Actually I am writing this Tuesday am, because we did a lot of hiking yesterday, getting “high” on the scenery, and we were exhausted last night.
We got up to clouds, but they burned off as we drove up the valley to Aoraki/Mt. Cook (Aoraki is the Maori name, Mt. Cook the English name).
Our first stop was the visitor centre, to get our bearings. They had some excellent views and some interesting exhibits, about the Maori who only visited the area in the summertime (see the photo for why – no clothes), to the early climbers who tried to climb these mountains, to modern climbers and their gear. Sir Edmund Hillary climbed here before attempting Mt. Everest (he was a New Zealander).
Everywhere in Mt. Cook village you can look up and see these amazing snow- and ice-covered mountains looming over you, and yet in the village it was warm. Once the clouds burned off, the sun on the mountains was amazing.
We started easy on the Governor’s Bush Walk, mostly through forest. The shade was good, because we were way overdressed—not knowing what to expect, we prepared for cold, and got warm. Many of the trees and plants had identifying signs. The walk took us about an hour and a half. Very pleasant.
Then we drove over to the campground (DOC, $10 pp/night), not to camp, but to start our next walk, to Kea Point. We took off a couple of layers, then started up this walk through dry grass and scrub—no shade this time. As we started up this walk, we looked back over the valley behind that we drove up this morning. Then we looked ahead at this mountain of snowpack and rock! Mostly we were facing Mt. Sefton.
At the end we could see part of Mueller Glacier, and the tremendous moraines of rock and gravel left behind as it has receded, and the lake that has formed at the end. In a way it was less impressive at the lookout at the end of the trail than it was earlier—perhaps because part of it was in shadow by then. Anyway, another 1 ½ hour hike through spectacular scenery.
Finally, we went up the Tasman Glacier View walk. The description says easy, with some rock steps, 100 m height gain. The first part was a well-defined, gravel path. But toward the end, it was more of a scramble over the rocks. But it was a great view! Mt. Aoraki and several other peaks, some snow and ice covered, some lower ones bare. The Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in New Zealand—27 km long. We could only see the lower end, which is pretty much black with dirt and rocks, with a white cliff at the end over the lake. The lake began forming in 1974, as the glacier retreated, and is now 7 km long—there are commercial boat and kayak tours to the face of the glacier. Sometimes there are icebergs in the lake, but we only saw one—it seemed small, but the distance is deceptive. The boat we saw seemed really tiny. We could also see the valley behind us from that vantage point.
By this time we were both tired, and felt we had done about all we could do there, so we headed out. I could see, though, that it might be a nice place to spend a few days, rent a bike, do a longer hike or two, and enjoy the view.
We drove back down to Omarama (say O-MAR-a-ma), to the holiday park there. But we didn’t do power or internet this time; the evening and night was for sleeping! Now we need to plan for the next couple of days—tomorrow we head for Wanaka (wanna-ka), and then to the West Coast.