Heading to the High Country

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09/03/08
Well hello all you cool beautiful people in the world. I hope you’re all doing well, as I know that I certainly am. As promised, I didn’t turn a crank at all today. No biking. Instead, I hopped on a shuttle bus bound for Aoraki (Mt.Cook). I’m presently in the TV lounge of the YHA in Mount Cook village. Accommodations were almost non-existent up here, but I did score a nice bed in a 4-share room up here for 29NZD for the night. I almost ended up staying up here for a full week, but that’s for the rest of the story, isn’t it? I did plenty of hiking today, and plan to do plenty more tomorrow. The ride was fairly uneventful, save for the fact that I decided I made another good call by taking the bus here instead of biking and spending at least an extra 2 days doing so. At any rate, read on for the entire story, and don’t forget the map, and all of its’ photo-y goodness.

I had a pretty good night’s sleep to get things going on the right foot in the morning. I was a bit worried when a backpacker bus pulled up and emptied out a crowd of youngsters to stay at the hostel, and even more worried when 3 of them landed in my room. However, they were actually in bed before me, and were also getting up early, so everything worked out splendidly on that front. The van picked all of us up right on time, and we were on our way in no time. It was hard to tell what the weather would be like for us up there. There was definitely evidence of clouds over in the mountains, which was 100 or so km away from us, but there were blue skies everywhere else, so all I could do was keep my fingers crossed. Of course, I’d have two days to try my luck with the weather up there.

As we got into Mt Cook, I headed to the DOC office, where I was warned that the trail I had planned to start with was experiencing very high winds, like up to 80km/hr, which could mean some fairly tricky walking and footing. However, the other trail I wanted to do, the Mueller Hut Track, would be even worse, with very steep inclines on exposed trails. This was definitely not recommended, as I’d probably end up crawling they said. I’m saving that one for tomorrow, as the weather is supposed to get even better tomorrow. So which trails did I do you might ask? Well, all told, I did about 24km of hiking on the Red Tarns track, the Hooker Valley and Glacier Track, and the Kea Point Track, which I did twice due to weather. Between these and the Mueller tomorrow, I will have done almost all the day trails in the area, which is pretty sweet.

No sooner had I actually started my hiking did the rain actually start. It was an odd sort of rain, sort of half mist, half rain. Although it wasn’t heavy, it was definitely getting me a little wet, so I had to put on the jacket, which in turn made me too hot. I ended up compromising for the rest of the day by just wearing a tank top under the jacket. Some people couldn’t believe that was all I had on, as they thought it was freezing at some points. Mind you, I was moving a little quicker than the average bear anyway, so my body heat was up there. Kea Point was my first stop, and it was pretty much accidental, due to a wrong turn on my behalf. There was a sign, but I didn’t properly see it, so I went straight when I should have taken a right. No harm no foul, as I wanted to see Kea Point anyway. Sadly, at the first pass, it was quite misty, foggy and raining, so there wasn’t much to see.

I re-routed, and headed up the Hooker Valley, which is a pretty sweet track with a couple fun swing bridges and takes you to the snout of the Hooker Glacier and Hooker Lake. The wind up here was absolutely ferocious! I ended up finding a little rock cave where I squeezed in so that I could eat some lunch a little out of the wind. I was wondering how long I should wait up here for the clouds to clear, but figured it might be a while, so after a little exploration, and admiring the big ice chunks in the lake, I turned tail and headed back down the valley. By the time I got back to the original turn-off, the skies had cleared quite a bit, and it looked like there would be a pretty sweet view of Mt. Cook. That’s when I decided to head back up to Kea Point, which would have awesome views. I was right, and I was glad I went back that way. I had also met up with a few people from my shuttle bus heading up that way, and we decided to head to the village for tea / beers after that.

They had to catch the bus back to Tekapo, so I headed to the YHA to finally check in to my room. From there, I decided to tack on one final trail for the day, a supposed 2 hr trail heading up to 1100m for some absolutely stunning views of the whole Hooker Valley, Mt Cook, the glaciers, etc. etc. It only took me about 20 minutes to make the climb, as it was essentially steps the whole way up, so I used my big cyclist legs to just get up there quick. This hike was extremely worth it, and I highly recommend it if you are ever in the Mount Cook region. It’s pretty easy, but delivers the goods. I also had a cool view of my hostel far below, which put the whole valley in perspective.

Once done with that hike, it was back to the hostel for a well-deserved shower, and then time to head off for some dinner. I found the nearby bar, the Chamois Bar, and had a delicious Chicken stroganoff with rice and salad, washed down with a Speights, and finished off with a chocolate sundae. Yum. Well worth it, as I’ll need my energy back up for tomorrow’s slog up to Mueller Hut. So how did I almost stay a week? Well, in the hostel, there was a sign saying they were looking for a Hut Warden at Mueller Hut from March 10th to 17th. I figured I could just squeeze it in. As soon as I saw it, I headed straight to the DOC hut to enquire. Sadly, they had just filled the position, so I guess I won’t be doing that. Funnily enough though, they asked if I could do it the first week of April, or even if I’d be back next year, as they thought I’d be great for the job. Damn. Too bad. Would’ve made a cool story, non?

So there you have it, one day in Mount Cook done, and one more to go. I dragged the old computer along with me in order to stay ahead of the game before I got back to Tekapo, where I hope to upload the latest news. Up next, Mueller Hut, and hopefully good stories from that. Bye for now!

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