Aoraki Mount Cook

I’ve just spent 2 and a half glorious days in Aoraki Mount Cook village and national park. The weather could not have been more perfect.

We left Queenstown early on Friday morning. The Remarkables mountain range had a dusting of snow overnight – it’s definitely Autumn now! After a stop in Cromwell for supplies (there are no shops in Mt Cook village), we stopped for lunch overlooking Lake Pukaki. The blueness of the lake is amazing.

 
We arrived at our accommodation in Aoraki Mount Cook village at around 2pm. Aoraki is the Maori name for Mount Cook, and means ‘cloud piercer’. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the Hooker Valley Track, which is a walk I’d done when I was here back in 2014. The weather was much better this time, and we got some awesome views of Mt Cook on the walk, which we couldn’t even see in 2014.

   

 

As the sky was so clear, we were treated to a fabulous view of the night sky in the evening. It’s probably the clearest I’ve ever seen the Milky Way, and we could also see Jupiter and Mars really clearly. The views of the night sky that I’ve seen on my travels really have been something else.
On Saturday I took a 4WD ‘Argo’ trip to the terminal of the Tasman Glacier.

  
I have to say that this was one of the most uncomfortable journeys I’ve ever had, 5km up a boulder-strewn gravel track, but it was an awesome view when we got to the glacier.

  
I then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, learning about the first people to ascend various peaks in the Southern Alps, along with watching a 3D short film on Mount Cook, and an interesting documentary on Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest in 1953.

In the evening i had a vastly overpriced pint of cider from the bar at the backpackers. It was $11 – ¬£5.50 – basically London prices. I won’t be making that mistake again!!

Today (Sunday) was another beautiful day. I walked up the Sealy Tarns track. This was quite challenging. Roughly 90 minutes of walking up steps, though I suspect fitter people could do it in around an hour. The views on the way up, and at Sealy Tarns lookout, were amazing.

   
 
It only took me 45 minutes to get back down, and even with about half an hour for lunch at the top, I was still within the suggested 3 hour time frame for the walk.

I also walked to Kea Point, which was 10 minutes from the start/end of the Sealy Tarns track, and gave another great view of Aoraki Mount Cook.

  
After my long walk, I treated myself to a bath. Yes, that’s right, this hostel has baths! I love a bath, and it feels like forever since I had one, though in reality it was about 5 weeks ago in Rotorua.

Tomorrow we move on to Rangitata, where I will not be partaking in white water rafting (which is basically the only thing to do in Rangitata). The day after that we head to Christchurch where I will be renting a car for a little road trip…

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

We awoke at some ungodly hour (5am) in Whakahoro so that we could drive to National Park to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the best one-day walks in the world according to Lonely Planet. It would be hard to disagree with that statement.

We arrived in National Park Village at around 7.45am, and I hired myself some walking poles as I’d found them invaluable on the Inca Trail last November. After a warming cup of hot chocolate we set off for the start of the crossing at Mangatepopo car park. It was a beautifully clear day and we had 19.4km of hiking ahead of us.

  
The first hour or so of the hike was relatively flat, but we started to climb in the second hour. The track is well marked out, but the terrain wasn’t always easy to walk on. This is a live volcanic area and there is a lot of loose rock around.

After the first ascent we arrived at the south crater and had a rather glorious view of Mt Ngauruhoe (now-roo-ho-ey), probably better known these days as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.

 
The volcano has such a wonderful, conical shape. It’s really something to behold.

We then walked through the south crater:

 
 

There was the option, if you were particularly fit and a speedy walker, to climb Mt Ngauruhoe, but that was never an option for me in the timeframe that we had.

There was then another ascent to the Red Crater:

 
 

Then there was a final ascent to view the Emerald Lakes before what I can only describe as a terrifying descent down a narrow path with lots of very loose volcanic sand and rocks.

  

This next picture doesn’t really capture the magnitude or scariness of the descent. It makes it look like a gentle walk downhill, but I assure you it wasn’t!

  

We stopped at the Emerald Lakes for lunch. We’d been walking for about 3hrs and 45 minutes at this point.

After lunch we headed on to the Blue Lake

  

And after this, we continued the long descent to the finish point at Ketetahi car park. There were some glorious view of Lake Taupo in the distance (behind the hills) on the way down:

 
As well as a reminder that this is an active volcanic zone with steam coming out of the mountain:

  

In the end it took me 7 hours and 15 minutes including breaks. We were given 8 hours to complete it (that’s when the bus would pick us up from the finishing point). Big thanks to my walking buddy Tamsin for keeping me going despite numerous breaks.

After coming here with G Adventures in November 2014 and not being able to attempt the crossing due to the poor weather, I’m so glad I was able to complete it this time round. I highly recommend doing this if you are ever in New Zealand, but don’t take it lightly. This was a tough walk and if you don’t have some level of fitness, it will be a massive challenge.