a disclaimer and went across the road again to collect our bikes. We decided on 1 bike between 2 and had a quick practise around a course before setting off. A great ride! We went through trees, down ruts, along the dusty riverbed, through the river, sploshing into puddles, etc for 90 mins with a break in the middle before we came back.
We’d enjoyed our bike ride, but we were REALLY dusty, so we had a shower and clothes change before we went to browse the shops (Fern Grove for some whale earrings and Glacier Shop for some cufflinks). I got a NZ pink jacket at a really good price and we bought some other bits and pieces.
Then it was time for dinner, and as we’d had a recommendation we went to the King Tiger http://www.kingtiger.co.nz/contact.aspx, a fusion restaurant. Yum, wontons and Singapore noodles (me) and an Indian combo (Steve). It was dusk as we walked back and the sun was setting beautifully along the glacier. Back at the accommodation we watched the last of War and Peace, then enjoyed our wine again before guess who turned up again; our possum on his nightly run.

Te Wahipounamu is one of the most seismically active regions in the world. It lies across the boundary of two plates, the Pacific plate and the Indo-Australian plate. The mountains in the area are a result of tectonic movements over the last five million years. Glaciers are a major feature of the area. Their basic pattern was set during the Pleistocene glaciations although there have been substantial post-glacial changes. These changes are greater in the Southern Alps than in the Fiordlands. Typical changes include intense gullying, serrated ridges, and major and minor rockfalls. Landslides, although not frequent, are a potential hazard of the region. Even with the low density of settlements and transport corridors, there is the potential occurrence of landslides in the vicinity of tourist infrastructure in the Southern Alps.
The entire region of Te Wahipounamu is of deep significance the Ngai Tahu tribe of the Maori because their ancestral territories cover all but the extreme north of the South Island. The legend as to the formation of this region: Te Wahipounamu was formed when the four sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father, descended from the heavens and set out on a voyage around Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother. During this voyage their canoe hit a reef and the brothers found themselves stranded. An icy wind from the Tasman Sea froze them into stone and their canoe became the South Island of New Zealand. The tallest of the brothers was Aoraki and he is now Aoraki Mt. Cook while his brothers and the other crewmembers form the rest of the Southern Alps.

Posted by PetersF 20:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new glacier island south bike zealand helicopter quad franz_josef

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