Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Magical Mount Cook

My adventure to Mount Cook started in Queenstown with a frantic run to catch my Great Sights bus whilst carrying a 20kg backpack and trying to ram a nut bar down my throat for breakfast. After reaching the terminal looking like a squirrel that’d been harvesting food, I was told that the bus I’d been chasing was actually on its way to Milford Sounds.

An hour later, the embarrassing incident forgotten, I was happily gazing out at the gorgeous scenery whilst a friendly bus driver told us fantastic facts about the places we passed. Great Sights buses have big comfortable seats and large windows that ensure every customer has a wonderful view. A Japanese assistant is always on board to translate the driver’s commentaries.

Driving up to the Mount Cook village was magnificent. A gigantic sea of mist had filled a vast lake, obscuring its turquoise surface and poured over the tall green pines. In this mystical setting, the driver told us the Maori tale of Aoraki. Four brothers had overturned their canoe on a reef in the ocean and there they froze to form the South Island, their warrior bodies creating the lofty peaks of New Zealand’s tallest mountain.

YHA Mount Cook is the only hostel in the village. I was overjoyed to be given a warm, cozy room that looked out on to stunning snowcapped mountains. In line with the tiny town atmosphere, this friendly, welcoming hostel is a peaceful retreat that has excellent facilities and very affordable accommodation.

I wasted no time at all in getting to the visitor centre which not only is a source of necessary information to the casual walker, but is also full of historical artifacts and true tales of alpine adventures. Before long, I was on my way to Kea Point (2 hours return). Under a stunning blue sky and a fierce bold sun, I plastered myself in factor 45 suntan cream then set off looking like a Geisha tramper.

At the viewpoint, the amazing snowy ranges of Sefton and Cook looked like they were covered in soft chunks of nougat and large lumps of thickly iced Turkish delight that tumbled down the mountain. Enormous glaciers curved around rocky mounds forming huge blue ridges. A grumbling avalanche broke off in the distance and brought smiles to the faces of the visitors who stood there, awestruck by the beauty and intensity of the moment.

The next day, I was treated to a trip with Glacier Explorers. This three hour adventure involves a short bus journey with a guide who gives a full commentary about the surrounding areas, a 1km walk through rocky terrain and an hour boat ride around the Tasman Glacier. Most of its great mass has broken off and juts out from the frosty waters in spectacular hunks of 300 year old frozen water. A gigantic moraine wall provides a stunning backdrop to these eerie ice age remnants.

With a grey sky looming, the next place I headed was the planetarium and museum. This is situated in the Hermitage hotel; the ominous grey building that dominates the village. With a tremendous interest in the stars and space, I headed first to the dome shaped cinema to watch a film about black holes. It was an amazing display of animation that had me wishing that Stephen Hawkings was my travel partner so he could kindly explain a thing or two. I was then handed a pair of coloured glasses and looking like Clark Kent’s cousin, watched a 3D movie about Mount Cook. This was absolutely mind-blowing and is a must in my book!

The perfect end to my trip was a morning walk up the Red Tarns track. A one-hour up-hill hike, this definitely requires a good level of fitness. As I sat alone on a large plateau, I was rewarded by the soft sounds of trickling water, the twitter and hum of wildlife and the delicate crashing of distant avalanches. Mount Cook reflected her twin peaks in the lake before me, instilling a sense of calm that stayed with me throughout the day.

Check out for more information. Trips can be booked through YHA Mount Cook. Great Sights can be booked at any YHA!