Tag Archives: Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

lake pukaki and aoraki mt cook national park

The road journey to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is passed through some amazing landscape. Past Twizel, we left Highway 8 and turned left into Highway 80 towards Aoraki Mt Cook. A signage at the entrance indicated the road condition. Immediately, we could see recent fire damage in the vegetation on both sides of the road. Over 3000 ha were damaged in August. The fire seemed to have moved quickly as both stands of chard and green pine stood side by side.

The jewel-like Lake Pukaki appeared beyond the charred pine trees. The dazzling turquoise lake contrasted with the greener and blackish foreground. After a short drive, we reached Peter’s Lookout. The vista is a stunning view of the Lake Pukai and the Southern Alps with Mt Cook prominently positioned.

We passed NZ Alpine Lavender Farm which was out of season. A single road led to Mt Cook and the road seemed to head straight into the highest mountain in NZ. Sheep grazed in the fenced farmlands hemmed between the mountains and the road.

Mt Cook village is a small collection of accommodations, tour operators and petrol station. Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is enviable located at the base of the Southern Alps with Mt Cook it crowning glory. Many day walks are available to explore this stunning alpine region including Hooker Valley , Red Tarn, Tasman Lake and Kea Point Tracks. A passive, well almost, way to get close to the mountain and the magnificent glacier is to take a boat journey to Tasman Glacier. A stunning two-day hike to Muller is the closest to getting ‘eye-level’ view of Mt Cook. Our accommodation was the luxurious Hermitage Hotel .

From our balcony, Mt Cook is framed in the middle flanked by the massive Mt Seffton and Mt Wakefield, and the wide Hooker Valley. Simply superb views. With restaurants and bar, it is not a bad place to unwind after a good day’s hike. If only they had a spa!

Hiking the blue lakes and Tasman Glacier Track

Haupapa/Tasman Glacier Track (2.7km) is one of the easier walks in Aoraki/ Mt Cook National Park. The drive towards Tasman Lake is stunning. The grand views of Mt Johmson, The Armchair, Nuns Veil and several more just before crossing the Hooker River bridge is spectacular. The drive continued along Mt Wakefield to a car park.

From the car park, it is a gradual climb through a series of steps. With elevation gain, the Blue Lakes became visible, nestled at the base of the mountains. They were glacial lakes with a blue tinge. The blue, in earlier days, were glacial melt-waters permeating through moraines. Over time, the glacier height dropped and water flow diminished. With rain water, algae developed and turned the colour green.

Towards the top, the track is rocks and debris left behind when the glacier retreated. Today, Tasman Glacier is 27km, the longest in New Zealand. It has retreated significantly since late 1990s. That’s when the lake was formed. At this height, the snow and ice covered mountains which included Mt Cook, Mt Tasman, The Alcolyte and Nuns Veil were stupendous.

The fractured appearance of Tasman glacier’s terminal face, the dirt covered glacier head, the turquoise lake and the braided Tasman River (joined by the Hooker River) leading towards Lake Pukakai in the south, is quite a sight. Yes, the suggested walking time is 45 minutes. However, be prepared to linger much longer, in the cold, as the views here are quite captivating. Imagine, this lake was only created 20 years ago. Sadly, Tasman Glacier’s terminal face may retreat further with rise in temperature. Go now!

Tasman lake boat excursion

We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel. Due to Covid 19 travel restrictions, Kiwi’s have been travelling locally. Our hotel was near capacity. To encourage travelers to explore Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, prices for some excursions were reduced. This included Glacier Explorer – a boat ride on the Tasman Lake.

After a short drive to a car park (same starting point for the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Track), we took a short walk on the moraine towards the chalky turquoise lake. After fitting on our life jackets and safety briefings, we were off. The water’s surface is cold. Surrounded by snow capped mountains including the looming Mt Cook, I was excited to see icebergs floating around. As we got closer, their sizes were enormous. The guides gave insights and short lecture on glacier-logy. These sculptured ice are several hundred years old. In the heat, water dripped rapidly. We even managed to break off some ice and taste. Cold but refreshing.

Tasman Lake is enormous. The view from glacier hike, the previous day, did not give the scale or enormity of the lake. We sped north towards the glacier’s terminal face. For safety, we viewed from a distant. The giant ice wall (4km wide) can calve without warning and cause tsunami like waves. A sharp sound burst through the silent and cold air. Then, followed by an ice wall breaking off and crashing into the water. It wasn’t big but the display was exciting.

Beyond the fractured ice face, the top of the glacier is covered with black dirt. It stretched towards the tops of the mountains. If fact, this dirt covering may extend the life of the glacier. Murchison Glacier is adjacent to Tasman Glacier. Perhaps the best overview would be aerial. Even better will be to walk (flights-and-tours ) on the glacier!

The overflow from Tasman Lake merged with Hooker River and the braided river flowed south towards Lake Pukaki.

 

Hiking the Red Tarn Track, Mt Cook

Red Tarn Track is located at Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand. This is a half day (one-way) track with an elevation gain of 300m.

A short drive to the public car park and shelter is the starting point of the track. First walk through beech forest at Governors Bush Walk. With a short stroll, we emerged out of the bush and easy walk across Blackbirch Stream bridge. From thereon, it is a uphill climb through a series of steps (est 1750 only). This is Mt Sebastpol, the lowest mountain in Aoraki Mt Cook NP.  As I gained elevation, panoramic views of Mt Cook, Mt Sefton and Mt Wakefield, the village changed. The vegetation also changed with the elevation.The track twists and turns, always ascending. At one point, the climb is over rocks and steep in places.

With more steps, eventually, I walked onto a small meadow of alpine plants. A place to sit, snack and read the interpretive board. A few more steps, we reached two small tarns. The red (tarn – alpine lake) is derived from the reddish carnivorous pond weed Drosera spp – Sundew plants, that grew on the fringes of the marsh. A great place to see the reflections of Mt Cook (evening). We lingered for a while. A couple of ducks flew into the cold pond for a bit of frolicking. The tarn is a great place for reflection – views and life, I guess.

Beyond the tarns, a track leads up on rough slopes to the summit of Mt Sebastapol. Some serious effort is required for this hike.

The views of the mountains and alpine scenery is superb. This demanding (due to numerous steps) track is worth the 2hrs return climb.

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook

Hooker Valley, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. The track starts at the White Horse Camping ground. Car parks are available.

The track begins through low bush on a stony track. Side tracks lead to Freda and Memorial. In about 15 minutes, we reached the Muller Lake lookout. The milky lake is fed by the melt-waters of Muller Glacier. The Hooker River drains into Muller Lake and carries on under the 1st swing bridge away from Hooker Valley.  Above the lake is the formidable looking Sefton Mountain (3151m) and further left, the Sealy Range. A small avalanche happened with a loud rumbling of ice. Then, the impact, with  thunderous collapse of an ice wall. Beyond the moraine wall (created when Muller Glacier retreated) on the right, lies Hooker Valley.

The track continued through low bush strewn with large rocks and boulders. Looking back, in the distance, a strip of gleaming turquoise water- Lake Pukaki. Then crossed a 2nd swing bridge with the massive ice covered Mt. Sefton in the background. Mt Cook (3724 m) came into view. The track is now a long boardwalk. Tussock grasses covered the valley. The Hooker River wound its way down the valley and eventually drained in Lake Pukaki. We crossed the 3rd swing bridge. A side track brought me to a small tarn with a view and reflection of Mt Cook and the neighbouring mountains.

A short hike between huge boulders and a short climb over crumbling moraine brought us the track’s end – the stunning and captivating – Hooker Lake viewpoint. Visibility was fantastic. Icebergs floated in the lake below. Mt Cook, the tallest in New Zealand, is almost touching distance.

At the end of the lake, Hooker Glacier reflected brightly. On the left, Mt Footstool rose steeply. All these mountains, glaciers and lakes are part of the extensive Southern Alps. We stopped for lunch.

A small track led towards the lake’s edge. Rocks and small boulders strewn all over. The sun was intense. Watching the icebergs bob around is mesmerising. Numerous glaciers on the mountains peaks reflected strongly in the afternoon sun. A waterfall cascaded down from glaciers above a steep slope. The views are captivating. The picture was complete – blue sky, snowy mountain peaks including the formidable Mt Cook, bright sunshine, placid icy water and crystal clear ice floating about. All to the sounds of gushing waterfall – head water of the Hooker River. Simply stunning.

Total time taken for the 10 km return hike – 3.5 hrs. This is relatively an easy half day walk on mostly level terrain. No permits or booking required. Just be prepared for the weather. Bring some lunch. Best time to hike is sunrise or sunset. Midday sun is intense. Sadly, all glaciers in the region are melting away due to low snowfall and higher melting rates. These mountains will not look the same  (less ice) in the next 20 years. Refer to  DoC – Hooker Valley Track.