Aoraki (ow-rah-kee) the Great, also known as Mount Cook, is NZ’s tallest peak standing at 3,754 meters (approx. 12,316 feet). Although Aoraki’s peak is visible for miles on any clear day, to get up close and personal with the mountain you must first make your way to Aoraki Village. Luckily for us, the skies were as blue as ever as we made our way down the 55 kilometer (34 mile) stretch of highway that skirts along Aoraki’s Lake Pukaki (poo-kah-kee) – it’s hard to believe there can be anything more beautiful than the deep azure of Lake Tekapo, but Lake Pukaki, with the majestic Aoraki the Great standing in the background, may have it beat!
With every kilometer we travelled, Aoraki grew more and more stunning until, finally, we came to Aoraki Village and the road’s end (this is quite possibly the most scenic dead end road in the world)! From there we laced up our boots and set out on the Hooker Valley Track, which led us to bouncy swing bridges crossing over coffee-colored rivers, past wispy waterfalls, and, eventually, to the glacial moraine lake of the Hooker glacier where we WOLOed with some icebergs; no really, we sunbathed on a glacial moraine beach as icebergs floated past, cleaving glacial ice rumbled like thunder in the distance, and Aoraki looked on with satisfaction – it was amazing! Of course, we couldn’t spend the afternoon with icebergs without feeling the need to bring a hunk back to camp for some refreshingly cool celebratory drinks, so we did just that!
The next day we awoke to snowy peaks of orange and pink and as the sun rose we set out to explore the Sealy Tarns Steps (aka the Stairway to Heaven). The best way to describe this hike (aside from it being gorgeous, which you probably already guessed), is to tell you to hop on the next stairclimber/stair stepper you come across, turn the settings to ‘straight up a mountain peak’ and then proceed to step for 90 minutes; burning calf muscles, heavy-breathing, and dizzy heights – this track had it all! Of course, it also came with unbelievable views and tiny tarns (small ponds of water perched on mountainsides) that made for some of the best reflective pools we had seen yet – totally worth the effort!
Next stop: Moeraki Boulders & Yellow-eyed Penguins
Song Lyrics: Dave Matthews Band “Stay (Wasting Time)”
– Go. Change your state of mind.