In Awe of Giants

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
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Trip End Jan 04, 2012


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What I did
Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, November 28, 2011

Sir Edmund Hillary is a little bit of a hero for me. His book, High Adventure, is something which I took an interest in after reading Job Krakauers 'Into Thin Air', which relates the story of the 1996 Mount Everest Tragedy. This book gave in detail the dangers of the tourist climbing industry at Everest after the accelerating pressure on climbing guides to ‘summit’ their group led to several experienced climbers and tourist climbers dying on the mountain in one ferocious storm; the highest amount of deaths in any season on Everest. . It is man versus mountain, in the same way with Robert Scott; it was man versus Antarctic. With Jon Krakauers book, and with Scott; Nature won. With Edmund Hillary however, he was the first man to summit on Everest – with no prior route to the top set out, no advanced clothing, no roped routes and no cut steps which are commonplace now. It was a pure mountain climb with Sherpa Tenzing. The purity of the climb is where I took the interest, in the same way that with Scott it was pure exploration.

Edmund Hillary honed his climbing skills on the tough challenge of Mt Cook, setting the first ascent of the South face of the mountain. And that is where we drove to visit after leaving Wanaka 3 hrs West. Mount Cook National Park.

We arrived in the National Park, 55km off the main East to West highway out of Christchurch. Putting things in perspective in terms of how basic and easy to drive around the country it is, from leaving our campsite in Wanaka, getting to Mt cook took 3 left turns and 1 right turn over the course of 220km.

Mount Cook village is very small. The village is a bit of a misnomer in that it is more a big hotel. The Hermitage, and a few little buildings that support the hotel. Driving through the valley to Mount Cook you pass a huge turquoise (and that is not being dramatic, it is turquoise) lake with the mountains building in size up to and surrounding the village. The extreme flatness of the valley floor just highlights and dramatizes the scale of these Southern Alps into giants.

We pulled up close to the Hermitage and made a beeline for the hotel; where the Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre opened in 2007, just a year before the legend passed away. The Edmund Hillary Alpine centre is disappointingly not as fitting as it should be to such a giant of climbing. The museum itself has a few displays on other lesser known New Zealand climbers, and the long history of the famous Hermitage Hotel with very little attributed to Hillary’s antics. Hillary’s section is more a gallery of photos and a small display of books and memorabilia from the 5oth anniversary of the first Everest climb and from Hillary’s death. It’s a shame a few items from his life couldn’t be on display, such as items used in climbing etc but we assumed they must be housed somewhere else. That being the case, the displays on the other climbers were very interesting and filled the time between the shows we were there to actually see.

The shows were a series of theatre based screenings. The Alpine centre has a little theatre with 3 different screen types; a 2D screen, a 3D screen and a Planetarium. To go with this they have 6 shows on currently; a 5-7 year old show which I wouldn’t allow Kate to see called ‘Tycho to the moon’, 3 Planetarium shows (Black Holes, Space Traveller and Infinity Express), the main feature ‘Hillary on Everest’ (A channel 4 programme filmed a few years back) and a 3D short film called Mount Cook Magic.

Short review on each that we watched follows and guess if we enjoyed our day.

Hillary on Everest – 1hr 15minute revealing documentary showing the sadness behind being such an iconic figure. The film documents events leading up to Hillary and Tenzing’s successful summit and the following events of Hillarys life including the tragic death of his Wife and Daughter (and dealing with that with alcohol), his remarrying the wife of a best friend who had passed away, his crossing of the Antarctic with Vivian Fuchs, the depression and passing away of Tenzing, and his later life as a fundraiser for Nepal. Very open film showing that not all highs are without lows.

Space Traveller – 20 minute planetarium snippet which puts everything in perspective and makes you feel very small. I came away awestruck by the scale of things. What is the point of it all anymore?!

Mount Cook Magic – Everyone loves a bit of 3D. And this was no exception. The show was a little bit of a sales pitch for the region with a sweeping panoramic video showcasing all the things you could do in the area; climbing, skiing, helicopter flights, hiking etc; in 3D close up glory. The terrific shots made Mt cook look like a mountain not to be messed with.

Black Holes – Geoffrey Rush narrating complex physics theory in a planetarium. Whats not to like?! This was very complicated but very pretty. We were both a bit perplexed after a couple of minutes, but it all sounded very impressive. The numbers and scale of the things being discussed are just beyond the realms of my understanding and so I took from it what I could;

"oooooo….black hole". That pretty much sums it up.

After leaving the Hermitage quite pleased with the day’s events I had to run and pick up the campervan in the lashing rain while Kate kept herself dry under cover. A short 10 minute drive took us to the local busy DOC site in Hooker Valley and a short drive back to the Hermitage allowed us to get some change so we could pay for the local DOC site.

Once settled, we slept out the somewhat breezy, rainy night in hope of a clear day for a bit of a walk and some Stargazing in the evening.
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