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Mount Cook Area: Pristine Beauty In New Zealand’s South Island
by Roberta Sotonoff
Six people pile into a helicopter, buckle up and then the copter soars. It cuts through ridges of the mountains flying so close that at one point it looks like the copter will scrape the granite-but it just glides past. The craft lands 6,000 feet above sea level on 2,000 feet of ice – the Tasman Glacier. Surrounded by mountains, silence, and a feeling of peacefulness, passengers leave the copter and walk on dry snow. They gasp in amazement at the serene beauty that encircles them.
The Tasman Glacier is part of Mount Cook. Maori call it Aoraki or “The Sky Piercer.” The pointy snow-covered mountain that majestically rises to about 12,216 feet really does puncture the clouds. Located in the central part of New Zealand’s South Island, it sits deep in the heart of the Southern Alps. Before attempting to climb Mount Everest, Mount Cook was Sir Edmund Hillary’s training ground.
It’s about a four-hour drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook via the Canterbury Plains. Snow-capped mountains emerge in the background of New Zealand’s largest flatland. In front of them, sheep graze amid multi shades of green grass and the yellow flowers of Scottish Broom. On a sunny day, the clouds stretch across the sky like white cotton candy.
Along the Waihi River at the bottom of some foothills sits the village of Geraldine. Trees and gardens border its main street. Here, one can sample some very good Hokey Pokey vanilla ice cream with chunks of toffee- a Kiwi specialty. But Geraldine’s real claim to fame is “The Giant Jersey,” or sweater as we call it. At 7 feet high and 5 feet wide, the garment looks like the perfect covering for the Jolly Green Giant.
One can use a sweater, particularly around Lake Tekapo (pronounced Take-a-poe), the bright turquoise lake with the snow-covered mountains as its backdrop. Sitting alongside the shore, the little stone and oak Church of the Good Shepherd is one of New Zealand’s best photo ops, especially when the picture is taken from the altar window which perfectly frames out the dazzling lake and mountains.
The activities center at the Hermitage Hotel houses the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a small museum about the mountain and the man. A 3-D movie, “Mount Cook Magic,” gives one the feeling of climbing Mount Cook, skiing on the Tasman Glacier and flying like a bird across the Southern Alps. Another part of the center contains a large gift shop that sells merino wool everything. Stock up on gloves, stockings and a hat–essentials in a place where the weather can change on a dime. It is possible to have rain, sun, warmth, cold, and blowing snow all in one day.
Exploring Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on an Argo Tour in an ATV comes with laughs, learning and adventure. The ATV bumps over rocks and slithers through water. There is a stop for a nature walk to see the world’s largest buttercup flower. Then the drive continues to 2,800 feet. Here a rocky but easy 400-foot climb to a steep ridge reveals a glacier lake full of rocks and milky water. This area is so pristine it is no wonder that the Mount Cook Range was the backdrop for the fantasy movie trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.”
The Mount Cook area offers incredible scenery and experiences. The serenity felt when walking on a glacier, the starkness of Mount Cook, and the turquoise-color of Lake Tekapo is well worth the long plane and car rides required to get there.
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|Print article||This entry was posted by Barbara Kingstone on August 7, 2012 at 8:40 pm, and is filed under Australia & South Pacific, Destinations. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|