Scenic Flights South Island
Approximately 60% of the South Island of New Zealand is covered in mountains and the highest, longest and most glaciated range by far is the spectacular Southern Alps. These alps stretch nearly 500km and were created some 15 million years ago when the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates collided.
New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook, rises from the Southern Alps to 3,724 metres (12,318 feett). It is now 30 metres shorter than it was in 1991, when an avalanche of 10 million cubic meters of snow and rock came down. The avalanche itself shaved just 10 metres off of the height but this was revised in 2014 after the effects of erosion became apparent.
Aoraki was the traditional Māori name given to Mt Cook, named after a person in the traditions of the Ngai Tahu iwi. The English name was given to the mountain in 1851 by Captain John Lort Stokes to honour Captain James Cook, the first European to discover New Zealand in 1770.
The average rainfall in the area surrounding Mt Cook is five to ten metres per year and is particularly higher in the west, which leads to a temperate rainforest in the coastal lowlands. Predominant winds come from the west which create orographic precipitation: as warm moist air travels up the western side of the ranges it cools creating clouds and substantial variation in rainfall. This coastal moisture also contributes to a reliable source of snowfall in the mountains during the winter months, keeping the glaciers flowing. The vegetation in the valleys to the east are less lush than on the western slopes of the Southern Alps. Towards the east, the forest would normally grow to about 1,300 metres but due to the lack of soil and amount of rock falls and scree created from the effects of glaciation, this forest is prevented. Snow tussock and other alpine plants are more common.