June 28, 2008

The highest peak in Australasia

Declared a National Park in 1953 and a World Heritage Area in 1986, the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park covers over 70,000 hectares of alpine scenery, with over one third lying permanently under snow and ice. It boasts over 20 peaks in the Southern Alps above 3000m (and hundreds of others not far short of that), including the highest peak in Australasia, Mt Cook, named ‘Aoraki’ (cloud piercer in Maori) at 3755m, and five of New Zealand’s largest glaciers including the Tasman Glacier – 12km in length and one of the largest glaciers in the world.

A variety of walking trails begin in or near Mt Cook Village. One of the most popular is the walk leading up to the Hooker Valley from the White Horse Hill camping area towards Mt Cook. We immediately embarked on this walk upon arrival at Mt Cook Village. The track passes the Alpine Memorial, continuing to the Hooker River and crossing two swing bridges before reaching Stocking Stream Shelter for spectacular views of Mt Cook. We didn’t proceed further to the final destination of the terminal lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier as it was getting dark.

Alpine Memorial

Mueller Glacier

Spectacular view of Mount Cook Aoraki

We proceeded to check in at the Hermitage, arguably the most famous hotel in New Zealand, principally for its location and the fantastic views of Mt Cook. Originally constructed in 1884 in Hooker Valley 2km from its current site, the first hotel was destroyed in a flash flood in 1913. Rebuilt in its current site, it was completely burnt out in 1957; the present Hermitage was then rebuilt on the same site. The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, adjacent to the Hermitage Hotel, honours his longstanding connections with Mt Cook National Park. The humanitarian, ambassador and one of the world’s greatest explorers made a number of first ascents of impressive mountain climbing routes in the Park and used the area as a training ground for his Everest and Antarctic expeditions. Dinner was at the Old Mountaineer’s Café, Bar & Restaurant. The interior, decorated with old photographs of mountaineers, communicates the very soul and spirit of the mountains.

Old Mountaineer’s Café, Bar & Restaurant, decorated with knick knacks of mountaineering

Our most expensive dinner in NZ, coz there were not many eateries in the small village

The next morning, we snapped some photos around the Hermitage, before walking around the village.

View of the village

We then traveled several kilometers to the Tasman Valley for views of the Tasman Glacier. From the car park, it was an easy 30 minute walk on a gravel path through lunar landscape of jumbled rock and carpets of moss leading down to the grey sludge of the terminal glacial lake with floating icebergs. It was rather unsightly compared to the usual spectacular sweep of ice higher up the glacier.

The rocky landscape and glacial lake

1 comment:

jazzmint said...

wow...love the sight. It reminds me alot about LOTR the movie :)