Friday afternoon Emily, Niko, Evan, and myself departed for our next adventure. We took off towards Mt Cook and after being pulled over for no reason a quick three hour drive somehow turned into 4+. Nothing was really going our way and we arrived to the legendary Lake Tekapo, which was surrounded by threatening dark clouds and mist. The sun was setting and we still didn’t have a place to camp for the night. After looking up places in the area, we determined it would be better to just continue on to Lake Pukaki. We thought it would be a quick 30 minute drive, but an hour later we decided we had taken a wrong turn and were headed in the opposite direction. Backtracking took another half hour but finally we were on the right road, headed towards a campsite. By this time it was completely dark and suddenly we were on a gravel road, with no idea where the campsite would be. We thought perhaps we had missed it, but then saw a dirt road stretching into the trees to our left. It was definitely not the designated campsite with facilities that we had been looking for, but given our exhaustion we decided to just go for it and see what was down the road. Through the dirt, between the trees, and over many bumpy roots, we eventually came to a clearing with Lake Pukaki before us. We were on the edge of the beach with an unobstructed view of the massive lake. Even in the dark we could tell that this was a special find. At least that’s what we though until we saw that there was already another campfire here. All we wanted was to find somewhere to sleep for the night, but we all knew that it would be unfair to take over someone else’s campsite when they were already set up. We stopped our car and climbed out, discussing what we should do. And then we noticed that someone from the campfire was coming towards us. As it turned out the other people there were two young girls who were traveling by camper van. They were both from Ireland, and had been in New Zealand backpacking for the last six months. This was the last week of their trip, in fact they were headed to the airport the next day. They told us that they had just been about to put their fire out when we had pulled up, so we were welcome to use it. We thanked them graciously and felt proud that finally our luck seemed to be turning.
The following morning we awoke to more dark clouds in the sky, but there was still a gorgeous view of the lake before us. We made another fire for our breakfasts and made some instant coffee as we tried to warm up in the mountain air. After a wonderful breakfast of crumpets with peanut butter we ventured further down the beach. There were a few called trees that were blocking the beach, but after climbing over and under the final one, we had our first view of Mt Cook. I had heard about it and seen many photos of course, but seeing it etched in the sky before me was something else. The clouds were clearing around it and sun was finally coming through. This sight was more than enough to get us all rushing back to the car to drive for a closer look.
The girls from the night before were already gone in the morning, but the night before they had suggested Tasman Valley as a great place to explore so we decided to make it our first stop. We read online that it was about an hour hike, but when we got there we were disappointed to find crowds of tourists and a sign saying the “hike” was a ten minute return. Nevertheless we headed on, with our first stop being the Blue Lakes. There were several lakes in a line, all of them frozen completely over. We played around for awhile walking across them.
Everybody was somewhat split up at this point, just exploring different areas around the lakes. Then Emily yelled to us all, she had begun climbing up one of the steep ridges along a lake. She told us that the view was pretty good so we all began our climb up the slope as well. After a long period of climbing across loose rocks, we realized that we had discovered the Tasman Valley Glacier on the other side of the ridge.
The walking path that was meant for visitors was far behind us, we had found a much closer viewpoint. From our spot we could feel the cool breeze coming off of the glacier and we could hear the thundering crashes of the rock walls falling as the glacier melt expanded.
Of course I decided to enjoy my favorite drink with a view like this…
Are you surprised?
After a good hour of exploring and trying to capture the view in photos, we decided that this “10 minutes hike” had been long enough for us.
We had already filled much of the day and given the early sunsets, we knew that we didn’t have much light left in the day. We headed back towards Lake Pukaki and our campsite from the night before but once we were on the gravel road again we got a little too ambitious. Thinking it would be fun to find another hidden campsite this time we drove past our road and took the next dirt road leading into the woods. This one was a little more rough and just as we made the decision to turn around, our car began to skid in the mud. We were able to flip around to head back out but now our car was officially stuck. I was driving and as our tires simply sprayed mud all over our beloved Mags, I felt a slight hint of panic. Normally in these situations when I am at school I am used to being the one that solves the problems. When something goes wrong I am used to being the one to speak up and say that I would handle it. But in this situation, I had no idea where to begin. But then Evan and Niko hopped out of the car and began putting pinecones and branches in front of our tires, making a ramp over the mud. After a good few attempts we were finally able to free Mags and return to the gravel road. This time there was a unanimous agreement to return to the original campsite for the night. And we were so glad that they did.
We lit another fire as the sun was setting. I don’t remember who started it but we began discussing jumping into the lake. All of us were joking for the most part, given that it was below freezing outside and the lake itself was glacial melt.
But somewhere beyond joking we were all suddenly on the edge of the lake, in our swimsuits, going for a swim.
The dunk itself was shockingly cold, but we spent the next twenty minutes or so standing around the fire. What a sight the four of us must have been, in our swimsuits, in a circle huddled around the campfire as the sky became dark.
The following day we headed back towards Mt Cook once more to hike to the Hooker Valley Glacier. This hike was a bit longer, given its 4 hour return time, but it remained flat along the path.
There were three cable bridges along the trail, leading us further into the mountains. Unfortunately this also meant further into the clouds, but the rain decided to hold off on our hike.
The four of us did not explore around this glacier quite as much given the wind and the quickly moving clouds. We hiked back out and headed on our way home. It had been a long weekend, and given us our mountain fix for the next few weeks, but I know that I will be returning to see Mt Cook again soon.