Saturday, May 16, 2009

Garden City, Trains, and Glaciers

Garden City - Christchurch
Christchurch is a beautiful city. When you take the drive from the airport to the city center it is evident the city planners loved gardens. There are gardens, well maintained medians, and of course the expansive Hagley Park and Botanic Gardens on the Avon River.

Christchurch is also the third largest metro with approximately 348,000 people (Auckland has 1.4 million and Wellington region boasts 503,000)

Christchurch has a history of involvement in Antarctic exploration – both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton used the port of Lyttelton as a departure point for expeditions, and there is a statue of Scott, sculpted by his widow, Kathleen Scott, in the central city.

Within the city the Canterbury Museum preserves and exhibits many historic artifacts and stories of Antarctic exploration.

Christchurch International Airport serves as the major base for the Italian and United States Antarctic programs as well as the New Zealand Antarctic programme. The International Antarctic Centre provides both base facilities and a museum and visitor centre focused upon current Antarctic activities. The United States Navy and latterly the United States Air National Guard, augmented by the New Zealand and Australian air forces, use Christchurch Airport as take-off for the main supply route to McMurdo and Scott Bases in Antarctica. The Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) in Christchurch, has more than 140,000 pieces of extreme cold weather (ECW) gear for issue to nearly 2,000 U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) participants in the 2007-08 season. I am fascinated with Antarctica, I have read books watch documentaries and movies and feel like I know a lot about the continent. So, I went to the International Antarctic Centre and was more than disappointed. Despite the nearly $50 charge to attend most of what I saw was out of date. The museum has a better exhibit.

Tranz Alpine Train
The Tranz Alpine Express is a passenger train operated by Tranz Scenic in the South Island of New Zealand. This trip is often regarded to be one of the world's great train journeys for the scenery through which it passes. The journey is 223 kilometres (139 mi) one-way, taking about four and a half hours. There are 19 tunnels and four viaducts, with the Staircase being 73 metres high.

The train has become increasingly popular, and carried 204,000 passengers in the financial year ending 2007.

The train runs daily between Christchurch and Greymouth. After leaving Christchurch, the train travels through the fertile Canterbury Plains past the Waimakariri River along the Main South Line, to Rolleston. It then turns onto the Midland Line, which passes through the Southern Alps past the spectacular Waimakariri River gorge, via the Otira Tunnel and terminates in Greymouth, on the West Coast.

Franz Josef Glacier
The Franz Josef (Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere in Māori) is a 12 km long glacier located in Westland National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. Together with the Fox Glacier 20 km to the south, it is unique in the fact that it descends from the Southern Alps to less than 300 metres above sea level amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest. It is also one of only three glaciers to come so close to a coastline.

The area surrounding the two glaciers is designated a World Heritage Site. The river emerging from the glacier terminal of Franz Josef is known as the Waiho River.

The glacier is currently 12 km long and terminates 19 km from the Tasman Sea. Fed by a 20 sqm large snowfield at high altitude, it exhibits a cyclic pattern of advance and retreat, driven by differences between the volume of melt water at the foot of the glacier and volume of snowfall feeding the névé. Due to strong snowfall it is one of the few glaciers in New Zealand which is still growing as of 2007, while others, mostly on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, have been shrinking heavily, a process attributed to global warming.

Having retreated several kilometres between the 1940s and 1980s, the glacier entered an advancing phase in 1984 and at times has advanced at the phenomenal (by glacial standards) rate of 70 cm a day. The flow rate is about 10 times that of typical glaciers. Over the longer term, the glacier has retreated since the last ice age, and it is believed that it extended into the sea some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

This cyclic behaviour is well illustrated by a postage stamp issued in 1946, depicting the view from St James Anglican Church. The church was built in 1931, with a panoramic altar window to take advantage of its location. By 1954, the glacier had disappeared from view from the church, but it reappeared in 1997. This is due to the highly variable conditions on the snowfield, which take around 5-6 years before they result in changes in the terminus location.

The glacier is very difficult to describe, but absolutely stunning. I didn't get very many pictures or video as the weather conditions were horrible (there was 240 mm or 9.5 inches the day before). You need to visit a glacier to see how fast it moves and how different it is each day.

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