Date: 10th September 2017
Standing at over 3,700 metres, New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki / Mt Cook is surprisingly accessible. That is at least if you want to gaze at it in admiration as opposed to slogging to the summit. And what a sight it is; the great mount rising from the surrounding landscape, capped in permanent snow and ice.
I take it all in, while savouring a cold beer, from the balcony of my ‘mountain view’ room in the Hermitage Hotel. It all seems a little too comfortable, lounging about while surrounded by such raw natural beauty. So, to make amends, I haul myself up, pack some provisions and join Anne Marie for a wee hike.
We walk along the Hooker Valley Track, an easy 1-2 hour return along the Hooker river, with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. Mt Cook grows in size and stature as you approach, finer details in it’s crags and glacier occupy the eyes in the changing light. A crack echoes out above us and we turn to catch a cascade of snow and ice sliding down the mountain to our left. I feel happy to be down on the valley floor, where the ground isn’t quite so ‘active’.
The trail ends at glacier lake, where the reflection of Mt Cook dances in the fading light. There are people scrambling over rocks, armed with selfie sticks, all around us. I wonder how many injuries are caused by creative photo positions in places like this. We settle for some standard, ‘standing in front of mountain’ shots and make a move. I want to get out of here before someone falls in the lake.
Even though we’re surrounded by snow capped mountains, it’s early spring and there is plenty of bird life around. On the return journey we happen upon a Karearea, or New Zealand Falcon. Sat on a rock about twenty metres away, the bird seems oblivious as I stalk him with my camera. The closer I get, the more apparent it becomes that I needn’t be so stealthy. These birds have no natural predators here and this guy knows fine well he can outfly me. I relax a little and get some nice close ups before leaving him to his preening.
After a sunset so good, you’d think the hotel had organized the lighting, we eat and drink the night away. There’s always time for another photograph though, and a clear sky provides the perfect setting for some star trails.