Mt Cook

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
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Trip End Dec 29, 2008


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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, June 13, 2008

After our soak in the hot springs we head off to our next destination, Mount Cook which is in the Mackenzie ranges and is where Sir Edmund Hilary did his training prior to his successful ascent of Mount Everest.  The drive, once again, takes us through stunning landscapes across the plains and along the shoreline of Lake Pukaki.  All the time we are virtually surrounded by snow-capped mountains. We arrive in the dark at Glentanner campsite which is about 20kms away from Mount Cook village. We have to drive around the site several times before we find a site which is a). level and b). not covered with snow. It is freezing!!
 
We make an early start towards Mount Cook, which, incidentally, I am sure I recognise as the company logo of Invesco Perpetual, the fund management company  (sad really, I have obviously spent way too long  in the financial services industry!).  Mount Cook village is an alpine village which, unsurprisingly, seems to exist only to service the mountaineering and tourism industry.  We call in at the visitor centre and after a brief chat with the staff decide to leave our attempt on the summit to another day and choose instead the oddly named, Hookers Valley walk.

The walk to the Valley of the Hookers is the most spectacular yet and it lulls us into a false sense of security as we walk through rolling grassland.  However as we head up into the valley things get a bit steeper and a lot rockier. We then have to walk across a "swing"(cable and plank) bridge high across the river.  Now I freely admit that I do not like heights but, unusually,  I was unaffected by vertigo probably because I was convinced that I was about to be blown off the bridge by the high winds! On our first attempt to cross the bridge we got a few metres across the and the wind was so strong that we had to turn back.  We waited for the wind to drop and headed over once again.  This time we were virtually in the middle when the wind really started blowing, but hanging on to the handrails we made it across and were rewarded with fantastic views of the lake and river below.  The river and lake are a strange opaque, white colour apparently as a result of the rock dust from the mountains.  The effect is a bit like a sea of milk.

About 30 mins further on and we are crossing another swing bridge (again in high winds!) and our thoughts go out to the mountaineers who must experience far worse.  As we round a corner in the valley we have an amazing view of Mt Cook and also of our first glacier where the ice is a pale blue in colour. On the way back to the van we pay a visit to the memorial to those who have died on the mountain  (quite a few as it happens).  This is definitely the place for an alpine experience in NZ.

Our next stop is Queenstown, the adventure capital of NZ and a very long drive through Lord of the Rings country and a lot of the scenery is recognisable from the movies. We stop en route, virtually in the middle of nowhere, at the Glacier Water Salmon Farm.  Before treating ourselves to some smoked salmon the guy in charge(from Manchester!), asks us if we would like to feed the fish.  So he gives us some fish food pellets which we throw into the water and all these salmon just leap out of the air in there desperation to get to the food.  The farm also allows visitors to catch their own salmon with a rod and line, but this doesn't seem fair somehow (plus we can't wait around for it to be smoked!).

After a long, long drive we arrive in Queenstown and search out a campsite (and a bottle shop as I really need a glass or two of wine after the drive!). Queenstown, like nearly all towns we have found in NZ so far, is perched on the edge of a huge, huge lake.  Despite this, Queenstown reminds us of Cairns in Australia in that it is full of gap year students.  The range of activities here is amazing.  This is where they invented the bungy jump and there are many different variations available, from cranes, over ravines, reverse bungy (where you are shot up into the air in a giant catapult), bungy trampolines....Other than bungy, this is the place to go skiing, snowboarding, white-water rafting and jet boating (which we intend to try on our way back through Queenstown from the Milford Sound). For the moment though, Queenstown is merely a transit stop as we head off down south to Te Anau on our way to Milford Sound.
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