Monday, 25 January 2016

Breathtaking Aoraki/Mt Cook


The time had come to hit the road again, leave Lake Tekapo behind and continue heading south. With a small window of fine weather forecast before another late spring storm was due,  we made the decision to head to Aoraki/Mt Cook for a couple of days. We’d passed the end of the road a few times on our travels but the weather was overcast and/or raining each time and as it’s 55km to the end of the road there’s just no point in visiting the tallest mountain in New Zealand if it has it’s head in the clouds all the time you're there- Aoraki is Maori for 'cloud piercer' so there is a good chance it might be hidden.

We stopped at the Lake Pukaki lookout (our 4th visit), joining dozens of others- it must be the start of the tourist season, every second vehicle is a hire camper or a tourist bus…

and had our first clear view of the Mt Cook looking very impressive at the end of the lake.

Our next stop was for lunch at Peters Lookout, a few kilometres along the Mt Cook Road.

The area is not that large and is up on a knoll and it’s not until you pull in that you can see if there are any parking spots available. We don’t usually pull into places like this with the 5th-wheeler on the back, unless we have a clear view otherwise we can find ourselves in a bit of a pickle if there’s no turning or too many vehicles.

Luckily we managed to pull into a spot on the side of the carpark because as you can see, there were once again, plenty of tourists! As it was, while we were inside the van having lunch, a rental car pulled up beside our steps. I swear I could have stepped straight out and climbed into the driver’s seat without touching the ground.

What a place to have lunch though, the view is breathtaking, looking down a millpond Lake Pukaki- if you ignore the jumble of felled pine off-cuts in the foreground- and, although you can’t see it here, the water is the beautiful aqua blue of the alpine lakes in the area.

We head off again after lunch and I keep clicking, I can’t get enough of such a stunning sight, along every straight and around every bend Mt Cook stands proud ahead of us.

David stops at Glentanner to take a phone call which allows me to take a photo from outside. It’s just 12kms from here to the White Horse Hills DOC camp at the end of the road. There's a commercial camp site at Glentanner but really, I can see no point in stopping there as all the action is at the end of the road. It would mean a 24km round trip everytime you wanted to do a walk or tramp from the Mt Cook village. Although, I guess if you want power or are in the area for a few days it would suit to stay at Glentanner.

The road levels out as we travel alongside the wide river plain that drains the surrounding mountains.

The Burnett Mountains back the Tasman River as it flows towards Lake Pukaki. The braided river system is good Black Stilt territory but we won’t be checking for any here, it’s miles across to the river!

Ahead of us, peeping around a corner, we can see the tail end of the Tasman Glacier and the source of the Tasman River (and the rock flour that turns Lake Pukaki it’s beautiful blue).

Finally we see Mt Cook village and the Hermitage Hotel tucked into the side of the valley.

The White Horse Hills DOC camp is located directly ahead below that small hill and under the shadow of Mt Sefton- I don’t know that yet though, I’m thinking it’s Mt Cook when we arrive (even though I’ve just seen it out to the right). Why? I don’t know, I’m not usually directionally challenged but I’m thinking the sheer size and grandeur of the surrounding mountains have thrown me. Once you’re actually underneath them, some of the peaks disappear from sight. And Mt Cook is hidden from view when you're in the DOC Camp, the small 'hill' blocks your view.

We pass the day carparks and head into the campground to suddenly come to a scraping halt! Hmmm…we’re too long at 15 metres, to get through the ford- you can see it on the far right of this campground pano. How embarrassing, David backs off and luckily he wasn’t moving too fast so we haven’t grounded and got stuck, just a few marks on the concrete and all ok on the van. Now what to do? We won’t be stopping in the camp tonight.

We back into the closest carpark to check out our options, and when a vehicle leaves from the corner we manoeuvre into that space and decide that this will do just fine for a couple of nights. We later hear that it’s fine to camp there if you’re too long for the ford and the carpark isn’t too busy. As long as you pay your fees, DOC are fine with it- whether that’s an urban myth or not we don’t know but nobody bats an eye at us over the next two nights. Well nearly nobody, we do get a few stares and plenty of selfies taken as day trippers pass us by, and then there were the tour groups….but you’ll hear about them shortly.

How’s this for the view out the front door! Pretty impressive don’t you think? Not your usual backyard sight. We sure do find ourselves in some spectacular spots. It’s about now that I realise that this is Mt Sefton not Mt Cook.

It’s kinda surreal too, preparing dinner under the shadow of a mountain while people walk past just metres away. I can never get used to that; everyday life on the inside while an extraordinary sight, and people that have paid thousands of dollars and dreamed for years of visiting New Zealand walk past outside. Ham & mushroom omelette with a side of asparagus anyone? And yes the window needs a clean, but I gave my window cleaner the evening off.

The DOC campground is obviously very popular- the next available campground is at Glentanner or it’s back to Twizel or Tekapo over 70kms away. With a number of walks available to do in the Park a lot of people wouldn’t have the time to do them if they come just for the day so staying a night or two makes sense. And although there’s plenty of space in the camp and it’s early in the season the site is about two-thirds full both the nights we’re there. There’s a large amenity block and the kitchen is very crowded in the evenings. So many nationalities and so many languages, it’s hard to hear over the chatter.

Mt Sefton has me enthralled, I keep opening the door to check it out as the evening draws in. The snow glistens and sparkles as the sun sets and a high wind whips across the peak. This photo was taken at 9pm, twilight lasts until well after 10:30pm, another thing I can’t get used to down south.

Early the next morning I hear a whole lot of chatter outside the van. Imagine my surprise when I take a look and find a Japanese tour party getting the run down on their walk to Kea Point. And then they start doing their warm up exercises, one lady even using the side of the van as a support while she stretches her leg!

Another group are further up the path and doing the same thing!

And the next morning, the same thing happens again! You’ve got to smile don’t you? But good on the tour leaders for making sure their clients are warmed up. I love the get-up some of them are wearing- daypack- check, sunhat- check, solid walking shoes- check, garters- check...wait, most didn't get that memo, woolly beret & fashion scarf- only if your day job is on the catwalk.

We had other visitors to our van too- quack, quack, Mum said, as I opened the door to a bundle of fluff checking out the door mat.

Dad was quick to join his family and they were all super friendly given that Paradise Ducks are usually hard to get close to. The ducklings were running over my fingers and pecking at my feet. This family have learnt the ropes of the campground and are obviously camp regulars, checking in on all the arriving vans to see if anybody had spare treats.

The ducklings are so cute, I love the colour combination of the Paradise, they really blend in with their natural environment of rocky streams and lakes edges.

Once they had finished entertaining me and posing for numerous photos taken by passing tourists the ducklings settled down on the warm gravel between our vehicle and the car next door. Mum flew up to the roof to keep watch and Dad stood(sat) guard on the otherside.

Six of the ducklings huddled together for a time, one settled down on his own…

…before he started shivering and decided to join his siblings by piling in on top of them. Altogether now……awww!

You should have seen the faces of the couple who returned to the car, they couldn’t quite decide what to do; take photos or clap their hands to shoo them away.


  1. Lovin the patter, the humour and the casual comments of these last few blogs...they get better and better.
    I think you could have gotten out there and shown those Japanese how we Kiwi's do it! are a force of nature!

    1. What in my dressing gown! :) I don't think so. Thanks for stopping by Jimu, hope you're enjoying the summer.

  2. Amusing...both the people and the ducks! Mt Sefton had us enthralled too, I guess we saw it more than Mt Cook on Hooker Valley Walk, at least for the first half. We had luck with Mt Cook, two super fine days in autumn. Saw so many beautiful alpine flora during the walk and on our way out the unbelievable pastel blue of Lake Pukaki contrasting jewel like rose hips was truly magical!

    1. Thanks offstone, I think autumn in the high country is the best by far. I love the contrasting colours too. Especially those rosehips & pastel blue of the lakes.


Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.