According to DoC (Department of Conservation) it rains on average 160 days a year for a total of over 4m of rainfall! So we were expecting a cold, wet time when we arrived here in early spring. Somebody up there must like us though because apart from one partly cloudy day, we had some of the best weather we have experienced so far.
After a hectic 3 weeks driving around the South island with Ebba’s parents we felt like we needed to slow down and get our hikefullness on. SO we set our sights for Aoraki/Mount Cook.
Driving in towards the park the road winds its way alongside Lake Pukaki with endless opportunities for taking pics of the surrounding peaks. We had decided to stay at White Horse Hill campsite (along with everyone else) and arrived in the early evening to find heaps of other people in one of the busiest campsites we have been to. With a few hours of sunlight left we decided to get straight out on the trails and started on the Hooker Valley Track.
This track sets out from the campsite and crosses 3 swing bridges (not Ebba’s favourites!) on its way thought the Hooker Valley to Lake Hooker at the base of Aoraki. You are surrounded by high peaks with glaciers and ice cliffs and you end up at an iceberg filled lake with New Zealands highest peak towering above you.
At 3724m it is a beautiful peak a serious challenge for professional mountaineers, the mountain is also sacred to Maori’s and therefore they ask that you do not stand on the direct summits when trying to climb.
The track was excellent, well-formed, not too steep and suitable for just about anyone, taking an easy 3 hours to walk return. Dave enjoyed it so much that he decided to run it as well and managed to catch a breath-taking sunset!
The second day was much cloudier in the morning so we decide to stay lower down and headed off to do the blue lakes and Tasman glacier lake walks. They are much shorter days walks that give impressive views of New Zealand’s longest glacier (Tasman Glacier), however, we couldn’t help feeling pretty sad when we saw how much it had receded in the last 10 years and worry that before long it will be gone for good.
In afternoon we went back to the campsite and took a wander up to Kea point and then in Mount Cook village for a much needed warm shower!
Our final day in Aoraki was another cracker, so we decided to try something a little more challenging: The Sealy Tarns walk. According to DoC info you climb 2200 steps up the side of a mountain to reach the Sealy Tarns, a series of small mountain pools. The climb up was certainly a damn good workout! we slowly made our way up the endless steps and eventually made it to the tarns. Luckily it was well worth it, when we were rewarded with a spectacular view over the Hooker Valley and Aoraki.
Once we had re-energized with a quick spot of lunch Dave decided he wanted to try and make it up to Mueller Hut. Situated at 1800m with a beautiful 360-degree panoramic view of the glaciers, ice cliffs and peaks in the area it is usually hiked over 2 days with a night spent in Mueller hut itself.
The track up to Mueller hut heads up through alpine scrub and tussock and involves a lot of scrabbling over rocks and boulders. At this time of year there was still quite a lot of snow around and experience and extra equipment can be necessary! Once you hit the ridgeline at the top things become easier with the track winding around cliffs and stunning views of Mt Sefton. The view from the hut itself was spectacular and Dave spent a well earned break in the sun watching avalanches crashing down from the glaciers on Mt Sefton.
We left the village in the afternoon and headed round to the other side of Lake Pukaki and managed to find one of the best camping spots we have had so far! Right on the edge of the lake with views over the mountains, and easy access to the crystal clear waters of the lake. After an action packed day, it felt incredible to wash off all the sweat with a lovely swim in the (not too cold) waters.
All in all we left Aoraki feeling pretty damn lucky.