After an unsuccessful penguin quest at Timaru, we headed back to the familiar backpacker route towards the majestic South Island mountain range.
We were pumped after enjoying our first breakfast with an actual table, drove quiet gravel roads with sheep everywhere and took only a couple of wrong turns before joining all the other touring people in buses to experience the tranquility of Lake Tekapo
Both Lake Tekapo and Punaki are quick stops unless you want to try to spend an hour to find a spot where it looks like you are there alone without fifty other people with their professional camera gear. I have started to feel serious camera envy or inadequateness with my precious LX100 but I guess I must learn to walk before I can run. And seriously, how do you carry that heavy gear and three-meter tripods to everywhere you go?!
When I was creating our New Zealand plans (and Tasmania and Western Australia), sometimes I have been very specific in my notes, sometimes less. After visiting these two famous lakes, I turned to consult my plan and next bullet point on the list was to “climb Mt. Cook”. Let’s go!
Those who know a bit more about New Zealand geography or famous mountains overall might have paused there and thought that climb might just be off-limits to mine and Richie’s mountaineering skills. After all, it is the highest mountain in New Zealand, covered in snow and ice all year around and is recommended only for the most experiences alpine goats such as Sir Edmund Hillary.
Thus I edited my plan to say “do hikes in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park” and voila, that’s something we can do. We have become “hikey” people after all and our experience is just accumulating day after day. The Cradle Mountain Summit walk was done with runners, Lululemon active wear that’s more suitable for Bondi’s Saturday brunches, and a waterproof jacket from K-Mart (you guessed right, that belongs to Richie) but Aoraki saw the new us wearing real hiking boots! Richie buying shoes that cost over $100 can be classified as the eighth wonder of the world (sorry Milford Sound) and since we are so early in our journey I don’t know what to expect in a couple of weeks – maybe a real waterproof Gore-Tex jacket?
We had one night to spend at the village close to all hikes and we ran through the most popular and easiest of all walks, Hooker Valley. I’d recommend trying to do it as early in the morning as possible or go quite late as we did. It was still very busy but I can just imagine summer afternoon traffic jams on these paths..
There was no free camping around the Mt. Cook village so we opted in to stay at the only camping site that cost $13 per person for the night. Not bad for these views..
As we had run out of gas last night and couldn’t have proper brekkie or dinner, we couldn’t stay another night and do full day hikes (add another lesson to camping n00bs list – check how much gas you have left before you go to far-removed places). As a result we chose Kea point walk (very easy) and half of the Mueller Hut walk up to Sealy Tarn at 1,300 meters. Quite a steep climb but views were amazing. Coming down is a lot quicker and we were back at the car before 11 am..
Only thing left to do was to find a free shower. This is the fun part of living in your car trying to keep a low budget – where to find hot, preferably free, showers, especially after multi-hour hikes… Luckily at the Mt. Cook there are public showers but not the type we like – free. $2 for 4 minutes of hot water is not a problem for me, the efficient person I am, but it’s not enough to cover Richie’s hair routines and I find myself donating a minute of my time to make sure my partner’s weave looks good in photos
Three point summary a la Alex Stubb about our adventures:
- Don’t climb Mt. Cook unless you bear a resemblance to great mountaineers.
- We loved Aoraki/Mt.Cook – try to stay there at least two nights to do a variety of walks, even an overnight one on Mueller Hut.
- Remember to carry a lot of $2 dollar coins with you, there’s no such things as free showers in this cruel world..