mount cook

On the trail to Hooker Valley (photo by Liz Lewis)

Climbing over boulders and bouncing across swing bridges wasn’t on my agenda but somehow here I was, doing just that, as we headed toward the terminal face of Hooker Glacier to check out the recent ‘calving’.  Two hours later, we arrived just in time to watch a German hiker dive into freezing lake.  Needless to say, we didn’t follow suit.

Later, back at The Hermitage, sitting on the balcony of my room and gazing out at Mount Cook, I couldn’t help but wonder why it had taken me so long to finally visit The Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

mount cook 1

A view of Mount Cook from the main highway (photo by Liz Lewis)

It is, after all, an easy four-hour drive from Christchurch. But somehow, over the years, I’d only ever managed to catch glimpses of the mountain from a distance as I was passing through to somewhere else.

But not this time!

Unexpected circumstances meant we had time to detour off the highway and take the road that would let us get a much closer view of the mountain and it’s surrounds.

And what a view it is.

A dramatic skyline of 10,000 foot and higher towering mountain peaks. Moving glacier fields. Icebergs. Terminal lakes. Alpine fauna and flora.

But Mount Cook, or Aoraki, or Aoraki Mount Cook as it is most commonly known as, is park’s crown jewel. At 12,316 feet, it is New Zealand’s highest peak.  It’s also the mountain that the country’s favorite son, Sir Edmund Hillary, used to train for his 1953 Everest ascent.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center, attached to The Hermitage Hotel at the Mount Cook Village at the end of the road, showcases his mountaineering prowess and highlights his history with Aoraki/Mount Cook.

The center also has a 3D theater offering a computer-animated journey that takes you climbing, skiing, and flying across Aoraki/Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, plus a full dome digital Planetarium with an amazing audio-visual show that mixes science and entertainment.

It might have been my first trip to Mount Cook but it won’t be my last.

Next time, Ill be sure to pack the hiking boots.

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Liz Lewis is a New Zealand based writer who favors wine tasting and food markets over bungy jumping and mountain climbing.