The magic of geology

by Tony Orman

I’ve long been fascinated with geology. That probably stems from doing a unit in geology for a degree. In studying I used Professor Cotton’s classic text book Geomorphology, i.e. the study of land forms. 

You may be in the hills, mountains or just driving to see various land forms. Perhaps like me, you can look at a landscape and marvel at the geological forces and the resulting land formations from the dynamic earth movements that mould planet Earth and particularly a geologically young country like New Zealand. 

Geology is fascinating because it involves millions and millions of years — the human life is hardly a blink of the eye in geological time.

The power of glaciers

Glaciers have had profound effects on the South Island landscapes, fiords, the U shaped valleys and hills that were once the morainic rubble that giant rivers of ice pushed down valleys. 

The North Island has experienced limited glaciation. Mount Ruapehu has of course, but so too has the Tararua Range just north of Wellington with its remarkable glaciated Park Valley in the headwaters of the Wairarapa’s Waiohine River. The U-shaped valley is unmistakably evidence of the limited glaciation during the last Ice Age.

“Even the Ruahine and Kaimanawa Ranges may have had have had small glaciers at the peak of the last Ice Age,” writes author Lynley Hargreaves.

Vanishing Ice tells of glaciers with recollections of discoveries and human endeavour. This is a great book for anyone interested in nature and the outdoors. It’s a look at the ice ages over millions of years then the subsequent retreat of the ice as the earth warmed. 

Living in Marlborough, I’m aware a giant glacier once extended down the Wairau Valley to the Branch River’s confluence. The hill on the state highway is the terminal moraine left by the glacier. Today there is no glacier existing in the Wairau even in the headwaters. Similarly the West Coast glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox, are in the process of retreating.

This is an excellent book for anyone with an interest in the mountains, landforms or geology. The author delves into history even back to the examining the pivotal role the sunken continent of Zealandia may have played in our emergence from the last ice age. 

Need to translate Maori names

What I found disruptive to smooth reading was the current fad of sole use of Maori names despite the European name having been in common use for a century or more. The pages on the Park valley refer to New Zealand but in mentioning the South Island, Te Waipounamu is the only reference.

If it is felt fitting to use the Maori name, do so, but with the more common European name in brackets. It would have been simple to put in brackets “South Island” after Te Waipounamu.

A wonderful book

Nevertheless Vanishing Ice is a wonderful book. Great photos and some wonderful historical ones, add to a beautifully presented work. The author’s diligent research make it an impressively informative read.

(Vanishing Ice by Lynley Hargreaves is published by Potton and Burton, RRP $59.99)