Aoraki Mount Cook Region
|Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, is the majestic focal point of the Southern Alps, the ‘backbone’ of the South Island. Its European name was bestowed in 1851, in honour of Captain James Cook. But it is also officially known by its Maori name, ‘Aoraki’, from an ancient myth, in which the Gods turned the entire complement of a wrecked canoe into hills. The ‘tallest’ of the party was a child named Aoraki, who was sitting on the chief’s shoulders. Another account says that the mountain was named in honour of Aoraki, the first-born son of the sky father.
The summit, which has in fact three peaks, is 3,764 metres above sea level towering over its neighbours. It was once 10 metres higher, but in December 1991, an avalanche containing 10 million cubic metres of snow, ice and rock tumbled off the eastern face of the summit.
The first attempt at the summit was made in 1882, but it was not conquered until Christmas Day, 1894. The mountain is still not to be taken lightly, as over 140 climbers have lost their lives on its slopes.
Mt Cook is the centrepiece of Mt Cook National Park, comprising nearly 70,000 hectares, more than one-third of which is permanent ice and snow. Within it frontiers are many of the most spectacular features of the central Southern Alps.
Twenty-two other peaks exceed 3,050 metres in height, including Mt Tasman, the second highest in the country at 3,497 metres. These peaks have served as an outstanding training ground for many notable New Zealand mountaineers, including Sir Edmund Hillary and his son Peter, and Graeme Dingle.
The visitor’s centre at Mount Cook Village will tell you a wide range of information on the area, with fantastic interactive displays and learning opportunities. If you are planning on exploring in the mountains you must tell the guides if you are going anywhere beyond the immediate confines. In summer park staff arrange an informal and friendly programme of guided walks during the day, and evening lectures on birds, ski mountaineering and other topics, to enable everyone to better understand and appreciate the beauty of the park.
There are many official and private huts to serve climbers or experienced trampers. Walks range from the short Bowen Track, which takes 20 minutes to complete, to longer walks on the Wakefield, Hooker Valley and Red Tarns Tracks.
Park rangers organise daily walks along the many easy tracks during the summer. There is a school of mountaineering, and professional guides are available for climbing, tramping on routes such as the Copland Pass, and skiing.
There are five major glaciers in the region, including the Tasman Glacier, a river of ice 27 kilometres long, in places 2,500 metres thick, and up to three kilometres wide. It is the largest glacier in the world outside the polar regions or the Himalayas.
A pure white mountain buttercup known as the Mount Cook lily grows in profusion throughout the region. The olive green parrot, the kea, is best known of the region’s birds. It is blatantly curious, so keep a close eye on your food during a meal. Many other birds may be seen, including native pigeons, grey warblers, bellbirds, and the tiny rifleman. All of them are protected.
The hunting of European chamois, and Himalayan thar, though, is actively encouraged, because of the damage the animals cause to the vegetation. Shooting permits must be obtained at park headquarters. There are also opportunities for hunting on Glentanner Station.
24km from Mt Cook Village and 18km for Mt Cook National Park is Glentanner Park Centre. Glentanner Park offers a range of budget accommodation including motel style self contained units, basic and standard units/cabins, and campervan and tent sites.
Glentanner Park is also the perfect base to explore the beauty of this wonderful region, offering a wide range of outdoor adventure activities. Helicopter flights with snow landings, flightseeing, glacier boat trips, horse trekking and walking/hiking being being the most highly sort after.
Glentanner and the Aoraki Mt Cook region is very popular in the summer months, and is an excellent choice in the winter too!