“Anytime I think of a mountain anywhere in the world I think of Mt Cook. Its shape is so symbolic of mountains, it’s huge. It’s dangerous, I guess the fact that it’s the highest one in New Zealand… we’re just lucky.”Mountaineer Jim Wilson
Yep, Lucky. Mt Cook’s peak is typically hidden by clouds, but our drive to the park started with a clear day at Lake Pukaki. The lake’s milky blue color is due to dissolved minerals – “glacier flour”. We stopped over and over for photo after photo.
The first stop in the park was a short hike to the Tasman Valley Glacier.
Hooker Valley Track
A easy 10k walk that prompts you to shriek “Look! Look at that! Oh my!” to complete strangers. Three suspension bridges, boardwalks, and rocky tracks to a glacier lake at the base of Mt Cook – the closest any walking track comes to Aoraki / Mount Cook. Unobstructed views of the highest mountain in New Zealand, with Hooker Glacier in the valley. Allow about 3 hours.
Flight Seeing from Tekapo
We flew Air Safaris “The Grand Traverse” to the glaciers and Mt Cook, NZ’s highest peak at 12,218 feet (3,724 meters).
The Enormity was Thrilling
A Work of Art From the Air
Lake Tekapo is a Jewel
The town of Lake Tekapo has about 600 residents. The walk around the lake is exquisite and its clear nights and lack of light pollution make it a destination for night sky/star viewing.
The Name – Aoraki/Mt Cook – Means Sky Piercer
The Māori name for the mountain is Aorangi or Aoraki, meaning cloud piercer. The English name honors Captain James Cook who surveyed the NZ islands in 1770 (but never saw the mountain).
And That Was That!…Or So I Thought
Due to Covid-19 travel pauses, NZ Immigration gave us the gift of time with visa extensions. It was another gift to return to South Island 11 months later in January, 2021 to repeat these walks, and add two more.
An easy short hike to a spectacular lookout in an alpine basin and the terminus of Mueller Glacier. Looming above is Mt Sefton with its slopes holding the Huddleston Glacier. The return walk offers great views down the glacier carved Tasman Valley.
Sealy Tarns Track
Off Kea Point Track is Sealy Tarns Track aka ‘stairway to heaven’. A string of steep staircases zig-zag up the mountainside – 2,200 straight-up box and rock steps. Looking up is a bid to losing heart, so look out at the long view and listen for the glacier booms.
Beyond this point is the route to Mueller Hut – no wooden staircases, a more primitive trail. With a storm brewing and crazy winds forecast, I can say that not only was I not tempted to go on, it wasn’t wise.
Red Tarns Trail
A shorter hike with deep valley views. (Disclosure…this is the trail I MEANT to take – sounded easier – but I mixed up my “tarns”.)
|Red Tarns Trail||Sealy Tarns Trail|
|Length: 4KM / 2.5 Miles|
Time: 2 Hours
Elevation Gain: 300 Meters / 984 Feet
Trail Type: Lots of Stairs (1750)
|Length: 5.8 KM / 3.6 Miles|
Duration: 3-4 Hours
Elevation Gain: 600 Meters / 1,969 Feet
Trail Type: Gravel/Dirt Stairs (2200)
And that was it!
The Crescendo – The highest point reached in a progressive increase of intensity; however, on the South Island, around every curve, beyond every switchback and over every hill is a BIG scene. Distances are not long, but changes in vistas are astounding.
Looking back at Mt Sefton and the Huddleston Glacier.
Mapping Mt Cook and the Walking Tracks
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