Day 21&22: Magnificent Mount Cook

Waking up with the ceiling 20cm above our heads and having to joggle around all our stuff to do and undo the bed started to take its toll. We were slowly getting tired of living on 4m long 2m wide space. Especially after yesterday. On the kayaking trip we met two Spanish guys. When we were walking back with them after the trip, they pointed out their camper in the car park. We saw a Hippie Van similar to ours, so we excitedly shouted “welcome to Hippie family!” They laughed and said: “not this one, the one next to it”. We looked up at where they were pointing and our stomachs sank. You are driving THAT? It was an apartment on wheels. It had a bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen, all so spacious you could party inside. That was called Glamping! You could fit a rugby team there (with their coaches and girlfriends). Going back to our tiny van was a little bit depressing. However, we couldn’t show our Hippie that we loved it a little less, after all it still has to take us all the way back to Auckland.

And so we got up and whispered a few nice words to our van and did another few hundred kilometers before reaching Mount Cook Village. The scenery between Queenstown and Mt Cook with every kilometer was becoming dryer until we were driving through a hilly desert of spinnifex and stone. 100km before Mt Cook we drove by Pukaki Lake – a glacial remains of Tasman Glacier that over last few millions of years has been shrinking and the lake was what was left of the glacier. Similar to Hokitika George, it had surreal neon turquoise colour. Finding it in the middle of a dry forgotten land made the scene so unreal, it seemed like driving through a science-fiction movie set. There was something unsettling about that empty hollow land and we were relieved then we got to Mount Cook Village.
There is nothing in Mt Cook Village apart from holiday accommodation, information office and a few shelters. No supermarkets, petrol stations and souvenir shops. It was a village for mountaineers by mountaineers and it charmed us with its simplicity. It felt good to be in a village completely ignorant to touristic mania.

We arrived there at 5pm and used our remaining energy for a 3h walk to Hooker Valley (it’s a real name, no joke). We got back for dinner with a set of postcard photos of Mount Cook. We were rushing on the way back, because it was getting dark, but it was rush with big smiles on our faces.

We spent the night at a campsite right under the feet of the mountains and woke up to a magnificent view of Mt Cook. We got up pretty early because there was no time to lose. We just wanted to get out and go into the mountains. We picked the longest walk we could do in one day to Mueller Hut. The scheduled time was 7 hours return and we were told at the information point that the track was a little steep. Right from the start it went up and up and up on steep stairs and we were recalling the “little steep” that we heard. It was 2 hours of just stairs. But once they finished, real fun begun. We rock climbed and walked through snow. For the last 2km to the hut the wind was so strong it seemed it was doing everything to blow us off the range. We got to the Mueller Hut cold and wet but relieved to be out of the wind and snow. The views along the way were absolutely magic, but we limited photos to a minimum, because our fingers were freezing on the shutter.

In the hut we met three guys – German, Israeli and Russian – and we all walked back together. Or I should rather say we all slid together. It turned out sliding on our bums was much faster and probably safer than walking. We did half of the way sliding on white snow, holding tight to our backpacks and jackets. We were wet before, but after sliding for another hour we were soaking wet and freezing cold. Yet we were all too giggly to realize that. Further down the sun came out again and by the time we got back to the village we were dry and warm.

It was early afternoon when we came back, which gave us plenty of time to get ready for another few hundred kilometers between Mt Cook and Christchurch – our next destination.