Aoraki, the Maori name for Mt. Cook, is 3754m and the highest point in New Zealand [location]. Aoraki means “cloud piercer”, and it was living up to its name as we arrived late Sunday afternoon to stay for a night in the valley. “Spectacular” only begins to describe the drive in, and the mountains surrounding this gorgeous valley. Read on!
With only grasses and low shrubs around, it felt like we were already high in an alpine zone, yet our elevation was only 700m. The surrounding peaks jut straight up from the valley floor, incredibly steep and rugged. These mountains are difficult to climb — Aoraki was first climbed on Christmas Day in 1894 — and yet there are a dozen huts parked at various places around the range, so that small planes can land you high up on a glacier allowing you to climb a peak or ski back down.
It was winter, and a few flakes of snow drifted past as we watched the sunset just after arriving. We stayed in a comfortable but reasonably-priced lodge, bypassing the expensive and luxurious Hermitage. (Great place for dinner though). Aoraki is only 12km away from this point.
At 8am I trotted out for sunrise – the sun comes up late here, in mid-winter – and found it to be even more spectacular than the sunset. Check out my photo album. Later, we all went on a hike out to Kea Point to see the Mueller Glacier and get a sense of the landscape [photos].
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