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Mt Cook

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Hiking to the best views around Mt Cook

Woke up to a disappointingly cloudy day in Mt Cook village. So I lazed around in bed and had a long breakfast and early lunch before heading out. The lodging’s staff advised me that I should just venture out even though the weather forecast isn’t favourable because the elements tend to be very fickle-minded around here.

The clouds overstaying their welcome.

The plan was to do the Hooker Valley track (what a name right). I’ve been looking forward to this since I read about how easy and stunning the route is. I thought the 40 minute walk to the start of the track would be rather dreary and monotonous, it turned out to be a lovely journey because it weaved through some marvelous open plains. The air was chilly, the land and my mind were quiet, and I had all the time in the world to walk slowly.

Still swa-ku enough to take pictures of wild rabbits.
Welcome to Hooker Valley! This was the fist jaw dropping sight of the day, and I wasn’t prepared for its vastness.
A couple of hours into the walk, and the weather still hasn’t improved.
Expectations vs reality right here folks. Didn’t get the shot that 10001 others posted on Instagram, so there goes my plans to be an #adventurebabe #outdoorlife influencer. (Blue skies image taken from www.doc.govt.nz)
Nearing the Hooker Lake.
No hookers at the Hooker Lake.

That’s probably the first iceberg I’ve gotten close enough to observe its fascinating curvilinear forms. So I sat at a quiet spot along the lake’s rocky beach for about an hour just munching on my lunch and staring into space. I could’ve sat a lot longer, but a drizzle made an unwelcomed appearance.

And it rained all the way back to the start of the trail, and even more on my journey home. Being rained on for more than an hour taught me that wearing a woolen beret underneath a “waterproof” jacket’s hood is the best way to keep the head really dry. Tried and tested life hack!

While I was bummed out that I didn’t have the “perfect” Hooker Valley experience, I took comfort in the fact that I had one more full day to explore the other trails around Mt Cook. Little did I know that I’d be able to see this place in full glory the following afternoon.

The clouds hung around till the next morning…

So I went on a shorter walk at Governors Bush (this town sure likes innuendos) to buy some time, hoping that the mist would dissipate before I attempt the longer hikes.

And this is what I saw when I emerged from the Governors Bush. NOT COOL. AT ALL.

But I tapped deep, deep, into my zen consciousness to remind myself that I was lucky to have already experienced so many wonderful things in New Zealand, and that I have to accept whatever the weather decides.

And then… (cue heavenly music) the sun emerged!

The clouds lifted within the next 30 minutes, and the surrounding lands emerged slowly to reveal its true magnificence.

Once the weather turned, I quickly made my way towards Kea Point. And that’s Mt Cook right there!
Mt Sefton and the Huddleston Glacier.

This came into view when I took an unassuming corner. No clearly-marked directions for photo point ahead, no noisy tourists to indicate that it’s going to be a spectacular spot, no hype about it at all… It was just, BAM! I was really taken aback by its grandeur, and I stood at this spot for a long time just sweating, listening to my own breath, and trying to memorise everything about this place and moment.

And the views just got better and better from this point on…

A closer view of Mt Cook and its summit!
All of Kea Point’s beauty, just for me and this lady.

The photo above sums up what I love most about New Zealand. Its rugged mountains, green hills, vast open spaces, and remoteness is utterly captivating. It’s rather surprising that there aren’t more tourists here because it’s really not hard to get here. Well, let’s hope it stays this way.

I sat here for some time as well, munching on an apple and some Shapes biscuits. Then spoke a bit with the lady in the picture, who said she really loved the peace and quiet here. Well, me too! And it was really tough trying to will myself to walk away from this piece of heaven, knowing that I won’t have something like this for a long, long time.

Now that the easy track is done, it’s time to conquer Sealy Tarns and its 2,200 steps.

Most of the steps were pretty steep and narrow.

It’s funny to reach a landing totally out of breath, sweaty, and unglam, and have strangers taking a break there smile or laugh at you because they were just like that a while ago.

Mueller Lake

The elevated views on this upward hike gave a new perspective to the same mountains and lakes I passed through the day before on the Hooker Valley track.

Cheeky clouds reminding us that the weather could change any minute.
It’s hard to believe what I was seeing. (Taken with an iPhone 6, by the way.)

At this point, I was overwhelmingly in love with New Zealand, Planet Earth, our galaxy, and everything that made it possible for me to get to this point where I could witness the staggering beauty all around me.

On the stairway to heaven.
The Sealy Tarns view point was so worth the endless flights of steps!
Close encounters with a Kea, an endangered alpine parrot.
New Zealand is too perfect for words.

I’ll close my epic trip on this high note. I was really lucky that the weather changed for the better on my last day in Mt Cook, and I got to see the best of this place. It has been an unforgettable 2 weeks tramping alone among some of the most astounding landscapes, and I really hope to come back and explore more of the South Island.

This country has spoilt me so much that I can’t imagine finding another destination where I can access such natural and remote lands with just my own two feet. But I’m utterly satisfied for now; my wanderlust properly soothed. It’s been four months since I returned, and I’m still basking in the afterglow of New Zealand’s magic.

Wonderfully secluded in Mt Cook village

Travelling around New Zealand without a car had been surprisingly easy so far, but the only time I kinda wished I had my own transport was the Mount Cook leg. I’d planned 3 nights there, and realised the day before I left Wanaka that there’s no supermarket there. The alpine town is made up of a handful of hotels and lodges with restaurants, and some simple convenience stores selling bare essentials such as milk, cheese, and some canned food. The nearest supermarket is a 45 minute drive away.

As much as I was excited about it being the most remote destination of my trip, it also meant that I had to pack 3 days worth of food that won’t go bad on my 5-hour coach journey there. So I ended up packing things like pasta, cereal, bananas, apples, biscuits, sausages, cheese, Indomie, and salads.

The entire ride to Mt Cook was accompanied by overcast skies.
A quick photo stop at Lindis Pass, among its tussock-clad mountains.

To be honest, I was really disappointed when I arrived at Mt Cook village. All I could see that cloudy afternoon was a couple of rather unremarkable mountains, and I was so bummed out that New Zealand’s tallest peak looked so drab. But I also didn’t realise how much low hanging clouds could alter the alpine landscape. Mt Cook was in fact completely covered in what I thought was just clouds in the sky.

I was really smitten, however, by how far and wide the plains stretched. I’ve never been to a land as vast and empty as this, and decided I should do some exploring on two wheels because these flat roads are just made for that!

This is where I stayed. Took a bed in a 4-bed dorm at Mt Cook Lodge & Motels (above) for NZ39/night. The ensuite bathroom even has a bathtub! Perfect to soothe tired muscles after long tramping days. Their bicycle rental is also really affordable, at $25 for 4 hours.

Every cell in my body was buzzing with a brand of euphoria that only nature can ignite. I was feeling a natural high stimulated by the silence, serenity, and sublimity of it all. It felt like a dream, where I’m the only person on this strange planet. I rode on and on, fueled by an unprecedented feeling of freedom and peace.

“There is wonder in most everything I see.”

I followed the rudimentary map provided by my lodge and rode about 8km to the Tasmien Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier. It turned out to be a sad sight as the popular vantage point looked out to more rock than ice now due to its rapid melting in recent years.

The walk up to the glacier photo point offered some incredible views of the surrounding lands.
The glacier that once covered the waters here has now retreated far back into the mountains.
The mist cleared for a bit on my way back and I got a sneak peek of the gigantic glaciers on Mt Sefton!

All this majesty, just on my first day here! And I haven’t even gone hiking yet. By the time the day ended, I was sure that this is my favourite place on Earth.

More hikes and even more stunning views coming up during my next two days here!

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