Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Zealand 2016 Day 10. Aoraki (Mt. Cook)

I woke up early in the morning, to a warm sunny morning that gave the lake an incredible turquoise color. Lake Pukaki is the second of a series of six enormous lakes that drain the Southern Alps. Just like it happens with the Sierra Nevada, the Alps hold the winter water in frozen storage as snow, and release it gradually during the spring into these enormous reservoirs, from where part of it is used to generate hydroelectric power, and another (very minor) part is used for irrigation. I have seen some irrigated agriculture, but not much. Most of the ag operations seem to rely on rain, which is reasonably abundant throughout the year. The good news is that these conditions leave much of the water for environmental and recreation purposes.

Going back to Lake Pukaki, way back there, at the upstream end of the 50 km lake, I could see the snow-covered crags of Aoraki, the sacred mountain of the Maoris, which is also known as Mt. Cook, after the famous English explorer (though I am pretty sure he never set eyes on this particular mountain). Aoraki was our goal for the day!

While Anna dozed in the back I drove the 50 km to the park headquarters, where we had breakfast in preparation for the hike. Unfortunately Anna felt sick after breakfast, so she stayed behind to sleep off her malaise while I headed for the high country. My first hike was a short one, up one of the lateral moraines to peer into the glacial valley that originates out of Mt. Safton, another magnificent peak along the chain of Aoraki. Unfortunately another of the peaks hid Aoraki from view, so I had to get down and take a different path to get closer to Aoraki. I was not disappointed, every step brought me closer to this beautiful mountain and I felt I was in heaven. This is precisely what I had come to New Zealand for!

All good things must come to an end, however, so I finally came back to the car, and Anna and I had a late lunch at a shelter where they even had showers! Well fed and refreshed we got back on the road, this time headed for Queenstown (another 200 km away). We got there on time to buy stuff for dinner, eat at the side of the river, and then spend the night at a convenient parking lot. I should mention that in New Zealand self-contained camping vehicles can park pretty much anywhere they want, so we were feeling pretty smug about our little camping van. 

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