Glacial Lake Clouds

New Zealand: Day 6 – Mount Cook [Updated]

The Invisible Mount Cook
The Invisible Mount Cook (No, you can’t see it.)


The weather here is very changeable to be sure, but today, near the base of Aoraki Mount Cook, the weather was mostly the same: heavy, low cloud cover and constant drizzle or rain. We never saw Mount Cook. In fact, a few times we couldn’t see anything.

We had scheduled a private flight around the mountain range, including a landing on the Tasman Glacier. However, this was not meant to be. Because of weather conditions, all flights were cancelled. So, we went to watch a 3D movie about Aoraki Mount Cook. The movie was well done. At least we can now say we saw the mountain (if only in the movie)!

Petrol Adventure

Afterward, despite the weather, we were off to hike in two different areas near The Hermitage. But first, we had to have a petrol adventure. We easily found the one (literally) petrol pump in town1, but US credit cards have huge issues abroad these days. The US is so far behind the rest of the world in card security2! The credit card would not work at the completely self service pump. (I mean, this pump was just as stand alone as stand alone can get—completely unassociated with any business, like a gas station, anywhere.)

Our cards do not have security chips in them, and we have had credit cards not function for numerous purchases in Australia and New Zealand. Fortunately, The Hermitage was kind enough to pay for our petrol with their chip-enabled credit card and put it on the room bill. While Fox News chants, “We’re number One!” the rest of the world just marches forward while the US marches into the past. US Banks need to be held accountable for their lack of attention to card security. Until it costs them a fortune, they will continue to do nothing.

Aoraki Mount Cook
Aoraki Mount Cook (Source: Wikipedia)

Hiking the Valley

We were then off to Hooker Valley for a hike. It was pouring rain. Forget that. The photo to the right is what we would have seen at this location had the weather been nice. Next…

We went to Tasman Valley to hike around Blue Lakes and the Tasman Glacier. It was still pouring, but we donned our serious rain gear and struck out for adventure. The first lake we encountered was enormously lackluster—sorry, but puddle is a fairly accurate description! The hike up to the second lake area, Tasman Glacier, became too treacherous in the rain with wet, slippery rocks and muddy path on the steep ascent. We called it off and headed back to the car. But, the hike offered some unique views and was still a lot of fun!

Glacial Lake CloudsBack to Tekapo Lake

Wondering if the weather would be clearer about 50km back, at Tekapo Lake, we drove there. Indeed, the clouds opened to beautiful blue sky, sunshine and very interesting, rapidly changing low clouds over the tree-line and lake. Today we could see much more than we could see yesterday.

But, by the time I setup to shoot a time lapse of the gorgeous sky drama, the magical sunlight was gone. I shot a couple of time lapse anyway before a thick, cold, soupy fog moved in and engulfed that area. (It still looked very cool but probably didn’t photograph well.)

Yes, the weather changes very, very rapidly. In a matter of 60 seconds, an area can experience a remarkably dramatic change in weather!

Daring Mountain Rescue

On the way back to the hotel, still all rained in, we stopped and shot several photos. Once at the hotel we went to another movie. This one was about the search and rescue team (SAR) here at Mount Cook. Frankly, the movie was terrifying! I can’t imagine why anyone in his or her right mind would hike something as dangerous as this. (Hello, the mud and wet rocks did me in today!) Hiking up the sheer face of ice, or soft snow that calves and collapses under your feet is just insane. Absolutely, insane! The 12,000+ ft. mountain has claimed at least 138 lives.

In the rescue effort on which this movie focused, the hiker, trapped in a “T” crevice under the snow and ice, for 7 hours was successfully transported out to Christchurch hospital where the doctors were able to bypass his heart and, over time, heat his body back up to a normal temperature. Other than the hypothermia, the hiker had only sustained 2 broken legs when his anchor gave way and he fell 250 meters, then down into the crevice. About 30 minutes after his body temperature was restored, his potassium levels unexpectedly spiked in the hospital, and he died.

The dangers to hikers is incalculable, and the difficulty of these daring rescues is beyond my comprehension.

The Hotel and the Food

The Hermitage hotel has a lovely evening buffet (as well as morning breakfast) with a large variety of delicious choices. I’m hungry but have 25 more minutes to wait!

In 1906, the hotel was reluctantly owned by the government and suffered low tourist numbers, mostly due to tourists ‘arriving jolted almost insensible’ after a 2 day coach trip from Fairlie.”

I just loved that line! This place is still remote!

As for being jolted almost insensible, I had to turn on my principal act today. Some 10 – 12 year old was running through the hotel with his sister but no parent in sight. He ran from behind to the front of me and knocked the hell out of my frozen shoulder.

He immediately and sincerely apologized, but I was not amused and sternly responded to him, “You know you should not be running!” It takes a village…

Sneaky Mountain [Update]

The room got a little too hot; so, we opened the small side window about a quarter of an inch. High wind had been forecast, and high wind arrived! The curtains we vigorously flapping about in the night. I thought the significant steel exoskeleton erected around the exterior of the building was some unique measure to protect the 9 story structure during earthquakes. I now think it is designed to hold the place together in the wind!

At any rate, during the night, the wind stopped. I looked out the window and was shocked. The wind had blown all of the cloud cover to the sides of Mount Cook. There it stood majestically in the silent night! It is truly gorgeous.

I shot some pictures through the hotel room window, but I’m not certain they will turn out. The outside was just so dark. The moonlight was obscured by the clouds still to the sides of the mountain. But, perhaps I got something. Time will tell.

  1. of 100 permanent residents 

  2. Hence, the enormous identity theft and credit card fraud problems we face in America! 

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