lake Pukaki Sunset Views, Sealy Tarns Tramping, Kea Point, Mt Aoraki Visitors Centre, Tasman Glacier, Mountaineers Cafe, Salmon Farm, Lake Tekapo
We took some amazing sunset photos of Mt Aroraki bny Lake Pukaki as we arrived. We made the most of the cooking shelter in Mt Cook Village and then skyped Ajay's family before heading to our campsite.
We woke up, had our breakfast, made some lunch and then began the Sealy Tarns walk- its more of a trek really, and a hard one at that! We climbed higher and higher, bouldering in places and clmibing on all fours. The weather became colder as we climbed higher, although the views were amazing. It became a bit more tricky as we walked towards the Tarns- there was an increasing amount of snow and ice and after a treacherous scramble across boulders we reviewed the situation. We were reluctatn to go further as it was now all up a steep hill, that was covered in snow and we didn't have any crampons or otherkind of ice climbing gear. We made the decison to head down, but we really enjoyed the walk, it was just a shame we didn't make tio to the Tarns, although we were very close.
We then walked to Kea Point (and heard what sounded like a huge avalanche) and then onto the Hooker Valley, although we were only able to get to the first viewpioint as the bridge was being repaired.
After a long day of walked we went back to the trusty cooking shelter and made some dinner, and then had a distinctly lukewarm coin operated shower before crashing out.
We had a lie in and decided to check out the DOC Mt Aoraki/Cook visitor centre. The history of the significance of the mountain to the local Maori, and the attempts to conquer if over time were fascinating, as was learning about the first female climber, the old mountaineering gear versus the new and that this was used as a training place for Edmund Hillary (who was aming the first group, along with Tenzig Norgay, to climb Everest). There were also some grim statistics about hiking and mountaineering in the area- 5 people a year on average die in Mt Aoraki/Cook National Park each year. We saw a video/documentary about a dramatic mountain rescue that also hihglighted the dangers.
We then drove over to the Tasman Glacier lookout point- was pretty crazy to see it, and a bit weird to think we were standing on the glacier too! Afterwards we chilled out at the slightly snobby Old Mountaineering Cafe- but you couldn't fault the hot chocolate, beer, amazing potato wedges and the hot fire!
An early start as today was a mammoth drive day. We left Mt Aoraki shrouded in cloud- although I did see the peak very briefly through a gap in the clouds before we left! Our first stop off was the Salmon Farm near Twizel, and as it had been a while since we had feasted on salmon, we bought a couple of fillets for tea. We then stopped off to take some photos of Lake Tekapo- but as the weather was a bit grim it wasn't the brilliant turquiose sheen that I had seen on my presvious trip. We stopped off at the town.....Lake Tekapo?? Ajay got out and tooks some photos of the local church and we continued our drive. We decided to take the scenic route, and stopped off at a small town for lunch and carried on the drive.
After bidding farewell to Oamaru and its legions of cute blue penguins, we drove onto the home of the mighty Mt Cook, the tallest peak in Australasia standing at 3755m and known to Maori as Aoraki (or cloud piercer) after an ancestral deity in Maori mythology. It is based in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park which is home to 22 of New Zealand's 27 mountains over 3050m and is the primary spot for climbing in the nation. Apparently more than one third of the park is covered permanently with snow and glacial ice.
On the drive towards Mt Cook village we were really lucky to watch a spectacular sunset over Aoraki from the road near Lake Pukaki after passing the oddly named town of Twizel. The changing colour of the sky along with the delicate scattering of clouds was simply spellbinding and as the sun set it lit up one face of Aoraki. Truly magical stuff.
We spent the evening relaxing in Mt Cook Village and then camped overnight in a DOC site just outside the village. The next morning we set forth to tackle a couple of the short walks around the surrounding region.
First on the list was Sealy Tarns. The track started relatively flat for the first fifteen minutes and was then pretty much all uphill after that. We climbed and climbed and at times we were almost on all fours scrambling over boulders. At one point we had to traverse a snow-covered ledge across a steep face of the mountain. In reality the track would probably be more aptly defined as a "technical tramp" rather than a "moderate hike". Nevertheless we soldiered on.
The mountain still had plenty of snow on it and as we got nearer the top it became a little treacherous. Nevertheless, we got a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains but much of the view of the distant valley was obscured by heavy cloud cover. We climbed as much as we could without the use of crampons and then headed back down to the ground to check out other viewpoints of Hook lake.
From the base of the Sealy Tarns trail we branched off to Kea Point which had a platform looking out into the Hooker Valley. Unfortunately for us, the weather was continuing to get worse and we couldn't really see the valley. We walked a bit further past Kea Point and reached a rocky outcrop from where we had some stellar views of the cobalt blue and emerald green Hook lake.
We then walked up to a memorial that stood on a hill just before the start of the Hooker Valley trail and was dedicated to climbers and trampers who had died in the region during climbing accidents. It was very sad to see so many young lives tragically lost but at the same time it made us appreciate how we, the Earth's frail inhabitants, are all at the mercy of nature's whim. We then walked towards the starting point for the Hooker Valley trail but unfortunately it was closed until the start of the summer while some work was being done on the swingbridge across the Hooker River. I have to say I was gutted about this as I've read that the view of Aoraki from the valley is superb as it totally dominates the space. I guess I'll just have to come back again one day to see this.
The weather was still pretty rubbish the next day so we spent most of the morning learning about Mt Aoraki and its history at the excellent DOC Visitor Information Centre which also advises on weather conditions and tramping routes.
We learnt that 200 people have died in climbing accidents in the park - the In Memoriam book records each fatality from 1907 to 2008. One of the main reasons that Aoraki and its surrounding region is so difficult to climb is the highly changeable weather here: Aoraki is only 44km from the coast and weather conditions rolling in from the Tasman Sea can mean sudden storms.
After getting our fill of Aoraki information, we headed out to a viewpoint to see the Tasman Glacier. As with Franz Josef and Fox, there was nothing here as spectacular as Perito Moreno; in fact the last few kilometers of the glacier had melted from top down, exposing a jumble of stones, rocks and boulders and forming a lake which we were now looking at. The view of the terminal lake was a bit ugly to be honest - mainly icy grey sludge.
After the disappointment that was Tasman Glacier we headed back to chill out at the homely Mounaineer cafe - hot chocolate, wedges, beer and a hot roaring fire helped us to wile away the rest of the afternoon in comfort. The next day was a long driving day from Mt Aoraki all the way to Kaikoura. The weather was still miserable and seemed to follow us all the way along our journey. Along the way we stopped at a salmon farm near Twizel and bought some fillets for supper. Apparently these were the healthiest and fittest king salmon in the world due to the pure nutrient rich water and rearing conditions. We also stopped by Tekapo for lunch and got some pretty cool views from around an old church overlooking the lake.