Day 8: Mt. Cook
“Hooker Valley is the last place I would want to be tomorrow!” These encouraging words were spoken to us by Tom the bartender last night as he contemplated the weather forecast for our day’s plan to hike the Hooker Valley track. When we woke up, it was still raining/snowing, so we suited up and prepared for the worst.
At 9AM, we met our fantastic guide Mariko. The weather improved as soon as we stepped outside and hit the trail. There was still some icy/slushy/snowy patches on the path, so Mariko gave us YakTrax to use, and they were amazing. How do I not own a pair of these?!? Walking with ease on the slippery path, we made our way through they valley.
With the Southern Alps on our left, and the Mt. Cook Range on our right, we saw plenty of glaciers. Mariko pointed out the Stocking Glacier (which looks like a stocking) and some hanging glaciers. We passed over the Hooker River three times on suspension bridges that reminded me why I am not going bungee jumping.
The river water originates from the glacier, and is milky-looking because all the schist rock in the valley creates a fine grey powder via mechanical erosion. As the river flows further, it feeds into lake Pukaki, where these same sediments create the brilliant turquoise color we saw yesterday.
Soon, Mt. Cook came into full view. As the highest mountain peak in New Zealand, it is easy to spot. Following the glacial moraines on each side of the valley, we made it to Hooker Lake, with Hooker Glacier on the opposite shore.
With today’s warm northerly wind (yeah, this is the Southern Hemisphere!) the icebergs from the glacier had congregated at the southern end of the lake.
We stopped for lunch, and Mariko even busted out a portable stove to boil water for coffee and tea. She told us the Maori legend of Aoraki, which is their name for Mt. Cook. Two brothers took a canoe across the lake to visit their father, the Sun God, and his new wife, the Land Goddess. During their assent to the sky, they messed up their frequent flyer chant, and didn’t get into the priority club access lounge. Instead, they froze in the mountains, and you can now see the face of one of the brothers in the peak of Mt. Cook.
After eating and marveling in our surroundings, we scrambled over some larger rocks to see the headwaters of the Hooker River, which was rushing strongly thanks to the precipitation in the previous 24 hours.
On the return trip, we learned about the flora. Even though there are 200 days of precipitation a year, the valley is very dry. Many of the plants look like they belong in a desert. Some have fun names including the Face Slasher, the Wild Spaniard, and the Bloody Irishman. The British liked to name prickly plants after groups of people they didn’t like. Subtle.
Another cool phenomenon were the hidden cascades. Waterfalls flowing in and out of the mountain — disappearing and reappearing all the way down to the river.
With Mt. Cook behind us, and the Hermitage in front of us, we completed our hike. Next up was to head over to our favorite bar for dinner, drink more Monteith Black beer, and gloat to Tom.
There were pockets of clear sky, so we checked with the stargazing group to see if they were heading out to the telescopes. The clouds were moving too fast, the moon was a bit too bright, and the wind was too strong, all making telescope viewing pretty mediocre. Alas.
However, we held our own stargazing tour by walking around the hotel in the moonlight. No telescope, but I think we did alright.
Thanks, Mt. Cook. You did good.