Saturday, September 23, 2006

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Our start was much later than I would have liked because we had a cold and mostly sleepless night again. Plus we had to go sort a heater out. Gemma had rung the hire people the night before to ask about it, they basically said, 'Ooops, sorry. Go buy a new one, keep the receipt and we'll re-imburse you'. We found a Warehouse store, which sells heaters as well as pretty much everything else. As well as a little oil heater, we walked away with some t-shirts, some furry throws for under the sheet, a DVD and a CD. We'd bought the CD because we'd been unable to tune the radio properly, a fact I later found was attributable to the antenna not being extended. The CD we got was only $1.97, by Wondabraa. It's kind of inoffensive House music, not the greatest thing to listen to.

Once we were on the road, listening to Wondabraa and the radio now it was tuned in we hooked inland on SH8. This diary could become even more boring than it already was with repeated outpourings about how beautiful the scenery was whilst driving. This time we were driving right at the snowcapped mountains so they became progressively larger as we went on. Postcard view after postcard view. We drove through several small towns -a main street of new world buildings, small square things with scrolled ironwork. They looked like wild west frontier towns, only with blackboards advertising cappuccinos and panninis. And no cowboys.

We took many stops for photos, such that the 200km or so journey took us about five hours. At times we were shadowing the same set of camper vans, we'd pull in just as they were about to leave, or vice versa. There were a lot of camper vans on the road. Probably more than we saw cars. I wondered idly what it must be like in peak season. Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki were very nice. The lakes are both in valleys carved out by glaciers in times past and are a brilliant turquoise-blue colour, something to do with sediment in the water. Each is framed by a ring of mountains with the requisite trees and rocks that you would expect from this kind of scenery. Many times we pulled up when a bus was disgorging it's load of Asian tourists. This caused queues waiting for photographs in front of particular landmarks, with each person wanting each possible combination of their friends in a photo. One bus stopped and I watched two older ladies running for the right to take their photograph first. It was like the rage you see at jumble sales sometimes. In the Lake Pukaki visitors centre there was a poster advertising a $70 Lord of the Rings tour. Nearby are the locations for Gondor, Entwash and the White Mountains. The poster stated that these were on private land and so not normally viewable. It seemed to me like what you would get for your money was a car ride out to a field and then the right to stand in that field for a bit. I saved my $70.

We arrived at the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park by late afternoon. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in its chain, and in Australasia for that matter. It was named after, the ever-present in these parts, Captain James Cook. The Maori name of Aoraki, which means 'Cloud Piercer', is well deserved, although it was it's neighbour next door that had most of the cloud when we were there.

We had planned to spend the night at the cheap, no facilities campsite in the National Park. When we got out of the van into the cold biting wind we began to reconsider. It was freezing and given the fact that I'd just bought a new heater and wouldn't be able to us it without electric I decided that we should go to a proper campsite. Two nights shivering and sleepless were enough. After a couple of quickly snapped, and probably blurry because of the shivering, photographs we turned around. A short distance back the way we'd come was the Glentanner Park Centre ( This was a campsite and chalet operation on the Northern shore of Lake Pukaki, attached to a helicopter ride company. We found a site, plugged in, turned on the heater and watched the sun go down over the mountains.

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