Skiing the Pacific Ring of Fire and Beyond
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OCEANIA MAP
  Mauna Kea
  Mauna Loa
  Haleakala
  Puncak Jaya (Mt Carstensz)
  Tongariro
  Ngauruhoe
  Ruapehu
  Taranaki (Mount Egmont)
  Aoraki (Mount Cook)


ANTARCTICA MAP




Oceania: Regional Map and Introduction

    The "continent" of Oceania is a geographer's convenience, consisting of Australia and the various island groups of the central and south Pacific, including New Guinea, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. (The latter includes many distant and disparate areas such as Hawaii, New Zealand, and islands even as far south and east as Easter Island). Some geographers consider the Malay Archipelago (islands including Sumatra, Java, Borneo, etc. which comprise much of Indonesia and part of Malaysia) to be part of Oceania also, but this is not really correct, while others properly place it with Asia. The Malay Archipelago must be considered part of Asia since most of these islands lie on the continental shelf of Asia. Similarly, the island of New Guinea lies on the continental shelf of Australia and thus must be included in the continent of Oceania. Even those self-proclaimed purists who refuse to consider Oceania a real continent and maintain that Australia alone is a continent must be forced to include New Guinea within that continent. The relationship of New Guinea to Australia is identical to that of the island of Britain to Europe, both lying on the continental shelf and separated from the mainland by a shallow channel which was dry during the Ice Age, until about 10,000 years ago. New Guinea is as an integral part of the continent of Australia/Oceania, just as Britain is of the continent of Europe. Any world map which shows seafloor topography and continental shelves makes this fact convincingly clear.


Hawaii #
    The largest volcanoes in the world are the massive shield volcanoes which make up the beautiful islands of Hawaii, with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea taking top honors and forming the bulk of the "Big Island" of Hawaii. These volcanoes are the highest in Oceania, and they receive a few substantial snowfalls during most winters. The numerous cinder cones at the summit of Mauna Kea are Hawaii's only patrolled "ski area" after these snowfalls, and the relatively flat summit area of Mauna Loa has also been skied. Snow also occasionally falls on the third highest volcano in Hawaii, Haleakala on the island of Maui, but is almost never deep enough to ski.
    Strictly speaking, the islands of Hawaii are not part of the Pacific Ring of Fire at all. This most isolated island group in the world sits near the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and its formation is not related to the subduction and rifting zones which surround the rim of the ocean. Hawaii is a classic example of hotspot volcanism, a fixed area of rising magma which may extend far down into the Earth's mantle and which produces volcanoes above it on the surface. The northwesterly motion of the Pacific Plate, caused by the subduction and rifting zones along its edges, is responsible for Hawaii being a linear chain of volcanoes instead of a single island. The chain of volcanoes, mostly extinct and now submerged as seamounts, extends northwest from Hawaii for thousands of miles all the way to the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench off the coast of Russia, the product of millions of years of motion on the Pacific Plate's conveyor belt.





Select a mountain from the clickable map above


New Guinea: Irian Jaya (Indonesia) and Papua New Guinea #
    The island of New Guinea, located just north of Australia, is properly considered to be a part of Oceania (as discussed above). The western half of the island is controlled by Indonesia and known as Irian Jaya, while the eastern half is part of the nation of Papua New Guinea. There are numerous volcanoes in Papua New Guinea, including several in eastern New Guinea (which are not particularly prominent as mountains) plus many more on the islands east of the coast, including the spectacular stratovolcanoes of Balbi (8907 ft / 2715 m) on Bougainville and Ulawun (7658 ft / 2334 m) on New Britain. All of these volcanoes are classic portions of the Ring of Fire, formed by subduction of Pacific Plate segments, yet unfortunately none of them are high enough to receive snow, being located just south of the Equator. The highest mountain in Irian Jaya, a non-volcanic massif known as Puncak Jaya (or formerly Mount Carstensz), does receive snowfall and indeed still holds several glaciers, the only permanent snow or ice in Oceania outside of New Zealand.


New Zealand #
    New Zealand includes two main islands, the North and South Island, which although adjacent, differ vastly in their geographic composition. The mountains of the North Island are primarily volcanic, crowned by the spectacular stratovolcanoes of Taranaki (Mount Egmont) and the Tongariro group (including Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. In contrast, the mountains of the South Island consist of older non-volcanic rocks which have been uplifted by tectonic forces, producing a range of spectacularly steep and glaciated mountains, the Southern Alps. Crowning the range and dominating all other peaks is Aoraki (Mount Cook), the focus of a world-class region for alpine climbing and ski mountaineering. The area around Mount Cook includes several huge and spectacular glaciers, including the 18 mile (29 km) long Tasman Glacier, the largest in New Zealand.






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Amar Andalkar   Seattle, WA, USA   <About the Author / Contact Me>
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