During the summer of 2005 I spent a month journeying around New Zealand – a journey I would repeat tomorrow given the chance – and as the country remains one of my favorite places I’ve visited to date I thought I would share a few of the highlights here. The full story I recounted in 31 Days in a Campervan but these are new posts and not simply exerpts from the book and besides – we can put the photos on here.
To follow the post about climbing Mt Ruapehu up on North Island, here’s one about the area around the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook but I was not brave enough to attempt the ascent!
Situated in the Southern Alps some one hundred miles to the west of Christchurch, Mt Cook – whose Maori name Aoraki means “Cloud Piercer” – rises to 3754m or 12317 feet in a great fang of rock and ice above the Tasman and Hooker glaciers which form New Zealand’s largest ice fields.
Climbing the mountain is a serious undertaking but there is a wide range of walks to be had from Mount Cook Village in the Hooker Valley below the peak on the eastern side of the southern Alps that show off the sublime alpine scenery of the area. Our own far too brief visit was during the winter months so more involved routes such as the climb to Sefton Bivouac were well above the snow line and off limits to unguided walkers.
So it was we opted for the Red Tarns route which leaves Mt Cook Village in a southerly direction before climbing steeply out of the valley to a high sunny shelf far above, where the tarns are to be found at an altitude of 1050m or 3445ft – about the height of Snowdon. The route is easier than Snowdon though as the start point is something like 700m above sea level.
The path there is clear all the way being flat at first leaving the village then a series of steps for the climb out of the valley – over 1200 of them – so it’s a bit like climbing the Empire State Building on a day that the lifts are out of order! The Red Tarns – when you get there – are reedy pools of clear water set in a beautiful landscape with simply stunning views back up the Hooker Valley to Mount Cook and the seventeen other 3000m peaks that make up the highest part of the Southern Alps.
The information leaflet and map available from DOC (Department of Conservation) at the visitor centre says this is a two and a half hour round trip which is about right – and also lists several other easy but rewarding walks that can be done in this fascinating area which is part of the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.