As we drive along the shoreline of the blue-green Lake Pukaki , the views of the snow-capped mountains of the Mackenzie Range mountains are just magnificent. We are heading to the stunning Aoraki aka Mount Cook.
Pukaki is a beautiful and very long lake. The drive which took us a lot longer to than we planned simply because we were stopping every five minutes to admire the views.
Our first night is spent at Glentanner campsite, 20kms away from Mount Cook village. We have to drive around the site several times before we find a site which is both level and not covered with snow.
An early start to Mount Cook Alpine Village a place whose only purpose seems to be to service the mountaineering and tourism industry. A functional rather than particularly charming place. This is where Sir Edmund Hilary did his training prior to conquering Mount Everest. We called in at the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre where the staff suggested we take the Hooker Valley walk and maybe the trek up to the Red Tarns.
This walk is wonderful and, as we saunter through the rolling grassland, it initially lulls us into a false sense of security . Once into the valley itself the path soon gets steeper and a lot rockier. We attempt to cross a cable and plank bridge swinging high across the river but get a just few metres across the and the wind was gusting so strong that we had to turn back.
We waited for the wind to drop and headed over once again. This time we were right in the middle when the wind really kicked off! Hanging on to the handrails for dear life (high winds I can cope with – heights I don’t like!). We make it across, continue along the track and are rewarded with yet more stunning views of the lake and river below.
The river is an opaque, milky white colour, a result of the rock dust borne down from the mountains by the glacier.
About 30 mins further on and we are crossing another swing bridge (again in high winds!) – our thoughts go out to the mountaineers who must experience far worse. As we round a corner we get our first amazing sight of the pale, translucent blue of the glacier slowly sliding down Aoraki. Incredible!
Our first visit to Aoraki was in 2008. It is quite shocking to see the effect that climate change has had on the glacier even in that short period. Looking at the photos in the visitors centre of the glacier from further back the longer term changes are horrifying!
On the way back to the van we pay a visit to the memorial to the many who have died on the mountain (quite a few as it happens).
This night we camp at the much nicer D.O.C. site at White Horse Hill, a couple of kilometres from Mount Cook Village. Toilets, running water, BBQ area a vast improvement from last night but still bloody cold!
Red Tarns Trail
After breakfast the weather is not looking good so we decide to move on, but not before stopping off for another short hike, this time to the Red Tarns.
The sign at the beginning of the trail says to allow 2 hours. It is a bit of a slog involving an ascent of around 1000 metres up a quite steep mountainside but, as the clouds clear the views across the valley to Mount Cook make it all worthwhile.
Two thirds of the way up, the ribs Carolyn injured in Vietnam begin to play up, so I leave her to rest and continue on alone. Determined to see these Red Tarns (the colour is caused by algae in the water), it gets steeper, colder and wetter and I am almost at the point of giving up when, at last, as if by magic; a rainbow that appears and I see the summit ahead.
A few minutes on from the summit and I am looking at the Red Tarns – except that they are not red but a sort of muddy brown/green and possibly better described as small ponds or even large puddles!
Oh well! The views have made it all worthwhile.
The photos in this entry are a combination of those from our first visit in 2008 and again in 2017.