Aoraki Mount Cook & The Lakes - 15 to 17 November 2010

Published: December 1st 2010
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We arrived in Tekapo around mid morning after a lovely journey through the countryside. Lake Tekapo is a turquoise glacial lake reflecting the surrounding mountains and right by the lake edge is the simple Church of the Good Shepherd, built in stone and oak. The church was built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country and services are still held on a regular basis. Because of the picturesque setting with views of the mountains through the altar window the church has become a popular wedding location for tourist particularly those from Japan and whilst we were there a wedding party did indeed arrive. We had a chat with the local custodian of the church and he said that they had two weddings scheduled that day and quite a few during the summer season. After chatting to him for a while he said he originally came from Romsey and was born in North Baddesley but moved to New Zealand when he was a young lad and stayed (small world). We also had a chat to a coach driver who had just arrived with a group of tourist and he gave us the name of a friend of his in Tasmania where we could get a ‘bargain price’ for a motorhome if we wanted to hire one on our visit next year (again very friendly people). Further along the lake edge was a bronze statue of a collie dog, a tribute to the hardy sheepdogs that helped develop the Mackenzie Country. The lake was in a truly stunning location particularly at this time of year as the whole area was covered with lupins in full bloom (lupins are a ‘weed’ and not native to New Zealand and are removed in some areas) but they make for a glorious vista at this time of year. The yellow, white, blue and pink flowers against the blazing turquoise colour of the lake and the distant mountains made the whole area look like a beautiful picture which is hard to capture in a photograph but we have given it a go (see photo). Apparently the unreal colour of the lake is due to ‘rock flour’ (sediment) in the water. This so called ‘flour’ was created when the lake’s basin was gouged out by a stony-bottomed glacier moving across the land’s surface, with the rock on rock action grinding out the fine particles that ended up being suspended in the glacial melt water. This sediment gives the water a milky quality which refracts the sunlight, hence the brilliant colour. . The colour is also shared by Lake Pukaki where we will be heading next on our way to Mount Cook. Our campsite was right on the edge of the lake and we had a lovely view from our motorhome of the lake and mountains and would you believe it but our neighbours were our ‘dutch friends’ who had arrived at the same time as us at our previous campsite in Geraldine so we had another long chat with them.. We set off on one of the many walks in the area to the summit of Mount John, which was about a 3 hour walk which started at the thermal spa and ice skating rink on the edge of the campsite. The track climbed steeply through larch forest to open tussock grasslands where there was a wonderful 360 degree view of the Mackenzie basin and we sat and had a picnic lunch with a view to die. A loop track high above the larch trees continued around the mountain and finally we arrived at the top of Mount John where the University of Canterbury operates an observatory. Lake Tekapo has the clearest, darkest and most spectacular night sky in New Zealand and Paul was hoping that we would have a clear night so that he could come back to visit the observatory at night. Unfortunately the skies clouded over as we headed back down the mountain and as we walked along the lake edge back to the campsite we again came across our ‘dutch friends’ - as you do! It was becoming quite funny as there were not that many people around at most of the campsites but we kept ‘bumping into’ them. We were really tired after our long climb so we decided to visit the thermal pools which was right next to the campsite. There were three large hot water pools at varying temperatures of 36, 38 and 40 degrees. We spent a long time soaking our aching bones - true bliss! The only other person in the pools was a lady who came from the Bundesburg, Australia an area, near Mons Repos we were hoping to visit next year to see nesting turtles. Apparently her father used to work in the sugar industry and she knew it well, she gave us some useful tips for when we visited. The next morning we moved on heading for Mount Cook and as we travelled over the Mackenzie basin the views were superb - we came around a sharp bend and were blinded by the colour of Lake Pukaki it was truly wonderful, I had to make sure that Paul kept watching the road and not the lake!!! On the edge of the lake was a view point for our first glimpse of Aoraki Mount Cook. The lake has one of the best views of the mountain but we were not lucky as today the mountain top was covered in low cloud, although the lake was in brilliant sunshine. We have to return this way in a few days time as there is only one road up to Mount Cook Village so hopefully we will be lucky then to get that ideal picture. We stopped and took some photographs of the lake and then continued on to our campsite which followed the lake down through the valley and finally arrived at Glentanner Campsite which was the nearest ‘power’ campsite to the mountain. We booked in and had a lovely cup of flat white and again were able to choose our own pitch. We selected a site that had lake and hopefully Mount Cook view (if the cloud lifted from the mountain) and settled in for the evening. All was very quiet on the campsite and we thought how peaceful this site is, until that was broken by the arrival of a huge group of children on summer camp!!. We spent some time chatting with their teachers who said that the children were going to do several walks in the area and stay for a couple of days. Would you believe it but behind our motorhome in a large field (which we had not noticed) was the ‘dreaded trampoline’ and sure enough the children soon discovered it. The teachers however said that if they became a ‘pest’ to send them back!!!!! – but actually they were very well behaved so we didn’t. Later we went for a short walk down to the lake and encountered various different birds including one which we did not recognised but looked like a chaffinch but was brown with a red head and a reddish stripe down their breast - hopefully we will find out what they are (we did it was a Red Poll an introduced bird from Europe). We continued down to the lakeside where several small rivers were flowing into the lake from the melting snow on the mountains and watched some Oyster Catchers on the lake and river before returning for a lovely barbecue supper. The teachers were cooking for the children and we stopped and chatted to them for a while. We awoke next morning and the cloud was still over the mountain but we headed off to Mount Cook Village hopeful that it would clear on the way however just as we set off we heard a loud crash and stopped the van we had forgotton to shut one of the cupboards and one of the only two dinner plates we had been supplied with crashed to the ground (no tea for Paul)! As there are no shops in the area we would have to try and find one as soon as we moved on otherwise we would be sharing the same dinner plate. The road followed the lake and then the valley crossing several streams before we finally arrived in the village and national park where we were going to undertake a couple of walks. Of the 27 New Zealand mountains over 3050m high, 22 are in this park. The peak that all the others look up to is the mighty Mount Cook, which at 3755m is the highest peak in Australasia. Known to the Maori as Aorake (Cloud Piercer) after an ancestral deity in Maori mythology, the tent shaped Mount Cook was named after James Cook by Captain Stokes of the survey ship HMS Acheron. This region has always been the focus of mountaineering and on Christmas Day 1884 a trio of local climbers reached the summit by ascending the Hooker Glacier (we hope to walk to the base of this glacier) and north ridge, a brilliant climb in those days. In 1948 Edmund Hillary’s party climbed the south ridge along with Tenzing Norgay, Hillary went on to become the first to reach the summit of Everest and giving his association with the region the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is located in the village. The centre is designed to educate visitors about the Aoraki Mount Cook region and its people; highlights include a full-dome digital planetarium, an outstanding museum collection and a 3D movie. We picked up some walking leaflets from the visitor centre and checked the weather forecast before we set off on our first walk the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View. We had to drive the motorhome along a gravel track for 6 km to reach the start of the walk and huge dust clouds followed us and the van was covered in dust by the time we parked (Paul will have to get his cleaning clothes on). The walk started on a gentle slope but soon we were climbing across large boulders although the track was well maintained. We passed by the blue lakes, originally named because of their intense blue colour but could now be more accurately described as green ponds and continued upwards to the end of the track where there was an amazing view of the glacier terminal and the Tasman River. Spectacular icebergs could be seen floating below us on the lake but the view of Aoraki was still partially covered in cloud. We waited for a while taking photographs of the icebergs and chatting to a couple who had just arrived. They were from Maidenhead and one of them was born in Olivers Battery in Winchester (again small world) they were also waiting for the clouds to clear and before long they did indeed lift and we had our first glimpse of the tent like peaks of the summit of Mount Cook which was definitely worth waiting for (and I did get a rest before our descent!). We descended and took a detour around the rock strewn area to reach the lake edge to get a close up view of the icebergs on the lake and up close they were huge, before returning to our motorhome for lunch and a rest. In the afternoon we drove to the start of our next walk the Hooker Valley track which was a 3-4 hours return walk. The track passed the Alpine Memorial which is dedicated to those who have lost their lives on the mountain which was quite poignant and continued to the Hooker River and crossed over two swing bridges one of which was very precarious and just as we were half way across the wind picked up which was quite scary but we got across (I nearly ran) and continued to the Stocking Stream shelter. Following the river we came across lots of the famous Mount Cook Lily, the largest buttercup in the world which blooms in November, a lovely white and yellow flower. We finally reached the Hooker Glacier terminal lake just as the wind became quite strong and we took shelter behind some rocks as we were getting blown off our feet I was hoping it would ease for our return trip across the two swing bridges. This lake had a couple of icebergs and at the end of the lake was a lovely view of the glacier edge. We did not stay long as the weather was beginning to look more overcast and it was a long way back. The area around the lake did have avalanche warning signs and I had seen a small one up on the mountain side at the start of the walk so we set off back down the track to return finally returning to the motorhome. Back at the campsite we met the teachers who had also had a good day, they were cooking dinner for the children and were having apple crumble and Paul mentioned to one of them that it looked really good (we do not tend to have sweets after dinner). We had dinner and just as we had finished we saw one of the teachers walking up towards our motorhome, she had brought us up two hot bowls of apple crumble and cream which was truly delicious and such a lovely thought. The next morning we returned to the village as Paul wanted to see the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre but I preferred to see the museum (and have a bit of retail therapy in the shop) so we agreed to meet up later in the day. Paul wanted to see three of the listed shows which would last just over an hour. The first was about ‘Black Holes’ - not top of his list. However he was the only one attending that show so the young girl operating the centre said she would show him another film which would be more spectacular and he was lucky as he had the whole theatre to himself. The next film was about Aokari Mount Cook and in 3D and this for him was the most impressive one of them all. The last was a planetarium style film, but Paul was a bit disappointed with this. In between the shows he was able to also wander around the Edmund Hillary exhibition which was most interesting. I also had a good morning wandering around the visitor centre which was quite large and interesting and well worth a visit. We met up later in the shop where I persuaded him to buy me a ‘bargain’ - a much needed alpine gullet to keep out the cold of the mountains (I thought it was nearly summer)! We then headed off to our next location via Twizel where we stopped for coffee and cake and on to Oamaru back out on the east coast of New Zealand.


1st December 2010

Swing Bridges
Well done Sheila I am really impressed you have been getting across these bridges, bet you are glad you did the one at Tintagel to get in some practice. Love the traffic jam picture, would make getting to work more interesting in Winchester if it was sheep blocking St Georges Street instead of delivery vans.
4th December 2010

Chunky monkey!
John thinks Paul is looking more like Bill Oddie - too much fine dining & beer??!!

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