Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
23.05.2006 5 °C
Sunday 21 - Wednesday 24 May (morning)
Heading west from Lake Tekapo, we made a brief lunchtime stop at the Visitor Centre at Lake Pukaki. Within seconds of stepping out of the car, two coachloads of tourists appeared and promptly disembarked, swamping the place! We beat a hasty retreat; scenic though the lake was, the real reason we'd stopped was to see if we could catch a glimpse of the distant Mount Cook. Sadly, today it was shrouded in mist.
Driving alongside Lake Pukaki heading for Mount Cook
We continued north-west along the side of the lake toward Mount Cook village, and in the course of the two-hour journey the skies darkened and the heavens opened delivering torrential rain. The world seemed to have been painted dark grey by the time we arrived at our accommodation, the excellent Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge, and we feared that our time here would be a washout. Mount Cook Village was preparing to close down for a brief break before the Winter season; our lodge and the few shops and bars were virtually deserted. After a brief exploration and a bite to eat we retired to our room for the night, falling asleep to the sound of rain lashing the village.
Monday 22 May
We awoke to see bright morning light streaming through the curtains. But when we opened them...
... the snow was even less expected! We watched in wonder as the first fine snowflakes gradually grew to the size of feathers and began to settle on the previously wet ground. We thought it best to wait until lunchtime before venturing out in the hope that the snow would stop. It didn't, and by midday the village was covered by a thick white blanket. We threw on our winter woollies and headed to the nearby Tourist Info Centre where we were advised that it would be okay to take the Hooker Valley trail, a four-hour return walk which follows the Hooker River to the Hooker Glacier terminal lake.
The newly fallen snow had turned our surroundings almost monochrome, and the silence was slightly eerie but any misgivings were soon dispelled by the unfolding beauty of the black-and-white landscape.
The path took us over two suspended 'swing' bridges, but shortly after the second one, about 90 minutes into the walk, the path ended at a stream crossed by stepping stones; hopping out to the middle of the stream, no onward footprints or discernible clues as to where to head next could be seen. Darkening skies were closing in again, and so we decided to return rather than to risk pressing on in search of the lake.
Tuesday 23 May
The snow remained but the sun came out, once again bringing colour to the wintry landscape. One creature we were keen to see during our time in New Zealand was a particularly mischievious breed of parrot called a Kea. Highly inquisitive, these birds take great amusement from removing windscreen wiper blades and window trims from cars and are capable of undoing zips and buttons in search of food. They also have a distinctive and infectious giggle!
So this morning we set out on the Kea Point track,
a two-hour walk which follows the landscape created by the Mueller Glacier and leads to a viewing deck which looks out upon Mount Sefton, the Hooker Valley, and the majestic Mount Cook itself.
The clear sunlit day brought our snow-silenced surroundings back into sharp focus, allowing us to fully appreciate the beauty of the walk.
Taking our time, we eventually reached the viewing deck and there before us stood Mount Cook. Well almost. The upper reaches were once again obscured by cloud. This time, we were determined to get at least one decent photo and were prepared to wait. In order to kill a bit of time, we warmed ourselves up by painstakingly kicking all of the compacted snow and ice off the large wooden platform, thus making it slip-free for other users (we're so kind :o) )
Thankfully, all our efforts were rewarded and the clouds on Mount Cook lifted just enough to reveal the summit:
Our luck was not sufficient to afford us a close-up view of the elusive Keas, but we heard the little blighters giggling all around us, just teasing us to try and spot them...
Wednesday 24 May
And all too soon our time in Mount Cook was over. This had been the most enjoyable few days imagineable; our accommodation was excellent, the scenery breathtaking, the walks invigorating; all this and the unexpected bonus of snow!
We left feeling both sad to be moving on but excited too at what our New Zealand adventure might have to offer us next.