Aoraki/Mt Cook – Alpine Explorers

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Mt Cook out of the clouds – a rare sight!

I had high hopes about this adventure.

A last minute weather forecast change in our favour had us bundling into the Subie at 8am in the morning and setting off for Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

Getting up close and personal with Mt Cook was on my New Zealand bucket list.

One of the world’s most famous explorers, Sir Edmund Hillary had spent his early mountaineering days summiting the 3754m high peak in training for climbing Everest. There is a rumour around Ohau that we were potentially living in the house that Hillary hung out at between his expeditions, due to the small airfield being right on our doorstep…. hmm… true or false..?

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After about an hour 20 minutes drive from Ohau and along Lake Pukaki, a stunningly large turquoise expanse of water, we find this collection of exaggeratedly slanted roofed buildings nestled into the mountainside.

Mt Cook Village had a couple hotels, a campsite, a visitor centre and even a school there. Can you imagine going to school in such a picturesque setting?!

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Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre

The visitor centre is brimmed full of information about the mountains and beautiful maori wood carvings and has maps for trails all over the South Island.

The trails around Mt Cook are as follows:

Governer’s Bush Walk – 1hr return (loop track). Easy short walk.

Bowen Bush Walk – 10 min return (loop track). Easy short walk.

Glencoe Walk – 30 min return. Easy short walk.

Red Tarns Track – 2hr return. Steep and mainly stepped walking track.

Kea Point Track – 2hr return from village. 1hr return from White Horse Hill Campground. Easy short walk.

Sealy Tarns Track – 3-4hr return. Steep and stepped walking track.

Hooker Valley Track – 3hr return (+1hr from village). Easy walking track.

(More info… 1. Brochure 2. 3D Illustrated Map )

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After a bit of map reading we decide on the popular Hooker’s Valley Track to go for a good 3 hour round trip with a view of Hooker Glacier with Mt Cook in the background at the end.

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Memorial looking out over the valley towards Lake Pukaki

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There were a few noteworthy stops along the way, one being a memorial statue for all the explorers who had died around this area.

My favourite inscription here is “to live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die”.

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We continue along the winding gravel trails, raised wooden paths and over some stunning swing bridges through what reminds me of a dry-climate botanical gardens.

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Arty botanical leaves shot 😉

My fellow botanical enthusiast, Max starts to give me an interesting run down on why the plants look and feel the way they are due to the climate and drainage system here. It turns out that because this area is so windy, the plants have very small, waxy or needle-like leaves to stop moisture being lost from the plants quicker, but they have more leaves to increase the surface area for absorption of sunlight etc.

A botanical environment that is very obvious here.

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Mueller Glacier Lake

The colour of Mueller Glacier Lake blew me away. I have never seen such chalky green water flowing down a stream before. The water in this lake and the Hookers Glacier Lake is glacial meltwater with large amounts of ground up ‘glacial flour’ in it, which gives it a grey or brown hue.

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Hookers Glacier Lake

“Oh look! Those stripy rocks in the lake are so pretty!!”

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“It’s 100’s of years old glacial ice Sarah…”

And so it is. I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that this ice would not just disappear on an unexpectedly springy day. This water was thousands of years old.

Mt Cook, as promised, was hidden away behind a little pocket of clouds, only did it peak out as we were leaving Mt Cook Village. Due to the winds around Mt Cook creating a micro-climate up there, producing a cloud halo, it is actually quite rare to see it.

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Tasman Glacier

 

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Tasman Glacier Trail

Satisfied but still keen to venture out more, we drove up the Tasman valley road to a small campsite car park there. There are a couple of short and easy walking trails up here to the Tasman Glacier and Lake, and the Blue Lakes.

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Blue Lakes

The Blue Lakes are actually green now, due to them filling up with rainwater rather than glacial water, which supports the growth of algae. Many native fish also thrive in here now such as the Kōaro. We also caught a glimpse of a rather large fallen avalanche resting through the mountain valley.

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Blue Lakes

Reaching the top of the steps to the Tasman Glacier, we really didn’t expect to see something this beautiful on the other side of the hill….

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Tasman Glacier

It was incredibly turquoise! This vibrant tone bursting through the black gravel which had been pushed to either side of this lake from the glacial ice retreating back over hundreds of years, was awe inspiring. Nature is awesome.

You can see the Tasman glacial wall underneath the black gravel at the very end of this lake. It will continue to retreat a couple metres every year, which made me feel super privileged to see something that might well be gone in a few years.

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Tasman Lake

The gravel wall at the sides is a reminder that the Tasman Glacier covered the entirety of this lake long ago. I especially like the little rainwater pool that formed at the other side, showing just how mineral-rich the water of the Tasman Lake is.

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The road to Mt Cook

All in all, a very interesting day. I learned what a glacier actually was, why plants are so spiky, why the lakes are the colour they are, how not to climb a barbed wire fence, and that there used to be an old ski field next to the Tasman Lake.

Every day is a school day.

 

 

 

 

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