While we were planning this year’s trip to New Zealand’s South Island, Matt asked if we had ever visited Akaroa. Based on his recommendation, an excellent one, we spent a couple of nights here. The town and harbor lie inside and ancient volcanic crater, one of several in the area. its rugged, twisting, rising and descending road challenges a driver. However, upon arriving at the town, one finds a tranquil, serene setting. However, it is less than a two hour drive from Christchurch, so the six hundred or so population is said to swell to twelve thousand on a busy summer weekend.
Fortunately, Meg and I enjoyed a quiet, unhurried time there. We swam with Hector’s dolphins, a rare species in New Zealand, but in substantial numbers around the harbor. We enjoyed one of our finest meals at a French restaurant, Ma Maison, sitting outdoors in the cool evening as sunset approached. Akaroa is part of the Banks Peninsula, an excellent three day walking tour where one stays at bed and breakfasts along the way.
If one is fortunate, a trip to a new — or an old place — allows one to find an individual whose unique skills light up a memory that draws one back many times to relive that experience. Ant (Anthony) Harris created that personality for Meg and me on this New Zealand trip. Ant guides for Southern Alps Guiding. He conveys an authenticity and humility that is not dependent on external praise or recognition, but comes from a deep desire to perform to the highest standard of personal integrity and skill.
We met Ant at the Old Mountaineer Restaurant next to the visitor center at Mt Cook National Park. He guided us the first day on the Tasman Lake iceberg kayak trip. As one of the leading mountaineers in the Mt Cook ranges, he also leads heli tours on the Tasman Glacier. I knew after Meg and my interaction with Ant on this kayaking venture that I wanted additional time with him on the glacier. Meg was not really committed to the trip, so I went alone with an additional party of three participants. Ant carefully prepared us for the helicopter exit and entry before we drove to the small airport.
Ten minutes later, we landed on a flat place amidst deeply fissured and fractured ice. I saw no way that we would be able to navigate a course down and across this maze of mini ice slot canyons. However, Ant strapped on our crampons and skillfully picked out a path over and around, up and down the glacier. It was a fascinating venture to discover that indeed we could find a way out, so to speak.
After a while, he located a suitable crevasse to let us into an icy cavern. Chopping steps into it with his ice ax, and then belaying us down, we dipped and stooped our way through to an exit point where Ant belayed us up. It was a fascinating and invigorating experience. Once again the helicopter landed on a small flat, we took off our crampons, and followed the helicopter entry lesson Ant had taught us earlier.
After returning to the restaurant, we invited Ant to lunch, and enjoyed his stories of putting up rock climbing routes in the late seventies and early eighties in Australia, when climbing flourished there much as it did in Yosemite in the late sixties and seventies. You can read more about these climbs at his blog antsclimbingspace.blogspot
At nearly fourteen and half miles in length, the Tasman glacier is the longest in New Zealand. Over the past four decades, the lake below it has grown from a large pond to a very large Tasman Lake. The lake undercuts the glacier and speeds up the iceberg calving process. The day after Meg and I walked the Hooker Valley Track, we took a guided kayak trip on the lake. Our guide, Anthony (“Ant”) Harris, did an excellent job leading us within appropriate distance of the various sized glaciers. The size and shapes of the icebergs are constantly changing, and they can suddenly roll, sending out major waves.
One fun part of the trip was picking “mini icebergs” out of the water. We set them on our spray skirts, and then sucked on ice water that, according to Ant, was two thousand years old! We also paddled across the lake, got out on the shore, and enjoyed seeing reflections of the Mt Cook range, as well as hardy lichens and moss.
For those who are interested, here is some more information about the glacier:
The glacier remained at a constant 28 km (17 mi) in length for all of its recorded history in the 20thcentury before starting its current period of rapid melting in the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2008 alone, the glacier terminus receded 3.7 km. Since the 1990s the terminus has retreated about 180 metres (590 ft) a year on average. The glacier is now in a period of faster retreat where the rate of retreat is calculated to be between 477 to 822 metres (1,565 to 2,697 ft) each year. It is estimated that the Tasman Glacier will eventually disappear and the terminal Tasman Lake will reach a maximum size in 10 to 19 years time. In 1973 Tasman Glacier had no terminal lake and by 2008 Tasman Lake was 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long, 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) wide, and 245 metres (804 ft) deep.
A large calving event was possibly triggered, or at least contributed to, by the 2011 Canterbury earthquake on 22 February 2011. On this day 30,000,000 metric tons (33,000,000 short tons) to 40,000,000 metric tons (44,000,000 short tons) of ice dropped from the terminal face of the Tasman Glacier and fell into the Tasman Lake. Boats were hit with tsunami waves of up to 3.5 metres (11 ft) as the ice fell into the Tasman Lake under the glacier. Similar events in the past have been attributed to buoyancy effects, a result of high basal water pressures and increased lake level following heavy rainfall events.
Meg and I have backpacked and day hiked extensively in the Northwest as well as New England, We have also done several of the Great Tracks of New Zealand. I have hiked the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains and many sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Without a doubt, hands down, the Hooker Valley Track is the best day hike we have ever done.
The mountain, valley, and river views are as spectacular as anything you will find, anywhere. I have never been on a trail that is so comfortable, well maintained, and yet so “up close and personal” to the mountain.