In Maori legend, Aoraki and his three brothers were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father, and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother. On a voyage around the Earth, their giant canoe ran aground on a rocky reef and capsized. The brothers climbed atop the canoe to protect themselves, but the icy winds froze them to stone. The canoe became New Zealand, and the brothers turned into the Southern Alps. Aoraki became the tallest peak in this snowy mountain range that traverses the centre of the South Island.
Aoraki – now concurrently known as Mt Cook – is the highest mountain in New Zealand, standing at 3,724m. We reach Mt Cook National Park by way of a three hour drive from Queenstown, and are greeted with spectacular views of the mountain on the approach. The national park contains a Pleasantville-esque pseudo-village, dominated by an old and prestigious hotel – The Hermitage – which generates enough jobs to require its own small estate and its own school. The only place you can do any shopping is in the hotel itself, which also happens to contain the world’s southern-most planetarium.
It’s a stunning place to camp, with white cliffs of ice towering above the tents, and astonishing night skies drowning in a torrent of stars. The park is in the Mackenzie District – the world’s largest Dark Sky reserve – and it’s easy to see why as we watch shooting stars zip beneath the bright-white band of the Milky Way. During the days, we walk to see glaciers, and marvel at the valleys they leave behind as they retreat up the mountains.
It’s now over a week since we washed in something that wasn’t a lake, so we take ourselves down to the village to use the public showers. It’s $2 for a hot one, so we cope with cold water instead, because that’s what life has come to. It’s so cold that my initial fear of catching hypothermia dissipates before a much grander fear about all the atoms in the bathroom coming to a screeching halt as they achieve absolute zero.
As if in protest at the freezing showers, Molly decides to set fire to the campground that evening by spilling meths everywhere and then lighting a match anyway because #YOLO or something. Fortunately, my extensive fire marshal training from IntoUniversity (which consisted primarily of being shown videos of people dying in fires) means that it only takes me about two minutes to think of throwing water on it.
Anyway, I wanted this to be a photo blog because I can’t possibly capture the wonder of this place with words. Just look at the pretty pictures.
Snapshots of NZ