We Continue our drive beside Lake Pukaki.
We stop at Peter’s Lookout which has a truly spectacular view. An artist, Patricia Prendergast, has set out her stall from her car boot. She’s actually an Aussie but has worked as an illustrator for the New Zealand government drawing and painting the landscape and its flora and fauna. She’s also a keen walker and climber. Alison buys a mounted, hand coloured print and Patricia signs it.
On again. The mountains are becoming large. We are at the end of the lake. It looks more remote, almost desolate. We pass the airstrip from where they fly tourists over the mountains.
The great walls of rock and ice begin to close in and loom. They seem to be suggesting that we turn back. The summit of Aoraki towers in the background. Majestic, imposing.
We reach Mount Cook village. It is nestled under a vast rock face in native bush. There are a number of well-constructed buildings. A visitors’ centre, a restaurant, accommodation. All modern, clean and well laid out. Dominating the entire area on our left is the colossal icy face of Mount Sefton with a sweeping cap of cloud and ice cornices decorating its sides like some enormous cake.
On the right is Aoraki. Also decorated with cornices. Immense. Towering. Majestic.
The Southern Cross on the flag flies bravely in front of it. A bit tattered, it must be said, by the alpine winds. I wonder how often they have to replace it?
We decide to dine frugally as the restaurant is a bit expensive. We make base camp beside the restaurant and bivvy for lunch. Here we made a mistake. There’s a superb cafe just round the corner, along with a hotel, shop you name it. Oops. Never mind, we’ll know next time.
The visitors’ centre must be the best I’ve ever seen. It’s design is excellent. The entrance hall, and it is a hall, has big suspended curves framing a huge window which offers a fabulous view of the peak of Aoraki. It fair takes your breath away. There are displays about everything to do with the area. Cultural history, animals and plants and a large shop area with pricy but high quality souvenirs.
Downstairs the focus is on climbing in the region. It’s quite fascinating even for the non-climber. You can see the contrast of the old and new in clothing and equipment. The tweed jacket and alpine hat has evolved a long way into today’s high-tech gear. We particularly liked the manikin of Freda Du Faur, an early pioneer of ladies’ mountaineering. There she is dressed for the ascent like an Edwardian cyclist with her straw hat and lacy blouse with a bluebird brooch. Bloomers, overskirt, stout boots and an alpenstock complete the picture. There are reconstructions of mountain huts complete with hand-powered generators. There’s a video presentation of a true-life mountain rescue which I was enthralled by. Edge-of-your-seat stuff. These guys have bottle. There’s much else besides.
While we’ve been doing this the cloud has been building. Aoraki’s peak is now shrouded. It makes it look very forbidding.
We take a walk up to Kea Point overlooking the Muller Glacier. The walk is not long but you feel you are getting in touch with the place. The glacier is covered in moraine and melt pools so it doesn’t look at all icy which is a bit disappointing. But you do get a close up view of Mount Sefton. Aoraki has now virtually disappeared behind a wall of ominous looking cloud. The hanging ice shelves on Mount Sefton show deep blue shadow. Dust blows off the moraine. Up close, alpine scenery is not pretty.
We drive back down the lake. The scene has totally changed since this morning. The sky, though bright, is dominated by cloud. Our beautiful mountain has disappeared.
How fortunate we were to choose exactly the right time to come out this morning. Those perfect views of Aoraki will always be with us.