Aoraki Mount Cook Area Guide
Mt Cook (3754m) from the North, looking past
Torres Peak (3160m) which runs up to
Mt Tasman - © Naturespic.com
The mountain, known evocatively to the Maori people as Aoraki or 'cloud piercer', forms the centrepiece of the 70,000 hectare Aoraki Mt Cook National Park - designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1986.
Aoraki Mount Cook Village, at the base of the mountain, lies at an altitude of 760 metres, and is dominated by the alpine Hermitage Hotel, with its fabulous picture window views of the mountain. The Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centre near the Hermitage is the best place for information on this land of ice and snow. The national park contains most of New Zealand's highest mountains, and almost half its surface is covered in glaciers. The largest, the Tasman Glacier, forms a great river of ice, 29 kilometres long and up to three kilometres wide, the ice standing 600 metres deep in places.
There are many walks and climbs in the area, from easy short strolls to more challenging alpine treks. The Visitor Centre can advise on treks to suit your fitness. Summertime walks on the tussock-cloaked lower slopes give you the chance to see alpine plants, like the Mount Cook Lily (actually a giant buttercup), mountain daisies, snow gentians, vegetable sheep and beautiful multi-coloured lupins. The cheeky alpine parrot, the kea, may sidle up in search of a snack at morning tea.
The Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walk (40 minutes return) offers good views of Mt Cook and takes you past the Blue Lakes, although DOC observes the lakes, originally named because of their intense blue colour, could now more accurately be described as 'green ponds'. Longer walks are only recommended for those with mountaineering experience as the weather can be severe during all seasons and avalanches can occur at any time of the year.
For non-climbers there are other ways to get up to mountaineering altitudes, and helicopter and scenic ski plane flights will give you spectacular views of the Southern Alps, or get a ski plane or helicopter to drop you off for a spot of adventure skiing or snowboarding on the pristine Tasman Glacier, or on uncharted mountain slopes.
For a close-up look at the glaciers, you can't do better than a boat ride or kayak trip on one of the terminal lakes at the base of the Tasman or Mueller Glaciers - the only place in New Zealand where you can cruise amongst icebergs.
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