Friday 25th July
I left the hostel by 08.00, just as the sun was coming up. I started on the walk through Mount Cook village, and there were very few people about, just a couple of people who worked in the area. It was another overcast day, and this hit my hopes of seeing Mount Cook itself on a clear day. However, it could have been worse and I was still optimistic that I might catch a glimpse of New Zealand's highest mountain.
Once beyond the village, I took the 'Hooker Valley' train that would lead towards the Tasman Glacier that sat below Mount Cook. On the way, I stopped at the Alpine Memorial, a stone structure that was built in honour of the people who had died on the mountain range, their names and dedications mounted onto plaques. It was a poignant reminder of the dangers of mountaineering, an activity that serves as a major challenge to many people. The one thing that stood out was the number of young people that had died, the average age of the victims in the early twenties.
I continued on through the Hooker Valley, across rivers, with an awesome backdrop of mountains and glaciers grabbing my attention throughout. The sound of avalanches in the distance made the experience all the more special, almost other-worldy as I had never heard or seen one in real life. The threat of avalanches is very real, but there are signs along the trail warning people of the high risk areas.
I got to Lake Tasman and saw the Tasman Glacier in the distance at the far end but, unfortunately, there was no sign of Mount Cook, cloaked behind the heavy cloud. I knew it was lurking there in the background, and I sat and waited for about fifteen minutes in the hope that it would unveil itself in all its majesty. I also sat and enjoyed the moment, as I was again the only soul in a very beautiful place. I felt once more very grateful to be there. Sadly, my wait was in vain, and the cloud seemed like it was there to stay, so I made my way back in the direction from where I had come.
I stopped at a spot overlooking the Mueller Glacier and the mountains that tower above it. I had lunch and listened out for the avalanches that were falling from the glaciers that sat on top of Mounts Brunner and Sefton. The cloud lay thick over them, but you could see large chunks of snow and ice falling from the higher areas of the glacier. It was an impressive sight, and I enjoyed the show, especially as I was in no danger myself.
I got back to the hostel and hung out there until the bus picked me up at 14.30. It was only when we were driving away from Mount Cook that the clouds started to separate and I got a glimpse of the spiky summit appearing in the distance. Even though it was only an obscured view, it still looked incredible, bigger than I imagined and it made me want to go back straight away and see it up close. Alas, that wasn't going to happen, but I promised myself that I would return one day and hang around for however long it took to see it properly.
I was dropped off by the bus in Lake Tekapo at 15.30 and lugged my bags down the hill to the Lakefront Lodge fully expecting them to have at least one free dorm bed for a night. When I got there, I realised that the Magic Bus that I was due to get the following morning had turned up, and with it about twenty people looking for somewhere to stay. I was told by a sour-looking Chinese girl that they were full, and she wasn't going to give me any suggestions as to where I might find somewhere else. I was pissed off and had to walk back up the hill and to another hostel, the 'Tailor-Made-Backpackers' (which the Magic Bus don't use). It was less modern that the Lakefront Lodge but it was a lot more homely and things worked out better, and not for the first time.
I made dinner and got chatting to a few others, and went down to the pub with a Kiwi called Ian, talked about the rugby for a bit and returned to the hostel about an hour later. The night sky was clear as crystal, and I stood under the stars for about fifteen minutes, enjoying one of the best places in New Zealand to see the nights sky at its best.