Sad to leave lovely Akaroa but leave we must - and in any case we were looking forward to Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain.It was a fine morning as we left Akaroa but as we drove through the pretty countryside the weather started to look ominous with big heavy dark clouds and a stiffening wind.Fortunately, however, we just managed to skirt it when we turned inland towards the mountains and out came the sun.It was therefore in glorious sunshine that we got our first glimpse of the beautiful turquoise blue Lake Tekapo and the quaint Church of the Good Shepherd sitting at the lakeside.This is really all that this area is famous for, but it was a pleasant stop even though we were in the land of the tourist buses.A few kilometres further on and we got our first views of a snow-clad Mount Cook looking absolutely splendid in the distance. Driving up the side of Lake Pukaki however, the views of Mount Cook became more and more spectacular necessitating numerous stops for photos.The nearer we got to Mount Cook Village the higher Mount Cook seemed to grow until it completely dominated the skyline - it was truly awesome.
Mount Cook Village is one of those places which have grown up specifically for visitors to the mountain and, whilst it is located in a National Park, one private company has a dominant hold on the accommodation etc and prices are therefore very steep.But the standards are high and the quality of the accommodation, food and services is very good. It was great to be back in the ambience of snow covered peaks and crisp, fresh air, the scenery was so magnificent and our chalet so comfortable and well equipped that we decided to stay for a third night.Unfortunately the chalets were fully booked but we managed to get a very nice room in the Alpine Lodge.So we were all set to enjoy two full days here, the highlight of which would be tomorrow morning when we'd booked a flight in a ski plane around Mount Cook with a landing on the Franz Josef Glacier!Although that day had been beautifully sunny, a couple from Birmingham that we got talking to told us that they were supposed to have gone up that afternoon but all flights had been cancelled because it had been too windy.Next morning we awoke with great anticipation but the first thing we did was check the weather, and we were so relieved to find it bright and sunny and, more importantly, calm.A quick phone confirmed that our flight was on, although there were no guarantees about the landing - that would be down to the pilot depending on the conditions prevailing at the time we reached the glacier.
We arrived at Mount Cook Airport (more of an airfield really even though it's owned by Air New Zealand) to be given the largest boarding cards you've ever seen - they were nearly bigger than the plane we were due to fly in!Encouragingly, both previous flights that morning had made the landing so we crossed our fingers that our luck would hold.The experience is hard to describe- we'd heard so much about it previously from friends but there just aren't words to get over the huge thrill and excitement of it all (and so it should be at the price!) .Heading towards snow covered peaks surrounded by an intense blue sky, bumping up and down in the severe turbulence, flying SO close to the mountains and jaggy peaks, and landing on skis on a sheet of lumpy ice was breathtaking and an experience never to be forgotten - just WOW!See Mount Cook photo album.
With it being a morning flight we had the rest of the day to ourselves and in the afternoon we did two substantial walks.One was to the Tasman Glacier lake (that we'd flown over that morning) where we saw at closer quarters the end of the receding glacier and the icebergs that floated in the lake.The other walk, which was a bit more interesting and challenging, was a 2 to 3 hours trek to the Red Tarns situated half way up Mount Sebastapol.This was a continual climb of 500 metres but was worth it with lots of stops to take in the magnificent scenery (pech, pech!).By the end of this hike we'd worked up an appetite - and we needed to have done so because we'd booked a table at the hotel for their buffet dinner.The food was delicious and each of us managed to scoff about ten starters, six main courses and seven desserts - we kid you not!Well, we hadn't had any lunch.
Day three at Mount Cook and what a difference - we couldn't see Mount Cook.The previous evening's weather forecast had foretold of heavy rain and low pressure heading from the west.It had arrived! We'd already planned another walk that we wanted to do and, undaunted, we headed off in intermittent light rain to walk the famous and ancient Hooker Lake trail.The walk takes you up to the lake over a couple of swing bridges on the way.As we progressed the weather did worsen until the rain came down in torrents between the first and second bridges.Although we're quite well equipped but haven't got the all-weather gear we have at home/store.The water was seeping in through all possible nooks and crannies so having experienced a significant and interesting part of the track we decided to return to base after the second bridge.And it's just as well we did because the weather got even worse and we were starting to get cold as well as wet.
E M xxx