"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Mt. Cook, The Tasman Glacier

Monday, November 25, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Mt. Cook, The Tasman Glacier

Monday, October 21, 2013

It’s an early start to our morning as we check out of The Lilac Rose B and B. Maddie, the four legged host, bid us a fond farewell. We get stalled a bit in traffic getting out of Christchurch but the slowdown gives us opportunity to watch the kids as they head off to school. The popular mode of transportation is by scooter, the push-with-your-foot kind. A few are using bikes or skateboards but even fewer are just walking.

Mount Cook is our destination and it is a long drive for us today but at least for a good part of the drive, the road is flat and straight. This is probably the straightest and flattest driving we’ve done in all the time we’ve been in New Zealand so far. Along the way we see several fields of yellow blooms. This is the plant that canola oil is derived from.

At Lake Tekapo we find an old historic church, The Church Of The Good Shepherd. The name is bigger than the church. It probably seats 25 people at most but has a beautiful window overlooking the lake. It reminds me of another little church I believe we saw in the Alps in Europe whose window overlooked a lake and mountains.

A little farther on there is a small strip of stores and a couple of restaurants one of which looks inviting for lunch. We place our order at the counter and then find a seat at the window that looks out over the lake. Lake Tekapo is almost a Caribbean blue. The sun comes and goes but we can see lots of clouds in the direction we are headed. Not a good sign.
At the southern end of Lake Pukaki  we turn onto Mount Cook Road. It follows the shore of the lake which is full of white caps because the wind has picked up so much. There are still some spots of sun but more and more clouds are filling in the clear skies.

We can see some snowcapped mountains ahead but have no idea which one is Mount Cook. It begins to rain a bit—kind of like we are driving through a misty cloud. I wonder if it isn’t the wind whipping up some water from the lake and throwing it at us.
Where the lake ends and the braided river that feeds it begins, we see the wind drawing up sand from the river bed and twirling it like small tornadoes. It seems strange that it’s raining and yet the wind can whip up dry sand.

The Hermitage Hotel has a nice fire burning in the lobby’s fireplace. A welcome site since now there is a steady rain coming down. Thankfully there is a parking spot right next to the door where we need to enter to carry our suitcases in. Our room has a balcony with a view—well, the view for the moment is a foggy wall of rain but we can always hope for it to move on.

View from our room. Mt. Cook is there somewhere.
We wander around the hotel a bit. It is large and has quite a history even though it looks modern. The first Hermitage was built in 1884 by Frank Huddleston who sold it in 1885 to the Mount Cook-Hermitage Company that was formed to build an alpine village there. Things did not go well. The government took over. The Hermitage needed to be rebuilt and in 1914, the second Hermitage opened. Through the years it was expanded with extensions built on and then in 1957 disaster struck. A huge fire burnt the hotel to the ground. By 1958 it was rebuilt and has been extended and renovated through the years.

Next to the lobby, there is a museum featuring Sir Edmund Hillary and his conquest of Mount Cook (Aoraki), New Zealand’s tallest mountain (3754 meters), and several films about him and the mountain area are available to watch but all for a price. We are tempted since it appears we won’t be doing much hiking around here in this weather.

The rain looks to be letting up when we return to our room. We decide we’re game to try at least a short walk. We’ve been in the car all day and really need to get some fresh air and exercise. We drive around the end of the small mountain in front of us and are amazed to discover that side of the mountain is much drier. It’s still a little drizzly but tolerable. We don our all-weather coats and set off to see the glacier that is nearby.

The sign says it’s a fifteen minute walk to the glacier. It may be that long for someone used to mountain climbing. It takes us more like thirty minutes to get to the top and the climb gets very rough just before the end especially when my guide, Bob, gets off the trail and we are sort of making our own way among rocks and boulders to get to where we could see there was an interpretive sign indicating the end of the track. Out of breath and wondering how I was going to make it down over that rocky area, I looked to my left to see a young couple practically sprinting up the trail we were supposed to be on.

The view at the top is something else. Below us is a glacier lake formed by the melting of the glacier. Several icebergs float in the murky waters and off in the distance we can see the Tasman Glacier itself. It isn’t one of those pure white and blue ice glaciers but it is said to be the longest glacier in New Zealand and is full of rocks and silt it has picked up along its journey from the top of the mountain.

A little more rain starts to fall and the wind picks up so we don’t linger. The way down is not too bad since we now see the trail more clearly. Certainly not as hard as the climb up. We do it in the suggested fifteen minutes. When we take a last look at the sign where we had begun, I tell Bob that we need to check the next time we see an arrow pointing straight up to make sure it means straight ahead and not straight up, literally.

The evening brings a lightening show and lots of rumbling thunder as the noise echoes through the valleys between the mountains. What will the morning bring we wonder? Will we get to see Mount Cook’s peak?

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