Monday, 8 February 2016

Tasman Glacier & the Blue Lakes

Catch-up

We had one last walk to do in the national park before we headed back down the valley, a short walk to view the Tasman Lake & Glacier on the east side of Mt Cook. The forecast wild weather front hadn’t arrived overnight which was fortunate for us; it did arrive late in the afternoon by which time we were well on our way to our next stop.

We left ‘Out There’ in the carpark (with hi-vis vest on a large rock below out hitch just in case someone blocked us in before we returned- we need one of those pop-up orange cones) and drove back down Hooker Valley a short distance before crossing the single lane Hooker River bridge and following the Tasman Valley Road up the valley. Ahead of us is Mt Johnson with Mt Cook hidden to the left, to the left and below of the ‘Give Way’ sign you can see the Tasman Lake moraine wall that we’ll be climbing shortly.


We find a spot in the busy carpark and head up the path past the Blue Lake Shelter. There’s a group of people that appear to be very overdressed for such a short walk…I think they must be in a tramping group doing the round of walks in the area as I do recall seeing some of them on the Hooker Valley walk the day before.


The view back down the Tasman Valley is fabulous even from the beginning of the track.


It’s a fairly steep climb up dozens of stairs over a rise of 100 metres to the top of the moraine wall…


…but you can take your time and use the stunning views as an excuse to take a breather (she says as younger, fitter people fly past at pace)


As we climb higher one of the Blue Lakes comes into view.


And the spectacular view behind and down the valley is getting even better…


…further on the two smaller Blue Lakes appear. In the mid 1880s when the Blue Lakes were named, they were fed by turquoise glacial meltwater filtering through the moraine. The lakes were a popular swimming spot in the summer and skating rink in winter. The Tasman Glacier has now shrunk and water no longer flows from the glacier into the Blue Lakes. The warmer rainwater that now feeds the lakes supports green algae making the Blue Lakes green. They also now support a good population of native fish.


Finally we reach the top of the wall and there spread out in front of us is the magnificent Tasman Glacier and lake. What a stunning sight and what a contrast against the view down the relatively green valley just over our shoulder. It was worth the slog.


The dirty grey blue terminal face of the Tasman Glacier is easy to see and I can see a few icebergs floating in the lake, close to the wall.


At 24km long (and 600mtres deep) New Zealand’s longest glacier winds its way down the Southern Alps ending at the 18 square km terminal lake. Global warming has (and is) taking a toll on New Zealand glaciers, the Tasman Glacier is retreating at a rate of 500-800 metres a year. In recent years the glacier has changed from a 'melting' to a 'calving and melting' terminus, resulting in a terminal lake that is rapidly increasing in size. On either side of the terminal lake, lateral moraines rear up 100 metres to remind us of the scale and greatness the glacier has reached in previous times – the last ice age finishing in just 1890!


As the glacier retreats in length it also drops in height. This meltdown results in an accumulation of debris originating from within the glacier being left atop the huge river of ice. The layer of rock on top of the glacier provides some spectacular rock fall as the ice continually melts away from beneath it.

Although a surprise to many- David included, he’s not too keen on a muck-metal grey glacier- the messy array of dirty moraine on top of the Tasman Glacier isn't such a bad thing. The layer of rubble acts as an insulator for the ice below, protecting it from the harsh sun's rays and assisting in the preservation of what is undoubtedly the most precious resource on earth – water!


For those that would like to know the peak names on the panoramic shot above, here’s the information board (click to enlarge any of the photos for a more stunning vista)-


Below us we can see a tiny turquoise pool in the moraine on the side of the lake, this is what the Blue Lakes would have looked like all those years ago when glacier meltwater filtered through to them.


Across the lake and very near the Tasman River outlet there are more icebergs.


Just when you think you’re by yourself you look over your shoulder and a dozen people have arrived, including a tiny baby, all stunned into silence by the breathtaking views!


From the top we can see where the Tasman River leaves the lake and winds it's way down the valley, joining the Hooker River and other smaller rivers and streams along the way to eventually flow into Lake Pukaki, a good 20kms away.


The magnificent Tasman Valley, Aoraki/ Mt Cook National Park.


More selfies taken to send home to far away lands- but how impressive would this shot be to those that live in smog-clogged, muti-million people populated cities and/or non-mountainous countries alike. And the best bit? There was hardly any work in getting to this prime spot either.


Time to return to the carpark and head back to White Horse Hill to de-camp..


…back across the Hooker River with the Sealy Range behind…


…and a short diversion for a close up of the Heritage Hotel and the statue of New Zealand’s most famous mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary. There were far too many people milling about inside the hotel for my liking…


…so I grabbed a shot of the view that is seen from many of the hotel rooms- straight up the Hooker Valley to Mt Cook in the centre, except this day she has her head in the clouds. But what a view to wake up to on a clear day.


Then it’s back to the car-park to hitch up, and down to what must be one of the most scenic dump stations in New Zealand, to empty and top up the water.


Then off down the road, past beautiful Lake Pukaki, and back to civilization and the main road traffic chaos. After a stunning couple of days in the heart of the Southern Alps.



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