I’ve explained my love of the Mackenzie Country in the Canterbury area of New Zealand’s South Island, but in so doing I glossed over a rather important landmark that sits in the northern corner of the region. Don’t worry though – you won’t miss it!
Mt Cook, or Aoraki (it’s usually labelled as both simultaneously) is New Zealand’s largest peak and is one of the many, many, many fantastic locations for hikers and lovers of scenic landscapes to escape in the country. We passed through in a rush at the end of our journey and only had a single night at Mt Cook village. The base-camp style township is clearly only there to service tourists, climbers and hikers so the facilities are Spartan, although if you’re in New Zealand for the shopping alone, your priorities are wrong!
Once we’d dropped our gear at the hotel, we headed off to explore. Our first stop was the massive Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s largest ice, flows down from the alps into the Mackenzie Basin, ending in Tasman Lake. The lake is a relatively new addition to the landscape, and is the result of rapid melting. The Lake and glacier have already reached a stage where the meltwater has inexorably accelerated the glacier’s calving. What is ultimately the death warrant for the glacier made for an amazing short walk. We took the 700m stroll up the bluff for a look at the lake and glacier, before detouring down to the lake harbour, a basic launch spot for the lake tours that operate in the area. There was no activity while we were there so we had the lake, the ice and the mountains to ourselves!
A few skimmed stones later, we wandered along the water’s edge to the mouth of the stream that takes the meltwater towards the much larger Lake Pukaki which was a prominent vista on the drive into Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Before dinner, we took a stroll along a few of the trails to see Mueller lake and possibly some native Keas. We found the lake, but the bright green alpine parrot with a penchant for destruction of property eluded us.
Over all, we spent about 24 hours in the National Park, but we could easily have spent a week exploring the hiking trails, or just sitting on the trail looking at the amazing scenery. This will not be the last you hear of Aoraki at Einstein’s Barber Shop!