Monday, 23 August 2010

Moving mountains - Tasman Glacier, New Zealand

How can I ever forget that day in 1991 when the top fell of the high peak of Mount Cook Aoraki. (see photo above) It was mid-morning on 14 December 1991 and  I was living at Franz Josef Glacier township running the National Park when Rusty Knight, a helicopter pilot, called me and said, "the bloody top has just fallen off Mt. Cook."

Rusty said he was taking off in a few minutes to have a look. Earlier that morning the height of the mountain was 12,349 feet (3,764 m). and was reduced by 10 metres (33 ft) when approximately 10 million cubic metres of rock and ice fell off the northern peak.

In disbelief I said yes and 20 minutes later we were hovering at 11,500 feet stunned by the awe inspiring few of a topless Aoraki Mt. Cook. As we flew down the path of the massive snow and rock fall we could see a huge dark path of debris going down the Hochstetter ice fall across the Tasman Glacier, and staining the snow clad slopes up to about 7,000 feet on the other side of the valley. Rob Hall had been climbing earlier that morning when it occured and he stood and watched, "frightened out of his wits" he told me later.

That was almost 19 years ago, and today the mountaijns and glaciers are still moving.

Thirty to 50 million tonnes of ice have broken off the Tasman Glacier, forming around 20 icebergs now floating in the Tasman Lake - adding more drama and spectacle to an already dramatic landscape.

The process began earlier this month when the terminal face rose 20 to 40 metres thanks to a rain downpour which lifted millions of tonnes of ice from the water across the entire 600m width of the face.

The Tasman Glacier, in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, is New Zealand's longest glacier.

On August 18, a small section of that ice calved resulting in a massive and spectacular iceberg separating from the face. Sometime over the weekend, the rest of the uplifted ice broke away from the terminal face in the biggest ever calving (breaking away) in the lake's 35 year history.

The bulk of the Tasman glacier is massive in the middle, where the Rudolf Glacier enters on the right. The ever-moving mountain processes will ensure we will see more calving of ice bergs at the terminal face.Photo: Bob McKerrow

Glacier Explorers, which takes passengers on cruises on the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake, will resume operations on 3 September, one month ahead of schedule due to an early spring melt and to take advantage of the opportunity to see the magnificent new icebergs.

Denis Callesen, General Manager Tourism for Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village Ltd said the coming season promises visitors the most spectacular iceberg and glacier cruising season yet.

"The scale of what's happening here is just enormous. The biggest iceberg is about 300m by 200m and 40m high - and that's only the 10 percent of the 'berg that we can see. Ninety percent is below the waterline."

Callesen said the Tasman Lake is now full of icebergs with more than 20 that are 50m by 50m above the waterline.

"These 'bergs now take on a life of their own, flipping, turning and moving as natural forces take action.

Callesen said he and Glacier Explorers staff were "incredibly excited' about the coming season.
"We are expecting the most spectacular season ever here, with stunning viewing of nature in action. Visitors will be able to get out onto the lake from early September and they will be in for a trip of a lifetime with sensational iceberg viewing. The current calving will give us ice to study for the next two seasons at least."

The season will open with two trips a day increasing to five as the season develops.
For more information of Glaciers of New Zealand, go to Te Ara website:

Thanks to Stuff NZ /Ch Ch Press for permission to run the photos of the glacier cal


Anonymous said...


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...


Thanks for passing by and your comment.


Marja said...

Hi Bobb thanks for the tip I must talk my husband into it to go to the glacier lake. That would be so exciting to see the icebergs. Years ago we went there with the scouts. I didn't go on the lake as I had to look after the gear but the pictures were spectacular.
Hope all is well in sri lanka

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks Marja

In a way a person's personality is like an iceberg. 80% of the true personj is hidden and all we see is the tip. Thanks for your comments.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
The power of nature is pretty spectacular, and more beautiful when no one happens to be in the way of such a force. I recall as young man in Wisconsin seeing ash fall on us from Mt. St. Helens blowing up over two thousand miles away.
For some reason it doesn't surprise me you right amongst it when Aoraki decided to let loose. I'd like to get down there and see it myself. Take care my friend.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora Robb

The power and force of nature is awesome.

Good to hear of your experience of St. Helens.

Yep, I was there when the top fell off Aoraki, but I swear I didn't cause it.

Rusty said...

Im sure the earth trembles still in your presence Bob
Kind Regards Rusty said...

To my mind every person have to read it.

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