New Zealand Capstone 2008
Milford Kew

Day 2- Christchurch to Franz Josef

March 9th, 2008

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Location Map of Stops

UWEC Student Research Day

Dr. Harry Jol




On March 9, the day began bright and early getting on the road at about 7:30 am.  It was a beautiful day, sunny with a few clouds, and around a warm 60°F.  We began the drive westward from Christchurch towards the Alps.  We drove through the Canterbury Plains.  The Canterbury Plains are part of the rainshadow from the Southern Alps, making the region prone to droughts.  The landscape is flat and perfect for intensive livestock grazing.  The Southern Alps also send tremendous amounts of gravel and water down through the Canterbury Plains moving as a braided river system.   Some of the larger rivers include the Waimakariri, the Selwyn, the Rangitata and the Rakaia (which we visited on Day 8).


Kura Tawhiti Conservation Reserve

The first major stop that we made was at Castlehill where there are large natural outcrops of soft limestone rock ( both below).   It is part of the Kura Tawhiti Conservation Reserve, which means “the treasure from a distant land.”  Their formation was during the most recent mountain-building episode (30-40 million years ago) of the Southern Alps; and is the water eroded remnants of when most of New Zealand was covered by the sea.   This is also one of the many sites that Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand.



The drive through the Southern Alps to the West Coast

The second stop of the day was through Arthur’s Pass.  Heading onto the western side of the Alps the landscape changed into a rich rainforest. 


 At the city of Arthur’s Pass we stopped for a lunch break and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.  The valley has a large braided river system running through it.  The river water is clear and has carried significant amounts of gravel through the system leaving huge bars of gravel and boulders along the current stream. 

Video of Arthur's Pass

Continuing driving westward through the pass, we took a brief stop at the large viaduct, Otira Viaduct that crosses through the valley.  The viaduct was constructed because the landscape is prone to landslides and avalanches and the engineering of the viaduct is said to withstand these natural events.  As we crossed the viaduct, we also crossed over the continental divide and we could visibly see the change in the flow direction of the water from the east to the west.


We reached the West Coast at Greymouth and headed north to Punakaki to visit the notorious Pancake Rocks (below) and Blowholes.  The rocks are called “Pancake Rocks” because they appear to be a stack of pancakes.  Punakaki is located at Dolomite Point, a fitting name as the rock here is made out of Dolomite.  When we arrived rain began to fall, and the wind from the Tasman Sea was wicked.  The rough waters from the storm made the high tide waves much more violent slamming into the rocks.

Pancake rocks

These rocks were formed from the heavy erosion of limestone (below) formed from the intense pressure between soft and hard layers of the rock.  The water is undercutting much of the rock, and when the water is forced underneath these undercuts, the pressure shoots the water up through some of the blowholes, the water coming out the top in a large spurt of water and air.


The Journey to South

We began our journey south to our final destination of the day, Franz Josef Village.  Along the drive down the west coast we took a few stops taking pictures and talking briefly about the landscape.  We stopped a jade store in Hokatika, and our favorite was hearing the associate tell other customers that jade formed inside a volcano… she obviously did not take her geology classes. 

Written by: Beth Ellison


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