January 21, 2024 Aoraki/Mount Cook (Day 116)

A glorious day for a road trip, in fact the best day of the week for our destination; Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in NZ at 12,218 feet. It is a 2 hour drive from our accommodation so we got up around 4am to have breakfast and pack our day packs to leave by 6am!

Our planned route from Fairlie to Aoraki/Mt. Cook.

On the road, we saw the alpenglow on the hills as the sun rose through the clouds.

As we rounded the bottom of Lake Tekapo we stopped at a viewpoint of the mountain overlooking the lake.

Continuing on we rounded Lake Pukaki and drove north up the west side of the lake. We saw great big rows of slash and distant stands of burnt pine forest. At a rest area we found out that “…wilding conifers have spread from erosion plantings, farm shelterbelts and plantation forests into the surrounding countryside. If not managed these trees quickly form impenetrable forests of no economic value. They make farms unusable, take over native ecosystems, use scarce water and alter iconic landscape”. These forests are being controlled with herbicide and chainsaws. The land is then restored to productive farmland (more like rangeland), and encouraged to regrow in native plants.

As we approached closer the flat-bottomed glacial valley spread out beside us.

Finally we reached the parking lot at Hooker Valley which was quickly filling with early morning hikers!

The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular walks in New Zealand, probably because it’s a pretty easy walk, especially on such a beautiful day as today!

Near the start of the trail is the first of 3 suspension bridges. Apparently they are closed overnight because a crowd was starting to form waiting for the gate to be unlocked at 9am!

The second bridge was still in the morning shade cast by the mountains on the east side of the Tasman river.

The final bridge has fantastic views of Aoraki/Mt. Cook!

We finally reached Hooker Lake, with Aoraki/Mt. Cook in all it’s glory! The reality of the crowds reaching this point, with many more to come!

The ‘Instagram’ view sans crowds!

After our 3+ hour hike we went to the Hermitage Hotel cafe for coffees and visited the exhibits about Sir Edmund Hilary, the New Zealander who was the first to summit Mt. Everest with Tenzig Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa. Aoraki/Mt. Cook and the southern Alps were Hilary’s training ground!

As we left Hooker Valley and Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village we got this great panorama of this small piece of the Southern Alps.

And on our way back to Fairlie we took a detour into the town of Lake Tekapo to get the iconic photo of the Church of the Good Shepherd overlooking the lake towards the Southern Alps!


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