Arriving in New Zealand

01 04 10 Entry:  The sunrise was spectacular and long as the plane feverishly tried to keep pace with the night sky trying to prolong its time with us. While most of the flight was during the prolonged darkness, the sun is quite persistent and to try to win against her is a most futile ambition.

The sunrise here lasted many hours, starting out as an array of the colors of the rainbow laying on the horizon.   With the sun’s rise above the horizon, I was able to get my first peak of New Zealand through multiple layers of broken clouds that allowed the sun to pierce occasionally down to the still awakening island nation (see photo above).  A land that I have been to now six times now, with every one being due to being part of an expedition.

Figure 2:  New Zealand’s rugged coastline

I had my transfer to another flight in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city and most cosmopolitan.  While the weather in Auckland progressively became worse with lowering clouds and heavy rain, I saw on my computer that weather was clearing up in Wellington, my final stop on this 27-hour odyssey to other side of our planet.  I was excited about this development as I heard that Wellington is extremely picturesque, a hilly land with deep blue water crashing along its rugged coastline (Figure 2). During a chat with the flight attendant, she mentioned that I should ask the taxi driver to take the coastal road instead of the tunnel, as it is far more beautiful and not much longer of a ride.  During the entire time that I was driving into town was spellbound of the lovely coast, large Pacific waves crashing against the rocky coast, with steep hills covered in lush exotic forests (exotic at least for me as I live in the northern hemisphere and the flora here is often not seen in my neck of the woods) and dotted with occasional cute little white homes.  I saw more than once that the flora on New Zealand originated from the southern hemisphere super continent called Gondwana. The large micro continents that are now called the Campbell and Chatham Rises are actually pieces of continental blocks that broke away from Antarctica, but subsided slowly through time resulting in them to sink below sea level (Figure 3). The only reason that New Zealand is above the water level is that it now lies along a plate boundary that keeps building up rocks into mountains and subduction causing volcanoes.

Figure 3:  New Zealand reconstruction

I was anxious to see the JOIDES Resolution, the ship that is to take me down to Antarctica and probably the greatest adventure that I have ever had.  The ship had gone through a couple of years of renovation, upgrading and modernizing the labs as well as the sleeping quarters and living areas. While I did see the Resolution for a brief instant while driving into town, I was completely dissatisfied and was determined to get a good view of the ship if it was possible.  After a quick check in to the hotel and such, I went up to the Wellington Botanical Gardens, by traveling on a cable car up a steep hill that has lovely views of the harbor.  Alas, the best view was only a view of the drilling derrick as there were buildings next to the ship that obscured any view.  However, the gardens proved to be an excellent substitute for my missed view of the ship. The gardens were rich with diversity and beautifully laid out to maximize the effect of the nature; however, I most enjoyed some of the trees that are literally living fossils (Figure 4).  These primitive trees evolved before the dinosaurs and when all of the continents were all sutured together in one sprawling continent called Pangea over 200 million years ago.

Figure 4:  Living Fossils

That evening, there was a traditional Ocean Drilling crossing over gathering in which scientists and technicians from the expedition that had just finished met up with scientists that were about to board the ship. On the way there, we observed a glorious rainbow, providing us with a beautiful sight, which we all interpreted as a positive omen (Figure 5).    There were an excellent mix of people just getting off the ship (this was the Canterbury Expedition, in which they drilled off the coast of New Zealand to recover sedimentary cores that could tell us about sea level changes up to 12 million year ago) and the newly arriving Wilkes Land Expedition scientist and technicians.

Figure 5:  No explanation required