With just a few days left in New Zealand, we had to make a decision. Driving down the main highway, we stood at a crossroads, either to stop at Mt Cook, or to continue forward, providing us ample time to explore Lake Tekapo and Christchurch. There we were, staring across the turquoise lake at the base of the fork in the road looking onto Mt Cook; in all of its majesty, we decided we just could not miss it.
Pulling up to Mt Cook, it had been days without a shower, and hours without a solid meal. Now, in Europe or the USA, if there is a mountain with climbing, hiking, or adventure to be had and there will be at least 10 major hotels, camping, restaurants–you know, a real tourist trap. However, it being New Zealand, Mt Cook had not even managed to get an ATM within a 1 hour radius not to mention a grocery or a gas station. So, when the only way to get a hot shower was with a two dollar coin, we were in a real pickle with nothing but our visa cards. Much negotiation later, we figured out a way to pay for a product without actually buying it, and get a two dollar coin in return.
Two dollars and a five minute shower later, we sat in the car blasting hot air at our hair to dry it. The night had fallen around 4:30 in the afternoon, and it was freezing. We wandered over to the one pub in town, and scored a prime space next to the fireplace where we nurtured one beer for hours while looking over the trail maps. The next day we planned on taking 2 walks, one to Sealy Tarns and another in the Hooker Valley to Hooker Lake
We woke up early the next morning, preparing to begin with Sealy Tarns, a 3 hour summit. While the three hour hike seemed manageable, I did not realize it would be fully uphill, upstairs. Never the less, Raphael helped me push through, just as he had at Roy’s Peak. I could tell the summit would be worth it from our first peek at the view. Looking over the surroundings, we had a view over Mt Cook as well as Hooker Lake’s mineral coloring and noticed glaciers dotting its surface.
Increasingly exhausted, we pursued up the top. About half way up, we bumped into a young couple that had two massive packs on complete with icepicks and clamps. I had absolutely no idea how the frail girl was managing to totter up all of these stairs, but I was impressed! Personally, I was struggling with a water bottle and a few sweaters (or should I say Raphael, as he was holding the bag). The summit point which we would reach, Sealy Tarns, was half way point for these hikers which would make their way to an overnight hut called Mueller Hut.
About 30 minutes out from the top, we began to understand the need for an icepick, as snow accumulated with the elevation. The steps became slippery under up to five inches of snow, but it brought out the Canadian in us! Finally at the top, the view was phenomenal!
After finishing our stair-master of a morning, we made our way back to the van for a quick sandwich lunch. Basking in the sun, we were impressed with our feat, and were damn happy we had stopped at the point we had. I can only imagine the couple we met with the huge backpacks struggling their way up to Mueller’s Hut with ice picks.
Thankful to be back on flat ground, we began our walk to Hooker Lake, a three hour return trip. I could not have been more thrilled, as there were five swing bridges on the trail (my favorite!). We never ceased to be impressed by New Zealand’s organization. Even when you were apparently on a rustic back-trail amongst few others, the rangers had organized wooden boardwalks as for you to minimally disrupt the nature. Being somewhat of a spaz, I have no problem with this, as it gives me more time to enjoy the scenery, and less time spent staring at my feet!
The walk was absolutely phenomenal and we had a glorious view on Mt. Cook. As we arrived at the end of our walk we were at a loss for words. Hooker Lake was a silver, icy, mirror lake reflecting Mt. Cook and the evening light majestically.
As we walked around the circumference, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. With chunks of glacier floating amongst the lake in odd shapes and sizes, we felt as if we were in the Ice Age.
When I speak to people about New Zealand, many people have chosen to skip by Mt Cook because it is a bit out of the way, or there just wasn’t time. As we left, Raphael and I decided that this was our favorite stop in New Zealand. The hikes are athletic, and the views are one of a kind, it was a true New Zealand experience.
After seeing our final climate of the South Island, it was time to drive off to our last stop at Lake Tekapo before an afternoon in Christchurch.