After Akaroa, I headed back to Christchurch to meet up with Amy. Sarah, who she had been traveling through SE Asia with in January and February, had arrived and we were going to do something fun for the weekend.
We decided that we all really wanted to see Mt. Cook, and determined quite quickly that we couldn’t afford to stay at the Hermitage, Mt. Cook village’s only hotel, the hostels were booked, and we didn’t have the time or proper equipment to hike into the mountains and stay at a hut. My Lonely Planet suggested staying in Lake Tekapo or Twizel, then taking a day trip to Mt. Cook, so that’s what we decided to do.
Thursday night, the three of us stayed in Amy’s room together. Sarah slept on the floor, and Amy and I slept in her bed, side by side, like when we were little and had sleepovers. Don’t worry, guys, it is a “king single,” so it wasn’t TOO squishy. Three people and all their stuff definitely stretched the limits of the room though! We caught the bus to Lake Tekapo the next morning, and arrived in the early afternoon.
Our first adventure was a windy, windy, hike up Mt. John, which is right beside the lake. Lake Tekapo looks pretty small from the miniscule waterfront strip of shops and motels, but once we got up a bit higher, we could see that it was much, much, larger. The hike was pretty basic, and thankfully it was sunny the entire time, but it got progressively windier as we ascended. From the top, we had a great view of the surrounding area, and you could really see how the landscapes had been formed by glaciers, thousands of years ago. By the time we got to the top, where there is a Canterbury University observatory (we didn’t go), I was surprised that one of us hadn’t been blown right off of the small mountain/large hill. The wind wasn’t even gusting, it was basically a constant stream of cold, fast-moving air. We were glad to start heading down, and even happier to head to the hot springs at the base. We spend about 2 hours soaking in the waters, and it was very relaxing. There is an ice rink at the hot springs as well, and apparently they have some sort of hockey league! They didn’t have the ice in, but it would have been fun to see a bunch of kiwis playing something other than rugby or cricket!
The only bad part about enjoying the hotsprings was that other than the pub, it is the place open latest in town. We completely missed our opportunity to pick up some groceries for dinner, and ended up eating the weirdest assortment of odds and ends possible - cous cous, eggs, veggies with hummus, crackers… Learned our lesson though, and now getting food is a number one priority when we arrive in a new place.
Saturday morning, we caught the “Cook Connection” shuttle to Mt. Cook. The Maori name for Mt. Cook is Aoraki, and means “sky piercer.” It is a pretty good name, since Mt. Cook rises high above all the other mountains. Mt. Cook Village is the main settlement in the area, and is crazy small. The population is only 120 year-round, and swells to the size of 300 in the summer months. The school only has 7 students! What is even more crazy is that the Hermitage Hotel has 162 rooms, 32 motel units, and 20 chalets, so it can accomodate probably upwards of 500 people.
Even though we weren’t spending long in the area, we had a lot to see, and set off on the Hooker Valley Track right away. This trail leads down a valley (duh) and ends at the foot of the Hooker glacier and the lake that it feeds. The whole time, we kept remarking that “this looks like Canada (eh),” and “I feel like I’m at home.” It’s true that it does resemble the rockies in many ways, but there is one big difference. The plant life is very different. Much more tropical looking, and maybe tougher-looking as well? To me, it was very prehistoric. The glacier debris that surrounded the trail, huge rocks piled atop eachother, really added to this effect. I half expected a stegosaurus to stomp out of the brush, or a pterodactyl to swoop from the sky at any moment.
The trail ends at the foot of the glacier, and provides an excellent view up toward Mt. Cook, framed by steep valley walls on either side. The water in the lake here is very mucky and brown, which is pretty amazing considering how beautfiful and blue it is a few kilometres later, when it reaches Lake Pukaki. As in Canada, the glacier-fed lakes are a beautiful dusky turquoise colour. The difference, as far as I can tell, is not much, but I do think that the water is more of a green-turquoise in Canada, and more of a blue-turquoise in New Zealand. Regardless, bothe are amazing, and I really wish there was a way to bottle the colour and splash it back up on my walls.
**Fun Fact: Before he conquered Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, a national hero in New Zealand, honed his mountaineering skills in the Southern Alps. He summitted Mt. Cook twice before being the first to climb Everest. I think I even read that Tenzing Norgay also came during one of the trips.**
We caught the shuttle again later in the afternoon, and it dropped us off in Twizel. Though it is also a small town, Twizel felt huge compared to Lake Tekapo, and the grocery store even stays open until 8pm! The coolest thing about Twizel is that for a few weeks during Lord of the Rings filming, most of the townspeople were employed as actors or other workers for the movies. The battlefields of Pelennor are nearby (don’t know which movie, ask my brother, Ben), and many of the extras you see are actually citizens of Twizel. There is a tour that you can do where you get to dress up as characters from the film and partake in battle scenes. I didn’t feel a pressing need to get that into it, but we did watch the Fellowship of the Ring on Saturday night at our hostel.
Amy had to leave the next day to get back for school, and Sarah and I didn’t really feel the need to stick around much longer, so we booked a bus to Queenstown, “the adventure capital of the world.” Who can guess what I talk about next?