10 December Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki Mount Cook

No, we didn’t climb it! But we did see it in its sunlit glory this morning, before it decided to hide its head in the clouds.We drive south west towards but not as far as Twizel. The road is wide and clear, and crosses a wide turquoise canal – part of the complex hydro-electric system which ensures that each drop of water is used eight times to generate electricity before reaching the sea.

After about 30 kilometres we see Lake Pukaki, another blue-green sheet fringed with snowy peaks. Aoraki Mount Cook stands out, its height and shape unmistakeable. We stop along with several others to take photographs. It looks perfect, with the detail of its eastern slopes picked out by the morning sunlight. As we approach the Visitor Centre the views just get better. There’s a shop selling salmon products – and coffee. There’s a varied display of historical information, and natural history, as well as the hydro-electric system.

A passing truck driver calls in to buy a pack of salmon. How odd that he can drive through this scenery almost every day as his job.

We scramble about on the boulders in search of the perfect photo. Harry asks a couple of young Dutch women if they’ll take one of the pair of us, and returns the favour. The view of the mountain holds us there for far longer than the cup of coffee. We turn north along the road to Mt Cook village. 55 kilometres.

There’s a viewpoint before many kilometres – Peter’s Lookout. Another photo op. We stop to look at some pictures for sale from the back of a car. Pat Prendergast worked as an illustrator for several government departments for seventeen years, she tells us. She’s also a climber, a member of the NZ Alpine Club, and was up a mountain near to Cook just yesterday, even though she reckons she’s “a bit long in the tooth”. But the Alpine Club’s motto is “While we can!” We buy a small hand-coloured print, and she signs it. She recommends a walk along the Hooker Valley, if we have time.

IMG_6532When we get to Mount Cook village, the mountain is still visible, high above us. The cornices of snow are sharply sculpted. But the clouds are increasing. At ground level we find only the Visitor Centre and the Old Mountaineers Bar/Restaurant. The Visitor Centre has some excellent exhibitions, and we watch part of a video about Mountain Rescue. We decide to make do with our scant picnic provisions. Then we walk a little further and discover the Edmund Hillary complex with its cafeteria and shop.

Several tracks leave nearby. We choose a short walk to Kea Point, where you can see the moraine from the Mueller glacier. The glacier itself doesn’t extend this far at present. By now Aoraki is completely covered in cloud, though most of the lower mountains are clear. We see no more of him today, though the view at Pukaki car park is still splendid.

Home, with a stop for petrol and a mini food shop.