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Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

Leaving Queenstown is a flurry of packing and cleaning. Our next destination, Twizel, is a 3 hour drive with an additional 1.5 hour drive to reach the base of Mount Cook and our intended 3 hour in-out hike through Hooker’s Valley to the base of a glacier.

Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
The last bit of sunlight we see today…Oh, how I miss thee!

Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Oh, there were glaciers, all right!
Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
A vision of the Southern Alps over Lake Pukaki.

New Zealand’s Highest Peak

Mount Cook, known as “Aoraki” by the Maori, is the highest point of New Zealand’s Southern Alps which stretch the length of the South Island. It’s 12,218 feet make it the tallest mountain in the country. Along with 139 other peaks and 72 glaciers, it is protected as part of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park established in 1953. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Unlike the afore mentioned White Sands National Monument).

To the southwest of the main peak is Hooker Glacier and a breathtaking hike which terminates only 10 km from the peak of Mount Cook. Most any descriptions of the dramatic vistas of Mount Cook are preceded by “on a clear day.” We quickly learn why.

Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Glacial runoff from the Southern Alps feeds Lake Pukaki and creates the brilliant color from delicate silt suspended in the water.

Hooker’s Valley Track

The drive to Mount Cook is one long, breathtaking panorama of golden trees, snowcapped mountains, and brilliant blue skies. Even as we approached Mount Cook, the sun sets off the fall colors brilliantly along the mountains.

Yet, as soon as we divert into the parking lot for Hooker’s Valley Hike, we discovered an entirely different climate. One that begins with a gentle drizzle and—at the terminus of the hike—concluded in gale force wind gusts and a downpour that permeated through rain slicker, down vest, and hiking shirt to soak every inch of yours truly. On the return route, we hit the deck when one extended series of gusts threatens to knock us off the boardwalk as we attempted to travers an unsheltered stretch of grasslands.

Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
First suspension bridge
Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Large boulders deposited along the track provide occasional shelter from intense gusts.

Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
First Suspension Bridge
Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Rivers of glacial runnoff have the brilliant color from the silt suspended in the water.

All this being said, I can see how this hike could be the best part of a New Zealand trip. Crossing three suspension bridges, flanked by glacier covered mountains would be breathtaking. Well, it would if the wind had not already accomplishing that act. Despite the rain, we still manage to capture some beautiful moments.

Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
A break in the gusts allows us to cover some ground before we have to drop to the ground on our return trip.

Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Sections of the grassland are traversed by boardwalk.
Contending against gale force winds to see a glacier on the Hooker's Valley Track along the Southern Alps in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
A brief thinning of clouds allowed us a momentary view of the mountains flanking us.

Coming Down

We only become fully aware of how brutally cold we are on the return drive. Our bodies relax from the hike and are chilled by our drenched clothes. Our first priority would have been dry clothes. Unfortunately, we return to discover that our travel companions—who had bailed on the hike—had also decided not to wait at the rental. They have the only set of keys. Instead, we shiver our way down town.

Fortunately they are predictable and we find them in the nearest pub. They stay to eat dinner. We grab the house keys and takeout boxes to dry off and eat…in that order.

Lexi lives in a truck camper down by the river.

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