A visit to South Island isn’t complete without a pitstop at New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Don’t believe us? Strap in and let Jono take you on a visual journey through a winter wonderland to Aoraki/Mount Cook.
I was about midway through my road trip along New Zealand’s South Island when I found myself at Lake Tekapo. Having driven up from Wanaka, this pitstop was a perfect chance to take in the sights, sounds and stars, before kicking on to visit the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
The next morning, after de-icing our windscreen, we packed up the car and headed off. Being the middle of winter, the snowcapped mountains of the Southern Alps that littered the horizon created a truly magnificent feel for the entire drive. Now I’ve been on some terrific drives, but the terrain leading up to Aoraki/Mount Cook village is seriously world-class. You’ll have to excuse the silence in the car as everyone stares in awe at the surrounding landscapes. After a quick pitstop at the Department of Conservation to check the conditions and learn some history about the area, we were off to take on the Hooker Valley Track.
This 10km track snakes through the Hooker Valley across swing bridges and atop boardwalks until you reach the dream destination. The valley floor was covered in pillowy white tufts of snow and the sight of Mt Cook beckoned us from afar. As we trekked on, we encountered the first swing bridge guiding us over Mueller Lake while Mt Sefton gazed down at us.
From here it was onwards and upwards over two more suspension bridges and into a section of the track with a wider valley floor, where a well-maintained wooden boardwalk continued to lead us slowly towards our destination.
According to Māori legend, Aoraki was one of four sons to Rakinui, the Sky Father. During their voyage around the Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother, they became stranded after their canoe struck a reef in the ocean. The brothers climbed to the top of their canoe but the cold wind blew strong and turned them into stone. The canoe became the South Island of New Zealand and Aoraki, the tallest of the brothers, turned into Mt Cook with his brothers becoming other peaks in the Southern Alps.
When we arrived at a frozen over Hooker Lake, the sky-scraping Aoraki/Mt Cook stood off in the distance at a towering 3724m. Unpredicatble weather conditions mean that not everyone who passes through will be greeted with a complete view of the peak, but we were extremely lucky to visit on a bluebird day. There’s not much you should do here but marvel at the sheer stature and beauty of this incredible sight.
After you’re done snapping a few shots to send home to your Nan and have had a snack to fuel your trip home, it’s time to turn around and head back to civilisation. Luckily the walk back is just as stunning as the way out and I found myself noticing different things about the surroundings that I hadn’t on the way in. Once we’d reached the Aoraki/Mt Cook village it was time to hop in the car and head home. As we cruised along, the sky started to light up with the colours of the sunset as they embraced the Southern Alps and reflected off a glassy Lake Pukaki. We had to hit the brakes to stop off one more time to really soak up the dramatic vista in every direction.
You’re not going to find a better way to put the cherry on top of an already magical day.