The Invisible Mt. Cook
Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, reaching 3,754 metres (12,316 ft). It lies in the Southern Alps, the mountain range which runs the length of the South Island. A popular tourist destination, it is also a favourite challenge for mountain climbers.
After spending the night at Lake Wanaka, it was time to head out to Mt. Cook just an hour or so away. But first, I had to finish up the 'touristy' itinerary at Lake Wanaka by visiting the Church of Good Shepherd and the Collie dog statue. Together, these two are claimed to be the most photographed landmarks in all of New Zealand and the number of tour buses already there seemed to substantiate that claim. Next, I decided to drive up to the top of Mt. John nearby to check out the view from the observatory located there. The clouds that looked so awesome last night making their way over the mountains have already covered most of the valley around Mt. John, so there was not much to see from the top so I just hiked up to the lonely bench placed at one of the peaks.
Alpine Salmon Farm
After tasting some of Rakaia salmon, I wanted to see if the alpine salmon would be any different so I got off the main road a detour to the local farm. As I got there, they just got a new batch of salmon in and were processing it so the lady told me I have about 15 minutes to walk around before I can come back to enjoy some fresh sashimi. I took that as the permission to go check out the farm's set up, but soon after I entered, I got called back, rather harshly, by one of the workers because they were doing some maintenance there and did not want people to walk around. That tone ticked me off and I left without any salmon, instead enjoying a chicken sandwich I had with me while overlooking lake Pukaki.
Sir Edmund Hillary Center and Tasman Glacier
An hour and a half later, I have finally arrived to Mount Cook Village near the base of Mt. Cook. There, none of the mountains surrounding the village were visible because of the low clouds and rain - it was not a good sign. Checking into the YHA hostel there, I met Juho, a Finish dorm mate of mine. We decided to try to make the best of the day by first checking out museum dedicated to Sir Edmund Hillary at the nearby Hermitage hotel. Hillary was knighted for leading the first expedition to reach the top of Everest, for which he trained at Mt. Cook. Finished with the museum, we headed out to see the Tasman glacier - the biggest in New Zealand. While it was cool to see some icebergs floating in the lake, the glacier did not look very impressive from afar and I felt glad that I did not end up taking one of the $140 boat tours of the lake as it would not have been worth that.
Hooker Valley Trail
Next, we decided to walk along the Hooker Valley Trail that goes to the Hooker Glacier lake, at the bottom of Mt. Cook. It is advertised as a day hike, lasting about four hours round trip. Instead, we did it in about two and a half hours, while getting completely drenched with rain and unsuccessfully trying to dodge some portions of the trail that were flooded. Once we finally made it to the end, we could see the glacier, but that was about it. Sadly, we could not even see the bottom of Mt. Cook. On the way back, with our hands frozen and water slushing in our shoes, all we could think about was the sauna that was waiting for us back at the hostel. It probably goes without saying, but the next morning weather improved quite a bit and was forecasted to clear up by the afternoon. Unfortunately, I had to press on with my journey to Otago peninsula without actually catching a glimpse of Mt. Cook.