Aoraki is the Maori name of Mount Cook in the Southern Alps, the highest mountain in New Zealand at 12,218 feet. We spent two full days in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in a cozy hostel tucked between the snowcapped mountains. We shared a room with six others and slept in bunk beds – the last time we’ll do that this trip! I’m not sad.
The drive from Te Anau to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park was through beautiful Lindis Pass. The mountains were covered with low, golden bushes that shimmered in the sunlight and gave the appearance of gold dust sprinkled on them by some celestial being.
As we continued driving, we saw our first glimpse of Lake Pukaki and gasped at its bright, Powerade blue color. As beautiful as it was, going down to the shore and dipping our feet in was a little freaky. It is so clouded with sediment from the glaciers that run into it that there’s practically no visibility. Not somewhere I’d want to swim! And I doubt I could stand the glacial temperatures anyway.
The road into Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park just got better and better.
The next day we cooked breakfast at our hostel – always an intricate dance requiring lots of patience when 20 people are sharing one kitchen – and then headed out to hike the Hooker Valley Track that would put us at the foot of Hooker Lake with a great view of Mount Cook.
It was WINDY. There were gusts that pushed us over and forced us to turn from the wind, crouch, and cover our faces to protect them from flying pebbles. It was that kind of windy.
Once we got down to Hooker Lake, the wind was only crazier. The spray off the lake covered us head to toe in a thin layer of chilly glacial water. We had fun just standing and waiting to brace ourselves for the next big gust, seeing if we could hold our ground. (Often we could not).
In the afternoon, we hiked up to a view of the Tasman Glacier and found a wonderful rocky perch where we sat for a good long time, watching the icebergs and clouds shift and change, and talking about the changes we have coming up ourselves.
The next day, after a suggestion from our bunkmate (a dancer from New York City! It was nice to meet another American), we headed back to Tasman Glacier to find a spot at the lake shore and get closer to the icebergs.
We found this bit of information helpful as we marveled at all the different water colors so close to one another.
The next day, before heading off to our next destination, Tekapo, we explored the Kea Point Track. Sadly, we didn’t see any Keas (those alpine parrots that were so annoying but cute in Fjordland National Park) but we did get some great views from a new perspective.
Farewell, Aoraki/Mount Cook! Now we drive back south along Lake Pukaki to our next stop. The beautiful Lake Tekapo region has some of the darkest skies in the world and we can’t wait to do some southern hemisphere stargazing!