It's Cookie Time!
22.01.2014 - 24.01.2014 13 °C
Queenstown - Aoraki / Mt Cook Village (264km / 164m)
The sun was shining in Queenstown and it was looking to be another great day, so we reluctantly said goodbye knowing the weather near the mountain wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. Nora full of petrol (we were told the petrol would be very expensive at our next stop) we set off for the highest mountain in New Zealand. This time the drive through the Southern Alps was more spectacular with no clouds in the way and rolling hills slowly turning into huge snowcapped mountains.
As we turned off the highway about 2 hours later Aoraki / Mt Cook loomed on the horizon getting larger. We could not resist pulling over at a lookout to get some photos over Lake Pukaki which was a bright electric blue.. Nick was so determined as usual to get that perfect photo he ran off down a rough track in his flip flops and ended up stubbing his toe and got back to the car with blood all over his foot but a big cheesy grin and his picture!
Another hour later and we had arrived at the Aoraki / Mt Cook Village. This is a tiny place with only one circular road, two hostels, two motels, a four star hotel (The Hermitage), DOC site, school and about 5 houses. The only place to buy food was at the hostel or The Hermitage, which is also the, post office, cafe, tour desk and a museum. We dumped our things in our rather smelly 8 bed dorm at the YHA Mt Cook and went off for a walk to the Tasman Valley and Blue pools while the clouds were still holding off.
After driving down an 8km unsealed track of loose rocks and stones we arrived at the car park with the sun still shining and stopped for a spot of lunch in some very epic scenery.
The walk was a short, steady climb but gave you spectacular views of Aoraki / Mt Cook and the surrounding glaciers. As with the other glaciers we have been to, this too is retreating with the glacial lake growing at an alarming rate. What started as a small sink hole resembling a puddle in 2006 is now a 5km lake which is eroding the ice at the terminal face of the glacier. They say in only 30 years the lake will grow so big it’ll completely take over.
By the time we had reached the top however the clouds started to come in and the wind had picked up, it was time to put our walking jackets on (our days of singlets and thongs looked to be coming to an end). Back down the path and we took the small detour to the Blue Pools which look more green then blue now due to algae growth. Up close however these pools are crystal clear.
Back at the car park and began to rain so we were very glad to get back to the hostel, have some yummy pumpkin soup and settle down in the TV room to watch The Hobbit with our fellow travellers.
After a fairly goodnights sleep (no snores yeah!) we had a later start than usual knowing the weather wouldn’t get better until the afternoon. While sat eating our breakfast we could hear the winds whipping around the building and see the rain in horizontal sheets. We therefore decided to stay indoors with a warm drink, a blanket and a book.
By 10:30 the rain had slowed and the clouds looked to be clearing, so we braved the outdoors to visit the DOC site and it’s small museum on Aoraki / Mt Cook. This was really informative as this is where a lot of hiking and mountaineering started and where the first ski plane was invented. We also got to watch a short film on the area and how the environment is ever changing. Although it is one of the newest mountain ranges in the world and is still growing at a rate of 1cm a year, the weather is extreme with between 7 - 9 metres of rain, snow, and gale force winds the natural erosion of the limestone is sped up, meaning they are decaying at the same rate they are growing. Experts say that without this level of erosion, they would be 3 times higher than the Himalayas!! An hour or so later and the rain still around and the clouds sill covering any views we may have so we went back to the hostel for more warm drinks and lunch, hoping we may be able to hike later in the day.
By 15:30 we realised the weather wasn’t going to get any better and both of us were getting cabin fever so we decided to go for the Hooker Valley walk despite the rain. The walk started 2km from the town so we donned the warmest and most water proof clothes we had and set off across the bush toward Aoraki / Mt Cook with the rain drizzling, the clouds growing darker and the wind howling (why do we enjoy this again???). An hour in and we reached the Alpine Memorial to remember the hikers/mountaineers who have died tackling the Southern Alps. There is a surprisingly large amount dating back from 1875 up 2004, just proving how unpredictable and region can be.
The walk is easy and flat taking you across two swing bridges and should have slowly given great views of Aoraki / Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains as you progressed. However the further we walked the heavier the rain got and the more the clouds covered the mountains.
So by the time we arrived at the second bridge we were soaked and couldn’t see any sign there were magnificent views around us! This was getting pointless and we were getting cold, so only a third of the walk done we called it a day and turned around. The walk should take three hours in total but for some silly reason we decided to do it from the village adding an extra hour, so by the time we got back to the car park drenched we could see the village still over a mile away! We were kicking ourselves for not driving!
Back at the hostel, looking like drowned rats, we made yet more hot drinks and enjoyed a much needed warm meal waiting for the rain to eventually stop and the clouds to clear as promised. Sure enough, about 20:00 the rain stopped, the clouds vanished and we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the sun setting on the mountains.
Aoraki / Mt Cook region is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to see the night sky as there is no light pollution with the village even having a light curfew switching all unnecessary lights off at 23:00. Earlier that day we had tried to get on a star-gazing tour but unfortunately it was fully booked. We therefore decided to drive a little out of the village and wait for the sky to get dark and the stars to shine. It was amazing! This was not like the night sky you see at home where you are lucky to see one or two stars. The sky was covered and you could even see the huge clusters of them together where it looks like someone has thrown a handful of glitter into the air. Wishing we could stay out longer we drove back to town a little after 23:00 as we had another early start the next day.
It was 05:00 the next morning when the alarm went off (much to the delight of our sleeping roommates) but the good weather had returned and we were desperate to get some hiking in before having to leave for Christchurch. We packed the car with our bags and set off for the two hour hike up the Red Tarn track with promises of great views of the village and the surrounding mountains. This hike was not so easy (especially at that time of the morning) and was mostly made up of steep stairs climbing slowly up a large hill. Red faced (me not Nick) and out of breath we reached the top with the sun shining and hardly a cloud in the sky. We were greeted with fantastic views across the valley surrounded by snow-covered peaks and even a few Kea birds for company (one of them we think wanted to be a model as it posed for ages while we took pictures). Many, many photos later we made the steep descent back down to the car.
We surprisingly finished the walk in only an hour and a half and had time to head back to the Hooker Valley Trail to get the views we had missed the day before. Our original plan was simply to go back to the Alpine Memorial to at least see Aoraki / Mt Cook up close, but it was just too tempting being and Nick was desperate to try the hike again. This time the walk was far more enjoyable and the scenery was truly spectacular!
Again we took a ridiculous amount of photos (Aoraki / Mt Cook had become Nick’s new Petronas Towers!) and after another two hours of walking decided we really did have to turn back (not managing to finish the hike) and head back to Nora for our four hour drive north to Christchurch which still rewarded with more amazing views!