Stunning views of Aoraki

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Monday, December 12, 2005

I was genuinely excited about going to Mt Cook as there are lots of stunning walks in the area. However, just how 'stunning' these walks are is completely dependant on the weather. Peter cheekily sent me a text message, telling me to let him know if I actually saw the great Aoraki (Maori for 'cloud piercer')! I thought my chances of a sighting were pretty good though as I'd booked myself into the YHA for 3 nights...

The bus stopped in Omarama en route to Mt Cook for a 30 minute comfort break, and I stocked up on food in the knowledge that there were no supermarkets in Mt Cook's adjoining village. I asked a lady in a souvenir shop if she knew the weather forecast, and it was music to my ears when she said that the mountains were clear.

A couple of hours later, we turned off onto SH80 and got our first glimpse of a crystal clear Mt Cook. It towered over the turquoise water of Lake Pukaki, and I literally had goose bumps as we gradually got closer to it. The bus driver stopped at a lookout so everyone could get some snaps, as a lot of the people on board weren't actually staying there. I had the luxury of 3 days surrounded by such awesome scenery, and I was itching to do some walking while you could see New Zealand's highest mountain in all its glory.

We arrived at the YHA at midday and it seemed like a lovely place, with spacious dorms and friendly staff. Unfortunately, the girl at reception said no less than 4 fronts were due to pass over the South Island, so this made me even more determined to get outside. I had a bite to eat, put some suncream on...and off I went, just 15 minutes after arriving!

I'd picked up a DOC leaflet in Queenstown outlining the walks in the area, and my first one was the 45 minute Kea Point track. This was a great walk because you were constantly walking towards Mt Cook, so it was always in your line of sight...and I couldn't take my eyes off it! I took plenty of pictures, and as a passing woman so rightly said, "it's impossible to resist!"

Once at the lookout, I got talking to an extremely friendly Dutch couple who'd been there for over an hour, such was the view. There were some ominous looking white clouds to the left of the Mt that were threatening to spoil the party, so I soaked up the scenery, not knowing if I'd see her again. I would have been quite content with the hour or so of crystal clear views, but naturally I wanted more...

I backtracked for 15 minutes before joining the Hooker Valley track, a 3 hour return walk that crossed over a couple of swingbridges before arriving at the Hooker Lake. This was one of the best walks that I've done in New Zealand, and I took my time with it, often stopping at a quiet spot to come to terms with the magnitude of the surroundings.

By the time I reached the lake, Mt Cook was obscured and there was a tiny bit of drizzle in the air. I was still upbeat though as there was plenty of blue sky around, and the other mountains were impressive anyway. There were icebergs on the lake, and the nearby river was fast flowing, so the scenery was still superb.

After an hour walking back along the track, I reached the Old Monument lookout and it was great to see the clouds dispersing. I therefore ambled over some rocks and watched for 30 minutes, as the whispy clouds slowly disappeared and the Mt came into view again, this time even clearer than before. More photographs followed, and even though it was nearly 5pm at this point, there was no way that I was going inside whilst the weather was so good.

So, I decided to walk back to Kea Point again to get the view without clouds, and it was great as I was the only one there. I doubt I'd ever get bored of looking at it, but I eventually made my way back to the village. I walked part of the way with a girl from Dunedin who was camping nearby, and she told me about another track that I planned to do the next day (weather permitting).

It was getting a bit chilly, so I went and picked up my hooded top from the hostel and did the steep Glencoe Walk. My leaflet said that this was a great walk to do at sunset, as the mountains sometimes change colour like they did at Lake matheson. It was a lovely clear evening, and I sat all alone high up at the lookout for over an hour, watching as the summit of Mt Cook turned pink then red, before the sun disappeared.

I was joined briefly by a Japanese guy who I'd bumped into a few times during the day, and of course I told him about my plans for next year. He was very polite but only stuck around for 15 minutes before returning to the village as it was virtually dark. I stayed a little bit longer, thinking back over what had been a pretty special day.

The walk back to the hostel was also nice, as I saw quite a few rabbits at the side of the deserted road. Having said that, my feet were aching a bit as I'd been out walking for over 9 hours, although I'd had plenty of rests along the way.

I set my alarm for 7.15am the next morning as I had plans to do the challenging 6 hour return walk up to the Meuller Hut. I'd already been lucky with the weather once...could I be lucky again?
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