Hello and Welcome!
It’s midwinter here in New Zealand and that means that we are welcoming a new group of students to the country. Semester two field camp officially began today and, this year, they got right in to it. All fourteen students arrived in Auckland this morning, bright and early. By 9 am we were packed and on the road, headed for Whakatana in the Bay of Plenty. We’re doing it a little bit different this year with starting in the north island and the much-loved volcanology module. We’ll be spending nine days in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, exploring the different volcanic structures and deposits and learning how to identify, interpret, map, and evaluate eruptions and their potential hazards. The goal of today, however, was to stay awake until 9 pm and beat the jet lag. The students enjoyed the beach and beautiful views and initiated some ice-breakers while the instructors ran around trying to get some last minute equipment we forgot or lost and go grocery shopping. We have some fun things planned for field camp and are excited to get to know the new bunch of students- stay tuned!
Week 1: Taupo Volcanic Zone, North Island
I promised we’d have a few surprises this field camp and here is the first one- today we went to White Island. White Island is an active volcano that sits 50 km out in the Pacific Ocean and is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone that the students are studying. It frequently has small eruptions and, believe it or not, daily tours. We don’t typically do this for field camp but, as the island had an eruption in April and some of our faculty were interested in some initial data collection, we got the green light to go out, have a walk around, and collect some data. How fun!
We boarded the boat in the morning and enjoyed an hour and a half ride out to the island. Some of us enjoyed the ride more than others as it was a bit of a bumpy ride. But we all made it and clambered up on the island. It’s an eerie entrance: the relic of an old mining factory stands guard, reminding us of how active and destructive the volcano can be. We, luckily, had an uneventful day however. We walked up through the old craters and into the active, steaming area of the island. From an overlook, we looked down in to the crater lake that was largely evacuated by the recent eruption.
The aim of the day was to collect data on ballistics, or rocks that are thrown out of the volcano during an eruption. The students identified impact craters and sulfur encrusted ballistics, measured their dimensions and took GPS measurements and photos. This data will be used to interpret the energy and size of the eruption as well as how and why it happened.
It was a big first day for the students and they did a great job diving in to team research and data collection- something that we typically save for the last field module. We even rounded off the day with a visit from a pod of orca whales and an albatross. What an amazing day one!
Hopefully the students aren’t already sick of volcanos after a spectacular first day at White Island because, today, we drove the whole length of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. The TVZ is the name given to the region in the central north island where plate convergence coupled with extension create a playground for volcanism. From their readings, the students know that the TVZ is split into the northern, central, and southern TVZ based on the types of volcanos found there and their distinctive eruption deposits. Our first few days were spent on the coast of the Bay of Plenty in the northern TVZ and tonight, we are on the southern-most volcano, Mt. Ruapehu. Both the northern and southern regions are characterized by composite, or cone, volcanos: those that you typically think of when you think of when you think of a volcano. The central TVZ however, is home to a bigger but less conspicuous giant. This section contains numerous calderas- the kind of volcanos that create the largest eruptions in the world- and the TVZ is famous for them. Today, they are lakes or quasi-flat lying areas.
Our first stop of the day was Lake Rotorua, a caldera, followed by some bubbling mud pools and a dip in a natural hot spring. It was hard convincing the group to get out of the warm water and back in to the van but we promised them an even cooler next stop if they did. After a little persuading, we arrived just in time to watch one of the dams on the Waikato River release some of its water and turn the canyon into a whirling blue pool of rapids. And we got to talk about some cool rocks- rhyolite lava flows. After that, it was off to one of the first geothermal power plants in New Zealand where we got a lecture on the history of geothermal energy, how it works, and the difference between a renewable and sustainable resource. Dan, who has been giving us Maori history and perspectives, told us about some of the initiatives local iwi are taking to reclaim culturally important geothermal resources and create interconnected businesses with an aim of producing no waste. Very interesting and innovative stuff. This group of students are really engaged and ask a ton of great questions. It makes for awesome discussions but is also the reason that we arrived in the southern TVZ in the dark- they’ll just have to wait for morning for a peak at the volcanos.
The last two days have been spent around the flanks of the southern cone volcanos- Mt. Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. It wasn’t until today, however, that we got to actually see the volcanos. We were afraid the students may not believe us that they were, in fact, there. Yesterday was spent largely inside as the rain was bucketing down and the visibility low. We had various lectures on the tectonic-volcanic setting of the TVZ, volcanic deposits, and indigenous knowledge and the intersection of Maori and modern science’s interpretations of natural phenomena. We ventured outside for a bit to look at a large volcanic debris flow and got utterly soaked. Enthusiasm stayed sunny though. Today was a bit better so we headed to the Mangatapopo valley to map the lava flows and deposits of Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom). Our first couple of hours were spent in fog and rain but, suddenly, it cleared and we had a great view of the volcano! The students were very excited and many photo opportunities followed. We enjoyed the sunshine and took our time at the 1975 pyroclastic deposit, going through STC, testing out a new field classification for volcanic deposits, and having a great discussion fueled by numerous questions from the students. Tonight’s challenge is to decipher the notes that have been rain soaked and create a geologic map (everyone remembers the horrors of wet mylar…). Tomorrow, we are off to Auckland and then back to the south island for module two in Kaikoura.
Week 2: Kaikoura, South Island
We made it to Kaikoura! Two days ago we drove from the TVZ to Auckland and spent the night in the city. We took a brief trip up Mt. Eden (an extinct volcanic cone in the middle of the city) to take in the views and discuss the geological evolution of New Zealand’s biggest city and the hazards associated with the region (many). The next day, we flew to Christchurch only to turn around and drive north to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a small peninsula that is significant to both Maori and European settlers as one of the earlier settlements on the South Island and the home to a diverse and unique marine ecology. Today, the deep marine trench just off the coast makes the peninsula a prime spot for whale watching.
All recent Frontiers Abroad alum will remember the orienteering day that kicks off the Kaikoura module. The students get a crash course introduction to compasses by practicing how to triangulate, take a bearing, draw in a north arrow and scale, etc. while making their way around the peninsula. At each stop, a new bearing will point them on to a new culturally significant site or lookout point in their field area for the module. We like to throw in a few twists and give them challenges. The least favorite (of the students’) is picking a large rock to carry throughout the day. This is practice for carrying samples during research week on Banks but the students just think it’s to make them work harder. We also do some team building challenges and the groups that reach the end the fastest, orienteer the best, or did the best in the challenges get a first pick of classic kiwi lollies (candy).
The afternoon was spent getting acquainted with the field area and learning how to approach geologic mapping. We learn strike and dip, map symbology, and how to use STC to determine contacts and relative age relationships. And stumble on a few seals, usually they’re sleepy and barely blink as we pass by. But our health and safety briefing does include seal hazards…
Kaikoura mapping is done primarily on the shore platform and, this week, the tides are not in our favor. Low tide is key to seeing all of the cool folds and faults and exposing the rocks to take strike and dips on. That didn’t stop us though- we just had a few early mornings.
For the first two days we were on the north side of the peninsula, walking the shore platform and describing the units. The students identified contacts, took lots of strike and dips, and mapped in both parasitic and large scale fold structures. They turned in a working map and stratigraphic column from this stretch of shoreline then began a more detailed map on South Bay on the other side of the peninsula. After three days, the students were able to produce a geologic map, detailed strat column, and a cross section. To top it off, we had a discussion about the larger structures found on the peninsula and how the two maps of either side of the peninsula were related. All of that and a half day to spare! As a reward, we took a trip up the coast to a small waterfall where seal pups play while their mothers are out to sea. During the winter there are many pups- they roll and jump through the water or are found lying on the rocks under the trees. We had a relaxing afternoon and fun evening watching the New Zealand-Whales rugby game.
Mid-Camp Break: Queenstown, South Island
Mid-camp break here already! We are in Queenstown for two days- adventure capital of New Zealand! The skiers among the group are especially stoked and spent a day up on one of the fields. It’s early in the season here but the conditions are still good! Others in the group chose short or long hikes, watching game 7 in town, or a day trip to Milford Sound. All enjoyed a much needed sleep in. There’s tons to do in this part of New Zealand. Bungee jumping, jet boating, sky diving, zip lining, scenic tours, skiing, hiking, boat rides, shopping are just a few. It’s a perfect spot for a short break and to check a few things off the bucket list as well as a great jumping off point for longer adventures that the students may take during the semester. Milford Sound, Aspiring National Park, three great walks, and a handful of other smaller destination towns are all within a few hours. Not to mention that the abundant lakes and mountains make it a beautiful spot!
Week 3: Westport, South Island
Welcome to rainy Westport! After a long day driving, we made it to the northern-most town on the west coast where the University of Canterbury has a field station that we stay in. The west coast is notorious for cloudy days and plenty of rain and, so far, it has well lived up to that reputation. In fact, between the torrential rain, huge ocean swell, and inconvenient tides, we were forced to cut our first field day short. Not to worry, we made the best of the outcrops that we could reach and visited the other sites when the weather cleared the next day.
Westport is also, traditionally, the module during which the instructors introduce a few “cultural” experiences to the students. This year, that included watching What we do in the shadows (a New Zealand-made mockumentary), thrift shopping, and a good game of “throw rocks at a propped-up stick until it falls over”. Very educational. Happily, the students have taken every one of these on board.
Along with these fun activities we also learn a lot about New Zealand geologic history as it rifted from Gondwana and created the Tasman sea. As you can imagine, this produced a mélange of rock types and deformation histories that we piece together over the week. This diverse geology makes New Zealand an ideal local for a comprehensive field camp experience.
Module 3 is coming to an end and, next up, Bank Peninsula for a week of mapping and research projects. Our last days on the west coast have been spent at 14 Mile beach where the students complete a mapping project accompanied by a stereonet and cross section exercise which is useful for understanding the fold structures present. Then, we look at the upper plate sediments on either side of the core complex around which the curriculum of this module revolves. This involves a coastal cave at Fox River and an inland roadcut called Kilkenney Lookout along the Buller River. We lucked out on weather for these two components which has been a pleasant change. This afternoon was spent back at the field station completing exercises from earlier field days and working on a group white-board project that gets the students to draw 3D depictions of depositional environments based on structural and compositional features observed in the field.
Now they’re off to Banks Peninsula!