Iconic Mt Cook - Many Climbers Lives Lost.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2018

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Flag of New Zealand  , Canterbury,
Monday, December 5, 2011

It doesn't feel like summer here, but the date says it is.

We look up at the grey sky and low cloud and wish that today of all days visibility was better as we are on our way to see Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in NZ. Little patches of blue open up briefly as we pass beautiful, still mirror lakes. The traffic is very light and the windy alpine roads take us further and further up into the clouds.

Summer weather or not, New Zealand scenery is gorgeous.

Mt. Cook the village, has an amazing visitor centre/museum where we read about the history of Mt. Cook climbs and learn that an Australian was the first woman to summit. Many climbers have died on the summit or attempting the climb, 228 to be exact, although 2010 has been the first fatality free year since 1958. We get glimpses of Mt. Cook and see some glaciers but cloud is hiding a definitive view. Lucky for us we will have a chance again later in the week, when we travel up the West Coast and to the other side of the mountain.

For now we move on, through the strangely named village of Twizel, and head over to the East coast to a town called Oamaru. Here after visiting the tourist information centre, we find we can do evening viewings of both the Yellow eyed and the Little Blue Penguins, both quite rare species of penguins who have permanent colonies close to the town. The Little Blue Penguin is the smallest variety of penguin in the world. After securing tickets for entry to the Blue Penguins nesting sites we then head off to a discount department store to buy a warm tracksuit each in deference to New Zealand summer not being quite our version of summer  - yet -  and for the cold of night time penguin viewing.

Watching penguins come ashore is a delight. They come in right on dusk as a "raft" (the collective noun for a group of penguins) using the safety in number philosophy. They surf in on a wave, then struggle to climb up the rocks before the next wave comes and bowls them over and washes them back to sea. Often it takes three to four goes to actually get a purchase on the rocks and escape the next wave. They then waddle in an ungainly fashion up the rocks towards the nesting sites. During this time they do a lot of going backwards and forwards seemingly trying to get brave enough to cross the open space to the nesting site. When the required bravado kicks in, their waddle increases pace, until they rush across the open space as a team and dive for cover into the bush at the base of the cliff where their nests are.  

Oamaru is not just famous for its penguin colonies. The buildings in the centre are gracious and stately, made of local limestone, and incredibly well preserved. So much so, that the town has been used quite often for movies. Filming for a movie called Mr. Pip has just wound up and the residents are looking forward to its release. We stop to chat to a local lady, who lives in one of the gracious heritage buildings used in the film, and she invites us inside to view pictures of movie sets on her computer and delights in telling us all about her town.

The rain has been threatening all day but holds off for our around town sightseeing and penguin viewing. After that kindness though, it comes down with a vengeance. We are rather pleased with our new warm clothes and find our camper, complete with New Zealand Wool quilt, to be a snug and warm place to weather the unseasonable weather.  

Footnote: Mount Cook is part of Te Wahipounamu - Southwest New Zealand a UNESCO World Heritage listed area.
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