Hero photograph
Photo by Donna Lee

'Unlocking the landscape': 12 Geography Aoraki Mt. Cook field trip 2019

Donna Lee —

A much anticipated event on the Year 12 Geography calendar; a group of intrepid students set off on our annual three-day alpine adventure. The field research mission was to explore how this unique natural environment has evolved over time and to gain insight on how humans have interacted with the landscape - past, present and future.

Staff were impressed that everyone managed the early Wednesday morning departure; in fact we departed five minutes before scheduled!! En-route we stopped at Geraldine and then later for a picturesque lunch-break at Lake Tekapo. It was interesting to see first-hand the amount of development  expanding further towards the waterfront. Next stop was our "home away from home" - Glentanner Park. This holiday park and camping ground is located eighteen km from Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park on the shores of Lake Pukaki.

At the National Park Visitors' Centre we were welcomed by the Department of Conservation staff. Complete with a visual presentation - they provided valuable insight into their efforts to establish and maintain a sustainable balance between people's use and the protection of this special environment. Students then had the opportunity to peruse the vast amounts of interesting information displayed. Then it was time to visit the Hermitage. Here we discovered the Edmund Hilary Visitors' Centre and experienced a 3D movie about the national park.

Finally we went back to Mt. Cook Lodge Chamois Restaurant for a delicious catered dinner. 

Day two started out with a 'behind-the-scenes' guided tour of the national park's recycling centre, water treatment plant and oxidation ponds. We also learned from a local's perspective what living in a national park is like for residents. After morning tea we had a  DOC presentation introducing us to the distinctive elements of the landscape and the natural processes that were involved in their formation. Then DOC staff helped provide further information for the geographic issue internal assessment. Students debated whether or not 1080 poisoning is the best pest control method.

With great excitement, it was time for the ever popular Glacier  Explorers' Boat Tour on the Tasman Lake. The weather conditions were so supreme - it was impossible for amateur photographers to not take pictures suitable for the front cover of the National Geographic magazine!! The boat excursion did not disappoint; a huge ice-calving event back in February meant the lake was full of spectacularly huge iceberg formations.  The boat trip certainly illustrates the scale of past glaciation, along with the alarming rate at which the Tasman Glacier is retreating.

We then set off to walk part of the Hooker Valley track. This is one of the most popular walks in the park and is usually a three hour return trip from the White Horse Hill campground. Along the way we passed the original location of the Hermitage Hotel, the Alpine Memorial and Frida's Rock before coming to the viewing point of the Mueller Glacier and the first swing bridge.  Unfortunately, this was as far as we could go as the remainder of the track was closed for repair; post the recent storm events on the West Coast.

Later in the day, after the evening meal -  Ross Ivey, (Glentanner Station), provided the group with a farming/tourism business perspective. They provide fine merino wool for the Ice Breaker brand. Their main markets  hugely support ethical fashion and each individual garment can be traced back to the producers and the welfare of livestock. He also discussed the huge ongoing problems with managing introduced pests, particularly rabbits and wilding pines.

On the final day of the trip we studied aspects of human modification in the Mackenzie Basin.  Students learned about the development of the Hydro canals. We witnessed people doing recreational salmon fishing, along with learning about the Didymo issue. The Ohau A lookout was a good vantage point to learn about the hyrdo-electricity production in the region along with the increasing conversions to dairy farming in the region. Next we visited High Country Salmon on the Wairepo Arm. Here we learned about salmon farming and had the opportunity to feed the fish. 

Special thanks to all of our guest speakers, staff and students for making this such an enjoyable and memorable experience.