After our astounding two nights at White Hill Campground and experience on the Hooker Valley Track and Mount Cook, future experiences paled in comparison. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that – not that the places we visited afterwards weren’t also incredible.
Mount Cook Village
Leaving the campsite on Thursday 29th April, we wanted to have a look around nearby Mount Cook Village. There’s not an awful lot there, apart from houses, The Hermitage Hotel, and the DOC Information Centre which was absolutely fabulous! There was one more important building, but I’ll come to that later.
Within the DOC centre were an abundance of stunning displays and photographs, as well as local history. I was incredibly moved by half a dozen albums filled with words and photos of memorials to people who had died on Mount Cook or nearby mountains over many years. I got completely lost in thought and incredulity reading them.
Especially the four climbers who were taken to their deaths while sheltering in a hut as it blew off the mountain in the severe weather. Can you imagine how horrific that would’ve been? Sheltering from the storm and thinking you’re ‘safe’, then feeling the movement and horrendous dropping sensation.
Barry has some stunning images of the Information Centre in his slide show at the end.
Other fascinating exhibits showcased the differences between how early Maori mountaineers, European settlers, and present-day climbers wore and used to climb. I was intrigued at how Maori managed with flax footwear, whilst early Europeans kept their tie on to keep their neck warm!
Of course, I was also thrilled to see accounts of women climbers, especially Freda du Faur (see the last post for Freda’s Rock), the first woman to ascent Mount Cook in 1910.
Both outside the DOC centre and on the lower ground floor were examples of basic DOC tramping huts. And we thought the current DOC huts were sparse! Neither Barry nor I have any inclination to go mountain climbing, but we do hold those that do in high esteem. Braving these stunning areas to get to the top – and see what they can see – and down again (where many climbers fall to their deaths, it seems) is quite extraordinary. We were to meet one of these people in person a short while later.
The Old Mountaineers Café
We spent a good couple of hours mesmerised by the contents of the Information Centre, and I was more than ready for my morning coffee. I asked the DOC Ranger being the desk where I could get a good coffee, and they pointed me in the direction of The Old Mountaineer’s Café. I didn’t realise at the time how wonderful it was that they’d directed me there, rather than to The Hermitage Hotel.
Barry isn’t so interested in getting a caffeine fix mid-morning, so he said he’d wait in the car park nearby. However, when I walked into the café and saw how amazing it was, I called him and suggested he may want to come inside. Lining the wall was all manner of old photos of mountaineers; there was a piano and a collection of memorabilia and souvenirs. I was attracted by a large book ‘for info only’ on the counter, with a photo of a smiling couple on the front cover. Having ordered my Flat White and a couple of date scones (to take away for our lunch), I took the book to a table to flick through it. I was immediately entranced and eager to read more.
I picked up a copy of the book to buy, then realised that the man serving me was the man in the photo. Charlie Hobbs, it was a privilege to meet you. I’m not sure I agree with your reasoning that you’re just as likely to die in a car as climbing a mountain, but I certainly felt the endearing love you have for the mountains. Especially Aoraki.
If you’re ever in Mount Cook Village, I thoroughly recommend you make time for a visit to this wonderful establishment.
“We offer sustainable food packaging supplies made from plants, not oil. We want to preserve and protect the environment for current and future generations. Our foodservice disposables are designed and manufactured to give you a pleasing solution so you can enjoy food on the go or on the premises without any negative impact on the environment. We strive to minimise any negative impacts our business has on the environment.”http://www.mtcook.com/restaurant
By this time, Barry arrived and took a look around the café. We’ve both since devoured the book about Charlie and Mary Hobbs’ story of their decades-long struggle against bureaucracy and bitchy/bastard backhanders (the ‘pricks’) and subterfuge in both The Hermitage and DOC to build their splendid cafe. How on earth they kept going when certain people were hell-bent on sabotaging their efforts is beyond me. We can both can empathise with wanting to support small businesses and wish we’d heard about the book before visiting the café. Charlie and Mary were friends with both the late Rob Hall and Sir Edmund Hilary – the latter even officially opened the premises.
“The book quotes from a letter to DOC from the Ombudsman, which is on public file: “Notwithstanding that this is an area of special character and design guidelines are important to maintain its integrity, the process for the Hobbses application has now been continuing since 2004 and is still not resolved. This period of time seems excessive to me. Any local council would have given resource consent to this within a month or two at most in my view.””https://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/features/4478409/A-prickly-endeavour
I really hope one day we can return to this place, and maybe this amazing couple will still be there …
The Tasman Glacier
Our next stop was the Tasman Glacier. Only starting to form in 1974, it’s the longest glacier in NZ, at 27km. We chose the ‘Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View’, which takes around 40 minutes. There’s another walk that takes you to the glacier lake, but we couldn’t linger too long as I had work calls scheduled that evening. I’d heard from the Australian woman we met at Mount Cook there are boat trips on the glacier lake organised by The Hermitage, but the cost was well out of our budget. You need to allow two and half hours also, so our lack of time to do everything was another consideration. Maybe next time …
We noticed prickly ‘matagouri’ plants along the walk, but I hadn’t connected them to Charlie and Mary’s story at that stage.
It was a steep walk, mostly up steps to the viewpoint, a height gain of 100m total, with an offshoot to the Blue Lakes. We only took a short detour to the Lake and stopped as it was a long way down, and we’d have had to walk back up again! Our available time was sadly of the essence that day, as well as our stamina!
Finally reaching the top, I wondered if I’d have a similar reaction to first seeing the Hooker Lake the previous day. Sadly it paled in comparison, but mainly I suspect as it such a distance away. I reckon if we’d chosen the Lake Walk instead, we’d have been closer to the icebergs. And a boat trip on the lake would undoubtedly be spectacular as you can get right to the glacier terminal face.
Back To Lake Pukaki
Interestingly, the water from both the Hooker and Tasman Glacier Lakes flows into Lake Pukaki, one of the largest hydro storage lakes in the south island. The electricity from this produces power for the area and beyond.
We were both sad to leave Aoraki behind and drive back along the road to Twizel to camp next to Lake Pukaki once again. However, we were blessed by another beautiful sunset and superb views of Mount Cook in the distance. Barry’s photos do it far more justice than mine. The next morning, Friday 30th April, we reluctantly rose and took our final photos before heading to Lake Tekapo. We’d heard great things about that place too, and were eager to experience it.
Check out the next post coming soon to discover what we thought.
As always, click on the first image to start the slideshow …