Aint no mountain high enough. Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand

June 26, 2010 at 11:17 am 2 comments

Our first roadtrip in the spectacular but freezing South Island was a chase of sorts. Our mission was to seek out one of New Zealand’s most elusive sightings and somehow bag the perfect photo for our growing collection. Like the rare New Zealand Kiwi our target was shy, preferring always to lurk in the shadows and glad to conceed the limelight to less deserving neighbours. Yep, Mt Cook (or Aoraki in Maori) was pretty renowned for having its head in the clouds, be it debris from a recent avalanche or a bashful swath of mist.

Having been to the South Island in 2008 and having seen only thick, low-lying clouds, swinging rope bridges and milky blue lakes then, I was pretty excited by the prospect of finally laying eyes on New Zealand’s highest peak. The chase started the second we got to the end of Moorhouse Ave in Christchurch and the backdrop suddenly changed from one of gargantuan grocery, hardware and bedding stores to rows of evergreens broken in places to reveal tantalising glimpses of an endless string of hazy purple mountains with wizened white heads. “I’ve never seen a snow-capped mountain before!” thrilled Gary, “Which one is Mt Cook?”

Considering the cloudless blue skies overhead we reckoned we had a good chance of seeing the summit of Mt Cook so we settled into a comfy spot straddling the speed limit and embarked upon the first of many races against the sun.

Over 330km we oogled surreal mountain views as we dipped into valleys where birds of prey glided effortlessly on crosswinds and then struggled up steep passes to find renegade tufts of golden grass poking their heads out from under a blanket of snow. Only our sheer determination kept us from stopping at the myriad of quaint towns that whizzed past us – Chertsey, Ashburton, Rangitata, Geraldine, Timaru (uh-oh, that’s not right!), Geraldine again, Fairlie… We were going great until we got to Lake Tekapo to find an Asian couple having their wedding photos taken in front of a vibrant sunset which was casting reflections of the surrounding mountains in the lake. Attractive Asians, sunset, mountains, water, reflections – there was no way Gary could ever drive past that.

His mistake. We arrived at Mt Cook 20 minutes too late to find it tucked quietly into the darkness of night. Ah well, maybe tomorrow.

Up early the next morning to make the most of the day. Four snoozes later it was suddenly not so early morning so we wolfed down breakfast and headed for The Heritage hotel and the information centre to find out which walking tracks were open (me) and where was the best spot for shooting the mountains (Gary). Heavy snow and subzero temperatures overnight had closed most of the tracks and access roads but lucky for us we were well-equipped with snow boots, snow chains, snow pants, snow jackets, thermals and walking poles. Oh no wait that wasn’t us, that was the hundred odd Americans. We were the two eejits wearing jeans, runners and mittens and struggling through 2ft of very slippery snow. An hour and a half in we gave up, offering a variety of excuses – I had done the walk before, Gary had to be at the Lake Pukaki viewpoint by three o’clock to get the right light for his photo, we were ill-equipped, I had somehow become sunburned, it was cold and there was chocolate in the car.

It had been nice while it lasted though – pathways cut out of the snow by a man with a shovel, archways of trees and bushes offering shelter from the biting wind, occasional breathtaking glimpses of a majestic Mt Cook lording over all it surveyed (the summit was of course hidden by clouds but we were hopeful that they would burn off by the afternoon), me throwing snowballs at an increasingly grumpy Gary – very romantic in all.

Now though, we had to get down to the serious business of this trip. Gary had his heart set on replicating the iconic postcard shot of Mt Cook reflected in Lake Pukaki and according to the staff at the Visitor Centre, the evening was the best time for it. Diligently we arrived at half past two and I whipped out the gas can and started to boil some soup to keep us warm during the wait. Meanwhile, after a bit of too-ing and fro-ing Gary found the perfect vantage point, sprawled out across a frozen picnic table, feet dangling over the end, bum exposed to passing cars.

Three o’clock came and went – the sun was too high, the mountains too shaded, the surface of the lake too broken. By four o’clock it was getting darker and the clouds above Mt Cook looked to be clearing. Five o’clock and the sun was lowering but in the wrong direction. Mt Cook was a silhouette and the lake remained a a reflectionless milky pool. By six o’clock darkness had uneventfully fallen, leaving Gary’s poor little face clouded by anger while Mt Cook cast a clear black outline in the night. Despite having barely taken my eyes off it for 24 hours now, Mt Cook had somehow eluded me again.

Onwards and upwards though. There was no time for sulking because we were bound for the one place that promised a lift in spirits (and adrenalin levels). Next stop, Queenstown.

There are more photos from Aoraki/Mt Cook available in the gallery

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Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , .

The tortoise or the hare? The North Island, New Zealand Take a run and jump. Queenstown (and Wanaka), New Zealand

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. yearlongbreakup  |  June 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

    A reminder to our readers:

    We have a massive favour to ask. While we were in Auckland Gary managed to get himself into the finals of a photo competition called ‘My Auckland.’ The prize is a beautiful new Canon 550D which he will immediately be passing on to me. We really really need your support to beat the Kiwi entries because, although Gaz-bag’s entry is beautiful, we’re a little disadvantaged by playing on foreign soil. In return for your votes and all those you can drum up on our behalf, we promise you better photos and eternal love.

    Follow the link below to vote…
    http://www.guidetoauckland.co.nz/Editorials/Snap-Your-City.aspx

    Reply
    • 2. yearlongbreakup  |  June 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

      p.s. Today is the last day of voiting!

      Reply

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