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Of these four volcanoes only the first named can be classed as dormant. Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe have been particularly active from time to time. Other volcanoes include Mount Tarawera and White Island, each of which has, upon one occasion within historical times, erupted with disastrous consequences.

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Closely connected with the volcanic system are the multitudinous hot springs and geysers. The mountain system of the North Island runs generally in a south-west direction, parallel to the coast, from East Cape to Turakirae Head, and includes the following ranges from the north: Raukumara, Huiarau, Ruahine, Tararua, and Rimutaka. In the east the Moehau Range parallels the length of the Coromandel Peninsula. Mount Egmont forms the only area above 1, m on the west coast of this Island.

The South Island is much more mountainous than the North.


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Along almost the entire length of the Island runs the massive chain known as the Southern Alps, which attains its greatest height in Mount Cook 3, m , while no fewer than 16 peaks exceed 3, m. To the north run the St. Arnaud and Richmond Ranges, while to the north-east are the Spenser Mountains and the Kaikoura and Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, the two latter ranges running parallel to the east coast. The south portion of the Southern Alps breaks up into a miscellany of ranges dominating the mountainous Fiord and north-western Southland regions.

There are at least named peaks of 2, m or more in altitude. Below is a list of the peaks restricted to the four largest volcanic cones in the North Island and to mountains of a minimum height of 2, m in the South Island. Glaciers —In keeping with the dimensions of the mountain system, New Zealand possesses, in the South Island, a glacial system of some magnitude. Of the glaciers the largest is the Tasman, which, with others of comparable size, rises in the more elevated area surrounding Mount Cook.

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Flowing down the eastern slope of the range, the Tasman Glacier has a length of 29 km and a width of 9 km. In common with other glaciers on the eastern slope, of which the more important are the Murchison 17 km , the Mueller 13 km , the Godley 13 km , and the Hooker 11 km , its rate of flow is slow, while its terminal face is an altitude of somewhat over m.

On the western slope of the range, owing to the greater snow precipitation, the glaciers are more numerous and descend to lower levels, while the steeper slope gives them a more rapid rate of flow. The two largest of these are the Fox and the Franz Josef, with lengths of 15 km and 13 km respectively, and terminal faces at altitudes of m and m.

Rivers —New Zealand rivers, owing to the high relief of the country, are mostly swift-flowing and difficult to navigate. As sources of hydro-electric power the rivers are of considerable importance, since their rapid rate of flow and dependable volume of water make them eminently suitable for this purpose.

Following is a list of the more important rivers. For purposes of uniformity, the length of a river is taken to be the distance from the mouth to the farthest point in the system, whether this should happen to bear the same name or that of an affluent, and is inclusive of the estimated course of a river flowing into and emerging from any lake in the system. The discovery in that the beds of rivers in the South Island contained extensive deposits of alluvial gold was of considerable importance in the early economic development of the country. With the very successful acclimatisation of freshwater fish, notably trout, many rivers now provide exceptionally fine fishing.

Lakes —In considering New Zealand's numerous lakes a distinction can be made, especially from the scenic viewpoint, between the lakes of the two Islands. Surrounded by extremely rugged country the larger lakes of the South Island are distinguished by the grandeur of their alpine settings, while some of the larger ones of the North Island, situated on a volcanic plateau, have their own particular beauty. As reservoirs the lakes of both Islands are of vital importance for the maintenance of the rivers and streams draining them and as a means of flood prevention.

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More especially is this the case where hydro-electric schemes are involved, Lakes Waikaremoana and Taupo in the North Island, and Lakes Coleridge, Pukaki, Tekapo, Wanaka, Hawea, and Wakatipu in the South Island, being of particular significance in this respect. A series of narrow man-made lakes have been produced in connection with hydro-electric development along some of the rivers. In Lake Benmore, New Zealand's largest artificial lake, was created. It lies on the Waitaki River in North Otago and covers 79 sq km in area and consists of two arms, the main arm being 30 km in length and the Ahuriri Arm 18 km in length.

Some particulars of the more important lakes are given in the following table. This is a region where volcanoes are active and where the earth's crust has long been buckling and breaking at a geologically rapid rate. The interplay, in the past, of earth movements and erosion has made the sedimentary rocks that cover almost three-quarters of New Zealand.

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Land areas that the earth movements have raised have been attacked by erosion, and the sand, mud, shingle, and other debris thus formed has been carried away to the sea, where it has accumulated in great thicknesses to form rocks such as sandstone, mudstone, greywacke, and conglomerate; the shells and other skeletons of sea creatures have accumulated to form thick layers of limestone. Many of the sedimentary rocks are in distinct layers called strata. Earth movements have later raised them above the sea to form land, and the strata are in many places tilted and folded by pressure.

Seas have advanced and retreated over New Zealand many times and these sedimentary rocks represent almost every geological period since the Cambrian see Time Scale. Their age is revealed by the shells, foraminifera, and other fossils that they contain. As well as sedimentary rocks, and volcanic rocks of various ages, New Zealand incorporates in its complex structure schist, gneiss, marble and other metamorphic rocks , and granite, diorite, gabbro, serpentine, and other intrusive igneous rocks. Most of these metamorphic and intrusive rocks are hundreds of millions of years old.

The metamorphic rocks developed when huge, elongated sea basins geosynclines were formed, in which tens of thousands of feet thickness of sediments accumulated.

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When these geosynclines were slowly compressed during major mountain-building episodes the deeper sediments were subjected to great pressure and shearing stress, which caused new minerals and structures to develop, changing the sediments into metamorphic rocks. The granites and other intrusive rocks are coarsely crystalline, and are usually considered to have intruded into the outer crust in a molten state during mountain building; some, however, may be the products of an intense metamorphism of sediments.

Geological History —Evidence of the earliest-known events in New Zealand's history is given by ancient rocks in Nelson, Westland, and Fiordland that were formed in the early Paleozoic era, perhaps as long as million years ago some in Westland may be older. They include thick, geosynclinal sedimentary rocks. This suggests that a large land mass existed at that time to yield the great volume of sediments, but little has been deduced about its shape or position.

The history of the later part of the Paleozoic era, and the Mesozoic era, is rather better understood. For a vast span of time from the Carboniferous period—probably until the early Cretaceous period—an extensive geosyncline occupied the New Zealand region.


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  • At first, during much of late Paleozoic time, huge quantities of submarine lava and volcanic tuff were included in the materials that accumulated in the geosyncline, but in the later Permian and Mesozoic times the sediments were mainly sand and mud, derived probably from some land west of present New Zealand; they were compacted into hard greywacke a type of sandstone and argillite hard, dark mudstone.

    In the early Cretaceous period one of the main mountain-building episodes in New Zealand's history took place. Although geosynclinal sedimentation continued through the Cretaceous period in eastern New Zealand, the geosyncline elsewhere was compressed, and the sediments were intensely crumpled and broken and raised above the sea, probably forming a large, mountainous land mass.

    Some of the geosynclinal deposits, now exposed over much of Otago, alpine Westland, and parts of Marlborough Sounds, were metamorphosed into schist and gneiss by the tremendous deforming pressures to which the geosyncline was subjected. The time that has elapsed since the intense folding of the strata in the New Zealand geosyncline in the mid-Cretaceous period may be considered as the later geological history of this country, embracing roughly million years.

    During the early part of this late history, erosion slowly wore down the mountains that had risen, producing a land of low relief. Over these worn-down stumps of the Mesozoic mountains the sea gradually advanced, beginning its transgression earlier in some areas than in others. In the early Cretaceous period it began to submerge land in the region of present North Auckland and the eastern margins of the North and South Islands, and thick deposits of mudstone and sandstone accumulated in some parts of these areas.

    At the close of the Mesozoic era, and in the very early Tertiary, land became so reduced in size and relief that little sediment was formed, and only comparatively thin deposits of fine bentonitic and sulphurous muds, and fine, white, foraminiferal limestone accumulated. In some areas New Zealand's main coal deposits accumulated in swamps on the surface of the old land.

    These became buried by marine deposits as the sea continued its transgression in the Eocene period. By the Oligocene period, most of the land was submerged, and in shallow waters free of land sediments, thick deposits of shell and foraminiferal limestone accumulated. Scattered, remnant patches of this Oligocene limestone furnish most of New Zealand's cement and agricultural lime. After the Oligocene submergence earth movements became more vigorous; many ridges rose from the sea as islands, and sank or were worn down again; sea basins formed and rapidly filled with sediments.

    The thick deposits of soft, grey mudstone and sandstone that now make up large areas of the North Island, and some parts of South Island, are the deposits that accumulated rapidly in the many sea basins, large and small, that developed in the later Tertiary. Very late in the Cenozoic era—in the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods—one of the greatest episodes of mountain building in New Zealand's history took place.

    Earth movements became intense, and slowly pushed up the Southern Alps and other main mountain chains, and determined the general shape and size of the present islands of New Zealand. Much of the movement during this mountain building period the Kaikoura Orogeny took the form of displacement of blocks of the earth's crust along fractures called faults.

    The total movements of the earth blocks adjacent to major faults amounted to thousands of feet. It must have been achieved very slowly, probably by innumerable small movements, each of a few inches or feet. The New Zealand landscape today in some regions shows well preserved tilted fault blocks bounded by fault-scarps—steep faces hundreds or even thousands of feet high.


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    Fault movements continue to the present day, and have accompanied several major earthquakes of the past century. Many minor but revealing landscape features such as scarplets, fault ponds, and shutter ridges show where movement has been occurring in recent centuries. Erosion during this time has eaten into the major landscape forms that the earth movements have built, carving detailed landscape pattern of peaks, ridges, valleys, and gorges, and has built up alluvial plains, shingle fans, and other construction forms.

    At the coast, waves have driven back the headlands and built beaches, splits, and bars. The Pleistocene period was the time of the Ice Age, and in the high mountains of the South Island glaciers carved deep valleys and carried huge loads of rock, dumping them as moraines. The late Pleistocene glaciers carved the fiords of Fiordland and the basins occupied by most South Island lakes; there were small glaciers also on Ruapehu, where remnants survive, and on Mount Egmont and the Tararua Range. Volcanic activity of the past few million years has played an important part in making the rocks and shaping the landscape of parts of the central and northern North Island.

    Banks Peninsula, a twin volcanic dome in Canterbury, achieved much of its growth then. The largest volcanic outpourings of late geological times in New Zealand have been in the region between Tongariro National Park and the Bay of Plenty Coast: andesite lava, scoria, and ash were erupted in the Pleistocene period and later to build the huge volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe.