I was so enthralled with the mountains and the beautiful scenery right outside the van I couldn’t sleep the first night we were parked up at the White Horse Hill DOC camp at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. This was the magical view from my bedroom window, I left the blind up so I could see Mt Sefton sparkling and shimmering in the moonlight at the end of the valley. In the end, with sleep eluding me, I thought I might as well make the most of it. I dressed and got my camera gear together and stepped outside to take some night shots in the peace and stillness of a calm and clear night. This one was taken at 2am!
The temperature was very mild considering the time and where we were, beside the Southern Alps, the night sky a beauty with a million twinkling stars above. Looking down the valley towards the Tasman River plain and Lake Pukaki.
I crept about the carpark trying to keep the gravel crunch of my footsteps to a minimum, there were a few sleeper vans parked in the day carpark with us. I’m sure if any of the others sleeping soundly in the cars had looked out and seen me, they’d wonder what the crazy lady was doing moving about their vehicles and shining a light over the 5th-wheeler. I did some light painting of the van with my head torch, watched the moon rise above the mountains behind me and took more photos of Mt Sefton in the beautiful moonlight.
I returned to bed but still couldn’t sleep and as I watched dawn approaching I was up again and back out with my camera to catch sunrise. I hadn’t seen Mt Cook yet but I knew it was visible from Kea Point and I was hoping to get there to catch the pink hue of sunrise on our tallest mountain.
I thought I’d walk to Kea Point, the 20 minute walking track exited the carpark right beside our van. But I took too long getting ready and taking photos of Mt Sefton again. Before I knew it the sun was rising without me. Blast! Never mind, I managed to catch the pink hue on Mt Sefton instead. These were taken at 5:30am.
I hurried on up the track anyway, startling a number of rabbits along the way. The track passes through landscape that was formed in 1913 when a stream cut through from the Mulleur Glacier to the original Hermitage Hotel site, damaging the building and forcing the new hotel to be built further down the valley and off to the side. A bonus was that the hotel now has fantastic views of Mt Cook.
A short time later I rounded a corner to see my first close up view of the majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook towering above the ridge ahead of me, the sun warming it’s eastern slopes.
Beautiful Aoraki/Mt Cook lies in the Southern Alps, the mountain range that runs the length of the South Island, and is New Zealand tallest mountain at 3724 metres.
The Kea Point walk climbs gradually up through sub-alpine grasslands and scrub to finish at a lookout platform on the edge of the Mueller Glacier moraine wall.
The platform is high above the Mueller Glacier Lake, the opposite moraine wall and Mt Cook behind, are across the wide expanse.
Across the lake to the right and at the base of Mt Wakefield(2012m) is the Hooker River outlet, the river flows from the Hooker Glacier Lake which is at the top end of the Hooker Valley and at the base of the Hooker Glacier, on the west side of Mt Cook. The Tasman Glacier is on the east side.
There are stunning 360 degree views from the viewing deck.
There’s Mt Sefton(3151m) and The Footstool (the right hand peak) and the Mueller Glacier which is around the corner and out of view. High up on the sides of Mt Sefton I can see the dirty blue of glacial ice. There’s nothing here to give these photos scale but believe me everything is on a grand scale- extremely high and and very deep. A person in the valley below would just be a speck on the landscape.
Behind me I can see the track up to the Sealy Tarns, a gut-busting near vertical track to the top of the Mueller Ridge which takes 3-4 hours return for a fit person, everyone else it would be all day…if you made it. The track runs up the deep gully to a lower ridge and then you can see it tracking along the top, apparently there are some amazing views from up there but you won’t be seeing them from me anytime soon. I spot a moving dot of blue and zoom in to see a person stepping it out, the only sign of life I see for the next couple of hours.
But it’s Mt Cook that steals the scene and I can’t stop clicking especially when the clouds suddenly streak out from behind it.
I have the whole place to myself which is surprising, considering the amount of people back in the camp and the fact that it’s now approaching 7am on what is going to be a beautiful day. I sit there in the peace & quiet contemplating this magical place and soaking up the atmosphere and the cool mountain air. I’m also thinking about the climber that has been reported missing on Mt Cook a couple of days beforehand, he’s up there somewhere. And sadly his body was found a day or so later. Another life taken by a mountain that draws the adventurous in.
I set my tripod up to take a selfie….well you can’t visit Mt Cook for the very first time and not record the event can you? And sit there for another half an hour or so. I still can’t believe I have the place to myself or understand why nobody has arrived, I thought they’d at least be a photographer or two to catch the sunrise.
Finally after a couple hours by myself I head back down to camp and as I round a corner I spot two people coming up the track towards me…can you see them? On the far right.
I turn around after they have passed me and zoom in to take a shot of them approaching the top of the track and the view of Mt Cook.
Further down, the view opens up and the morning sun is already warming the Hermitage Hotel up across the valley.
The only other people I see before I get back home is this lovely couple who have only made it a short distance up the track before they’ve had to take a break. They are thinking of not continuing on but I encourage them to take it slowly and rest often, because there’s no way they’d want to miss the fantastic views at the other end. They chuckle and kid each other and want me to take a photo of them on their camera, which I do. Then I say goodbye and carry on, looking back just before I disappear around a bend to see that they’re still sitting there on the rock waving and laughing at me!