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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 14.—Wanaka and Hawea Lakes

Note 14.—Wanaka and Hawea Lakes.

Wanaka and Hawea Lakes district is mountainous, with ridges rising from 4,000ft. to 10,000ft. All elevations above 8,000ft. are covered with perpetual snow, and those between 6,500ft. and 8,000ft. are bare for only a short period page break
Sketch map of the Lake Wakatipu district, by Huruhuru

Sketch of The Lakes District By The Maori Chief Huruhuru, 1844.

page breakpage 113of the year. James McKerrow, Esq., formerly District Surveyor of Otago, now Chief Commissioner of New Zealand Railways, a close observer in relation to this and other matters connected with the exploration of the Otago Provincial District in its early days, makes the following remarks: "The time during which the survey of the place was executed was favourable for determining the height of the line above which the snow never melts. During the early part of March elevations of 7,000ft. had snow more or less on their summits; this gradually disappeared until there was none left. On the 24th March the summit of Mount Alba, which attains an elevation of 7,838ft., was free of snow, only a patch remaining on its shaded side; all elevations above 8,000ft., as seen from it, were white. A few days afterwards a shower which rained in the valleys, but snowed on the mountains, made Alta appear grey. This appearance continued until the 18th April, when it and several lesser elevations received their cap for the ensuing season. Each shower after that brought the snow-line further down, till the morning of the 18th May, when the snow-fall, which was general throughout the province, made valley and mountain alike white. The snow-line in its successive steps down the mountain-sides preserves an outline as even and as well defined as the line of shadow. In different seasons the snow-line will likely vary within the limits of a few hundred feet: for the latitude of 44½° S. it may be stated in round numbers at 8,000ft. The glaciers, in some instances, appear to be considerably lower than the snow-line: on the shaded side of Mount Alta, a little below the summit, there is one about five acres in extent and 3ft. in thickness. On the east side of Glacier Dome, and to the north and south respectively of the other two glacial domes, there is a sheetlike moss of glacier several square miles in extent, sloping down from these mountains, and stretching across and entirely filling up the ravine enclosed by them; on the east side, where no eminence opposes, it leaves the ravine and bends over the ledge of the ridge in an easy curve. Here the smooth evenness which it had in its upper part is supplaced by a sort of frizzled appearance, just as though a great waterfall had been suddenly frozen. The angle of depression from Mount Alta gives its centre elevation at 6,469ft. above sea-level. It was viewed from a distance of twelve miles. A ridge traversing to the line of sight hid its terminal face, but its immaculate whiteness and great extent rendered it, even at that distance, a grand, decided, and imposing spectacle. It was the largest unbroken mass of ice that was seen during the survey. It is one of the fountains of the east branch of the Matukituki. The glaciers of Mount Aspiring lie in shelf-like masses on the south and east sides of the mountains. None of them appear to be individually of large extent, though in the aggregate they cover twenty-five square miles. They lie principally in the ravines formed by torn, very sharp conical ridges—one running south from the peak for about eight miles, the other three parting off from it, at about equal distances to the east. Some of these glaciers appear to be as low as 4,000ft., and, as seen from the base of precipice on which they lie, about 30ft. in thickness. Mount Aspiring is flanked round the east, south, and west sides with precipices, which, to a casual inspection, offer no chance of ascent. The water of the lakes may all be said to be of glacial origin, for the rivers that flow into them drain a country from 6,000ft. to 10,000ft. high."