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Home » Geology Field Camps » New Zealand Geology Field Camp

New Zealand Geology Field Camp


Sponsored by Geological Education Services with accreditation through Massey University
Article generously submitted by Dr. Les Singh, Geological Education Services
Visit the course website.



Melissa Rice (Wellesley) straddles the plate boundary near Fox Glacier. South Island. Indo-Australian Plate one the left, Pacific Plate on the right.
The idea of escaping to the South Pacific during the Northern Hemisphere winter appeals to most people and for several groups of Geology students, it has become a reality. But it is not just the idea of basking in the southern summer, swimming in lakes and the Pacific Ocean, or visiting locations used in “The Lord of the Rings” movies that draws people. The New Zealand Geology Field Camp offers a combination of Geology, Geophysics, travel and social activities that makes it stand out from other similar courses. Then there is the geological location of the country on the Indo-Australian/Pacific plate boundary with a large part of the boundary exposed as the Alpine Fault in South Island. Near North Island, the boundary is immediately offshore so the geology is dominated by the effects of subduction. Thus, in less than 1000 km, the boundary system changes progressively southwards from volcanic-dominated back-arc; subduction-related accretion; strike-slip escape tectonic; erosion-dominated transpression; to offshore subduction in the Puysegur Trench in the far south. New Zealand provides an unparalleled variety of tectonic settings for these studies conducted in different parts of the country.


View across to St Arnaud Range from Mt Roberts, Nelson Lakes National Park. Glaciation has produced a variety of erosional and depositional features including the finger lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa.
As well as introducing students to geological mapping in sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks, the course includes mapping and analysis of active tectonic features and incorporates geophysical techniques. It emphasizes the understanding of three-dimensional structure and lithology, and time-dependant deformation in this dynamic, tectonically-active region.
This year’s just-completed field camp gives an idea of the range of activities undertaken on a typical camp. Assembly was in Nelson, South Island (see New Zealand Map below), with immediate transfer by van to Takaka near Farewell Spit and Abel Tasman National Park. Introductory exercises, that comprised mapping of a known sequence of tertiary rocks, ranging from terrestrial carbonaceous sediments to cold-water limestone, gave students a chance to hone their skills before tackling the more-challenging structures at the next location, Westport, on the West Coast of South Island. In between, 2 days were spent in Nelson Lakes National Park at St Arnaud village. Here, terraces of the Branch River have been progressively offset by the lateral and vertical displacement along the Alpine Fault (plate boundary) and this location can claim a “world-first” for the recognition of this type of striking tectonic geomorphology. The second day there saw students braving the “Pinchgut Track” to climb Mt Roberts for a high-level view of erosional and depositional remnants from Pleistocene glacial advances. Later, they had first-hand experience of active glaciation at Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in the far south of western South Island.


“Live-labelling” – spelling out “Fox” against the backdrop of the Fox Glacier terminal face.

Wider view of glacier contained within steep valley sides. Fox and Franz Josef are relict glaciers, remarkable for their proximity to sea level at a relatively low latitude.
The next phase was in North Island where the onshore effects of the adjacent subduction are evidenced as uplifted marine terraces, growing folds, strike-slip faulting and active back-arc volcanism. Exercises undertaken included, among others, acquisition and compilation of GPS data, profiling and levelling of Holocene marine terraces to obtain uplift and tilt rates and geometry of deformation and study of volcanic sequences with special emphasis on tephra stratigraphy and chronology and their use in age determination.

In the crater of active andesite volcano, Ngauruhoe (“Mt Doom”). L-R: Jim Gutoski (Wisconsin), Jeanette Montrey (Virginia), Tiffany Bates (Maine), Lisa Garman & Dave Schumaker (San Francisco), Felicia Kearns (Maine), Brad Jacobi (Wisconsin), Melissa Rice (Wellesley), John Mischler (Augustana).

Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Crossing; whole-day hike included ascent of Mt Ngauruhoe.

Tephra deposits of Rangipo Desert, Tongariro National Park. Sections record a history of eruptions from centres within and outside the National Park.

Students receive tutorial from Dr Bob Stewart (Massey University) prior to independent work on tephra sections.
The extensive travel also enables participation in some special events and sightseeing. Some have preferred to go sky-diving, bungy jumping and “downhilling” on the luge on their days off. A group had the unique experience of working for a circus one night and being invited to stay on! Twice, students have experienced the thrill of laps on a racing circuit (as passengers). Others have preferred cultural events such as a Maori feast and concert, a jazz festival weekend and museum visits. A highlight for two students this year was seeing a performance of “Beauty and the Beast” in Wellington and being introduced to a principal and a member of the cast. For others, it was the X Games held in downtown Wellington close to their accommodation.

Tutored wine tasting courtesy Mission Vineyard, Napier.

Band at X-Games, Wellington (2006).

The New Zealand geology field camp begins in late December or early January and runs for six weeks. For detailed information and an application visit the course website.



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