UA-31290512-1

Sunday, February 14, 2016

New Zealand's Awesome Aoraki, "Southern Alps"

Visiting Mt. Cook (aka Mt. Aoraki) with only enough time to stop
at the Mt. Cook Village visitor center?  This fabulous view
from there will both delight and taunt you for not giving 
the park more time.
At last - we got lucky when we visited New Zealand’s skyscraper of a mountain, the dual-named Mount Cook and Aoraki was actually visible.  In fact, we arrived in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park after several days of crappy weather lifted. 

New Zealand’s highest peak, majestic Mt. Aoraki tops out at 3724 meters (12,218 feet) – taller than the Pacific Northwest Cascade Range’s lofty Mount Hood 11,240 feet (3,426 m) .  It’s just a smidge shorter than Mount Adams 12,281 feet (3,743 meters), though Aoraki was higher before a 1991 rockslide and erosion shrunk it from  3,754 meters (12,316 ft).  No surprise Aoraki’s among the “roaring 40s” (latitude) mountain ranges referred to as The Southern Alps.
.
Just a few minutes from camp, this scenic
yet sobering spot memorializes
Mt Aoraki (aka Mt. Cook)’s lost climbers.
As we watched and listened, snow avalanches periodically rumbled down Mt. Cook’s slopes, giving rise to a mist, which rose up and cloaked the mountain.

Per Wikipedia, “according to Maori legend Aoraki was a young boy who, along with his three brothers, were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. On their voyage around the Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, their canoe became stranded on a reef and tilted. Aoraki and his brothers climbed onto the top side of their canoe. However, the south wind froze them and turned them to stone. Their canoe became the Te Waka o Aoraki, the South Island, and their prows, the Marlborough Sounds. Aoraki, the tallest, became the highest peak, and his brothers created the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, the Southern Alps.”

This Wicked Campers compact, off-the-ground car-tent rental 
set-up looked really nifty.  We stuck with our ancient tent brought
over from the USA and a station wagon we plan to sell
before we leave New Zealand.



Like US National Parks, Yosemite, Glacier and Yellowstone, considerable effort’s invested in making these treasures easily accessible.  Mt. Cook Village features an attractive lodge which even shows big screen movies about the great outdoors. We resisted the temptation to open our wallets and instead opted to experience the great outdoors firsthand.  The visitors information / interpretive center frames a spectacular view as well providing elegantly displayed park and climber history, Maori culture, geology, flora and fauna info.

The camp was crowded!  Across a camping area about the size of two large city blocks, guessing there was easily 100 campers or perhaps twice that or more.

RVs, vans, and tents inhabited by singles, couples, friends and families sprawled in a first-come first-serve fashion.  There are no marked spots, just open areas, mostly meadow, with a few scattered shrubs, two clean, well maintained bathroom facilities (with flush toilets – oh my!) and a dishwashing sink area, a few drinking water spigots, and about a half dozen picnic tables.  Camping fees were $10/person for tent campers like us, though not sure if it cost any more for RVs (in many places it does not).

Kea Point, like the other trails we’ve hiked in New Zealand’s
national parks, was well-constructed, clearly signed and easy to walk.
Thanks to the long summer sunlight, even after post-camp-set-up (not to mention our drive from the Dunedin area, with several tourist stops along the way) and village visit, there was still time for a short hike before supper.  Conveniently, quite a few park trailheads begin at the campsite. 

Kea Point is the perfect trail for time-pressed visitors – short, sweet with a fabulous view as the reward at the end of the trail.

We opted for the Kea trail, a lake overlook vista point which leads to a panoramic view of the surrounding peaks.  It was a pleasant easy walk, and ironically, considering its name, one of the few touristy outdoor mountain spots without a Kea (click here to learn about the irascible Kea).

This intriguing formation peaked out of the lake at
Kea Point Lookout,as seen from my camera zoomed out 60x.
Despite the crowds, other than the relatively muted sounds of a few young children, the campground was surprisingly quiet and serene.  Later, we enjoyed celestial treat, a beautiful, starry and relatively warm night, clear enough for the Milky Way to brush the night sky with its dense cloudy field of stars.

The air smelled clean, and there were few mosquitoes and no sand flies (more on sand flies in a future post).

All was right in the world for a good night’s sleep and one last, longer morning hike before we raced off to our next stop on our whirlwind road trip tour of  New Zealand.  As with so many places we visited, if we spent our entire month in the Mt. Aoraki/Cook National Park, there were enough hikes and sights to keep us busy for the duration. Again, per Wikipedia, “One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The park contains more than 140 peaks standing over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) and 72 named glaciers, which cover 40 percent of its 700 square kilometres (170,000 acres).”

(image pilfered from Wikipedia)
Location Location
This is a recent retrospective of our month-long New Zealand road trip, which started from North Islands, North Island, leaving Whangarei, January 10, 2016, all the way down to Bluff, New Zealand’s Southernmost South Island mainland point. We arrived in Canterbury Region, Mt Aoraki / Cook National Park (43°35′44.69″S 170°8′27.75″E) January 29, 2016, and left the following day.  At the moment, we’re “back home” at Whangarei Town Basin Marina, North Island, (S35.43.474 E174.19.599).  A week’s passed since we returned from our road trip, on February 7, 2016.  Tomorrow we move to Whangarei’s Riverside Marina for 2-4 weeks of much-needed intensive boat work before we resume cruising.

In midsummer, there’s enticement for
butterflies from flowers
like this alpine daisy.
Sailing by the Numbers

Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles (visiting USA, Cuba, Colombia, Panama, Galapagos [Ecuador], French Polynesia, Cook Islands, American Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand).  We will resume serious cruising when cyclone season ends in ~April 2016.  We have not yet decided whether to sail to Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu then Australia (~4,000 miles), or just to Australia (~1,500 miles).