Monday, 17 December 2007

Kiwi country

Despite what the tracker is saying, Mark is definitely in New Zealand and has now embarked on a south to north crossing through this, the seventeenth country of his journey. If all goes to plan, his intended route (as shown on the Google Earth map I've created) will follow the east coast of South Island, crossing to Wellington on North Island and then following the west coast to Auckland.

It is always a good idea to embark on a 'new' country' with an overview. I found the lovely image below in NASA's Earth Observatory with the following description : " a rare, cloud-free look at the island nation of New Zealand, including most of its North and South Islands. This scene was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), flying aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, on December 31, 2002. New Zealand is situated in the South Pacific Ocean, roughly 2,000 km (1,250 miles) southeast of Australia. Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is located on the southern tip of the North Island, looking across Cook Strait toward South Island." After the huge distances which made up the crossing of Australia, Mark is now dealing with scale and distances which are more comprehensible to those of us in the UK. The area of New Zealand is just slightly larger than the area of the UK and the distance north to south only slightly longer than the distance from the Shetlands to the Scillys. New Zealand occupies similar latitudes to Spain and France though in the southern hemisphere. This means that climatically you can expect the climate to vary from temperate maritime in the south to more sub tropical in the north. The south will experience many mid latitude depressions (like the one which is bringing rain to South Island today). The map above clearly shows the major relief feature of New Zealand - the Southern Alps - which run parallel to the west coast of South Island for all its length. They rise to 3475m (12,000ft+) at Mt Cook and so are high enough to carry permanent snow, ice and glaciers, clearly visible on the summer time image above. The high relief in the centre of North Island is associated with the huge cone volcano, Mt Ruapehu.

In terms of population, New Zealand is sparsely populated with 4.2 million people (considerably less than Scotland's population) occupying an area greater than the UK. It is predominantly an urban country with three quarters of its population living in the main towns and cities shown on the map to the right.

After a flight from Brisbane and a stopover at Auckland, Mark landed early today at the small airport which serves Dunedin....... some 20 miles south west of the city on the Taieri plains. You can just make out the single runway in the middle of the image above set in the middle of the plains which lie between a low coastal range in the foreground and the mountainous interior of South Island in the distance. What struck me immediately was how different it looks to Australia! This is very evidently an area which is well watered compared to most of the areas of Australia which Mark passed through and the climate graph for Invercargill on the south coast bears that out. As mentioned above, the South island lies in the path of mid latitude depressions (even in summer) and today was no exception. Sound familiar? It has been wet around Dunedin and here's the reason why....

Those cold fronts (the lines with the blue triangles) have crossed the country from south west to north east and have brought the rain which has hampered Mark's progress and his tracker today. The map is also interesting in itself as it reminds me that pressure systems operate the opposite way round in the southern hemisphere. Here in New Zealand winds will revolve anticlockwise around centres of high pressure and clockwise around low pressure. Thus the winds today are from the southwest in South Island but from the north west on North Island.

Given the weather conditions, it is doubtful if Mark would have seen anything as he flew into Dunedin airport this morning but hopefully, after all the lessons we've done on rivers in the last four and a half months, you would recognise immediately what is going on here along the river beside the airport........ some nice mature meanders with deposition on the inside of the bends (where the water is flowing more slowly) and even an old meander cut-off!

Beyond Dunedin, Mark continued north for about 50 kms to the town of Palmerston , where he has overnighted....

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