New Zealand Part 7: Aoraki/Mount Cook

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Our second (and last) day at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park was packed full of activities.  My daughter Halley and I wanted to see as much as possible in the limited time we had and after careful consideration we decided on a couple short easy hikes in the nearby valleys.   After breakfast at the hotel we drove over to the start of the Hooker Valley Trail, noted for its suspension bridges.   We knew we didn’t have time to do the entire walk, but hoped to see a couple of the bridges.  I should also mention that the day was a bit overcast and still we had no view of Mount Cook.

Suspension bridge on Hooker Valley Track

Suspension bridge on Hooker Valley Track

The trail was fairly easy to the bridge shown above.  Then it started to wind over a series of steps, not as much fun on my old knees.  We pressed on determined to get to the second bridge.  The clouds were rolling in and there was a fine mist in the air, not a good sign.  By the time we arrived at the second bridge that mist had developed into rain.  It wasn’t too awful; we were wearing rain gear.  Still, we opted to call it a morning and headed back to the car.  We had planned to visit Kea Point but just didn’t feel confident about the weather.

Instead we drove back to the hotel and puttered about.  I should interrupt my story and mention that we really enjoyed our stay at The Hermitage.

Part of the Hermistage Hotel at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Our area of The Hermitage Hotel          Photo by Halley Sanchez

Our room was the second or third row from the top with a great view!  And we could walk across a causeway to the main area where the restaurants and shops were.  That was very handy.  We took advantage of this and went to explore the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and watch one of the films about his life.  These play at set times throughout the day in the on-sight theatre.  Hillary is a household word here.    Of course I knew about him and his climb to the summit of Mount Everest, but I knew little else, so all of this was very enlightening.  What an amazing man.

Sir Edmund Hillary statue in bronze by Bryn M. Jones

Sir Edmund Hillary statue in bronze by Bryn M. Jones

This is a good time to mention that Mount Cook is the English name for New Zealand’s tallest mountain.  Aoraki is the Maori name.  Some say this means “cloud piercer” but I don’t really know if that’s true.  The two names were officially joined in 1998.

Returning to my story, in the afternoon the weather cleared and we tried hiking again, this time heading for Kea Point.  It was nippy and very windy on the trail and once we made it to our destination we were eager to see Mount Cook.  Alas, it was still missing.  And we didn’t see a single kea at Kea Point.  That too was a big disappointment.  Here is the image of Mount Cook from Kea Point.  You can’t see the mountain but you do get a great view of the moraine.

View of glacial moraine and the clouds covering Mount Cook

Mount Cook should be right in the center, where the clouds are!           Photo by Halley Sanchez

Of course once again we were in a bit of a rush.  We had plans for the evening.  We had reservations for dinner in the Panorama Room and then had a stargazing excursion.  I was greatly looking forward to that!  Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve.  Surely I would see some beautiful stars.

We were thwarted yet again as things didn’t go quite as planned.  Yes, we had a wonderful dinner and we did get to the planetarium on time for the show. After that we grabbed one of the heavy coats provided and boarded a bus for the short drive out to the airport.  The telescopes were all set up for us and we had some great views of Pegasus, Arcturus, Capricorn and Mars.  But the clouds moved in quickly.  Even as you looked, the stars were winking out.  Alas, our viewing was cut short by the weather.

Just for the record I did finally get an image of Mount Cook.   This was taken after we returned from Kea Point!  How quickly things change.

Aoraki/Mount Cook

Aoraki/Mount Cook

Does this post sound like a series of disappointments?  I hope not.  I greatly enjoyed this part of my adventure in New Zealand.  On the next trip I’ll try to pick a dryer time of year and maybe I’ll actually get to hike Hooker Valley.  We’ll see.

 


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