Aoraki — Mt. Cook

When planning my trip to New Zealand, I considered a number of different options — hotels, camper van and bed & breakfasts. In the end, I opted to go down the B&B route. My reasoning was twofold: (1) B&B’s by their very nature, tend to have more character than the relative anonymity of hotels; (2) You’re more likely to get a feel of a country by statying in someone’s home and benefitting from their local knowledge. Our overnight in Aoraki Lodge in Twizel was a perfect example of this theory being put to the test.

On the owners’ recommendation, I took a trip up to the base of Mount Cook, which was located about 65 kms northwest of Twizel, along the western shores of Lake Pukaki. I was aware of Mount Cooks’ reputation as the highest peak in New Zealand but beyond that knew little or nothing else about the place. During the course of planning this trip, I made sure that I included all the ‘must see’s — Queenstown, Te Anau, Fox’s Glacier and of course Milford Sound. I don’t recall reading anywhere though that I should include a trip to Mt. Cook on my itinerary — and so I didn’t!  A 130 km detour is a long detour but it may turn out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. Apart from the spectacular scenery that greets you along almost the entire 65 km drive up to Aoraki (the Moari name for Mt. Cook), the destination itself is a beautiful wilderness area and the site of a modern ski lodge (the Hermitage) which boasts one of the South Islands finest restaurants.

There are a number of alpine-type A-framed lodges clustered around the hotel so I assume that it used as a base for skiing and snowboarding during the winter season. A few miles down the road from the ‘village’ I came across Aoraki Mount Cook Ski-planes and booked myself a seat on one of their charter flights that flies right up into the mountains and lands on the Tasman Glacier. Elsewhere on this web site, you can see some of the shots that I took of that trip. The screnery is spectacular, the experience unique and not as expensive as you’d think — at least not for something like this.

The flight up and back took about 30 minutes each way and we spent about 20 minutes on the glacier itself — sinking almost knee deep into the virgin snow and conscious that there was about another thousand metres of compacted snow under mu feet, five or take a few metres. I was blessed with the weather today as there were clear blue skies and excellent visibility for the most part although I was unable to see over into the west coast because of cloud cover. If you’re ever over in New Zealand, I urge you to add Aoraki to your itinerary! One word of caution though. The 65-km road up to Aoraki is essentially one long cul-de-sac with no petrol stations along the route so make sure that you fill your tank in Twizel before you set off. I didn’t think of that and found myself low on petrol when I got there. Luckily enough I found a solitary, automated petrol pump which takes credit cards but which appears to have a flaky telephone connection and I waited about 20 long, anxious minutes before it got a line, received authorization on my card and thus allowed me to get  petrol. Although there is a telephone handset integrated into the pump unit, I couldn’t get hold of anyone so I wouldn’t take chances on it always working if I were you. You’ve been warned!

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