I am back and raring to share all the wonders of a spellbinding country: New Zealand. Although this country may seem small by its size – a total land area of 103,500 square miles, and by its population – 4.7 million people, its impact on me is unfathomable. Let’s start on this journey with a quick history:
About 85 million years ago, a land mass called Zealandia split away from a large section of the supercontinent Gondwanaland and moved off into the Pacific Ocean becoming a drifting continent about half the size of Australia. As Zealandia moved away from Australia, much of it sank beneath the sea. About 25 million years ago Zealandia began to split apart. The earth’s plates pushed the sunken pieces up, creating New Zealand.
In the last 1.8 million years, huge changes occurred: The Southern Alps have risen thousands of metres (and are still growing) and volcanoes violently erupted. Glaciers moved rock and carved out lake basins and valley. All this has created the New Zealand landscape of today.
Historians believe that Maori, a Polynesian tribe from a place called Hawaiki, sailed across the Pacific Ocean to a new land about a thousand years ago. According to a Maori legend they travelled across the seas in just seven canoes. The legend continues to say that these voyagers were guided during the day by a long white cloud and at night by a long bright cloud. As the leader, Kupe noticed a long cloud near the horizon, he said: “Surely this is a point of land”. His wife, Hine-te-aparangi, called out: “He ao! He ao!” (“a cloud! a cloud!”) Using her words as inspiration, Kupe named this new land “Aotearoa” Aotea for cloud, roa for long or tall.
And so we come to the Land of the Long White Cloud.
This legend has particular resonance for me as one of my many humbling interactions with New Zealand was staring and of course taking photos of a long white cloud that was trying to envelop Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand at 12,218 feet and one the most treacherous to climb due to its heavy glaciation and mercurial weather. I say humbling as at times I found the cloud to be terrifying – an almost sentient being. The fact that this was my view from our hotel room’s patio added to the frissons. It didn’t move along with the other clouds in the sky which were scudding along quickly. It moved slowly, stealthily across the top of Mt. Cook and I was mesmerized, waiting for it to take over the mountain. I could see its tendrils cascading down:
And yet it never did.
There is a fascinating reason for this. When air is confronted by a mountain, it is lifted up and over, cooling as it rises. If the air cools to its saturation point, the water vapor condenses and a cloud forms. This is called an “orographic” cloud. When the cloud goes below a certain point, warmer air causes it to evaporate – and disappear.
This rising and cooling and condensing and evaporating can also lead to some magnificent cloud formations – and my particular favorite is the layered lenticular cloud. You may remember that I captured one in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula of over its Mt Alyeska:
I did catch a low hanging lenticular cloud atop Mt. Cook that looked very much I like a cap:
Like “Where’s Waldo?” The long white clouds appeared everywhere in New Zealand.
I took some black and white photos as well in zoom shots of moutain top glaciers and the long white clouds were there as well, above, below and sometimes nestled within the glacier’s valleys:
In black and white or color, these views are awesome:
So happy that these long white clouds were gentle beauties rather than relatives of “The Mist.”