A black and white of Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand.
This morning we left Christchurch
before the sun rose. We were heading
south and west into Middle Earth, or at least what director Peter Jackson
portrayed as Middle Earth in the wonderful movie trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Among
other reasons, Jackson,
a native Kiwi, selected his homeland to bring life to Tolkein’s amazing vision
because of its diverse, relatively unspoiled, and breathtaking natural
beauty. Thankfully, we will see a
heaping helping of the country during our twelve full days here.
We started today by moving away from the Canterbury
area (which includes Christchurch)
and toward Mackenzie Country. About, oh,
five minutes after we left the metropolitan Christchurch area we were in pure, absolute,
unadulterated countryside… and primarily agricultural land.
Grasslands in the foreground; Mt. Cook in the background.
Quaint small towns dotted the landscape.
In between the hamlets were fields and fields
full of sheep, cattle, deer (raised specifically for venison), and hay.
And the hills rolled on and on until they
formed mountains… very large mountains.
they are known as the Southern Alps
We were en route to Mt.
, which, at over 12,000 feet, is
the tallest among those peaks and stands taller than any other peak in Oceania
at that spot, though, we passed some postcard vistas.
One of our first stops was at Lake
Tekapo, which is something of a
gateway to this main spine of the Southern Alps. The lake is remarkably blue; this is a
product of “rock flour,” which is finely ground particles of rock brought down
by the glaciers at the head of the lake and held in suspension in the melt
The glacial lake formed by the melting of the Mueller Glacier, which is on the west side of Mt. Cook.
On the lake front stands the
Church of the Good Shepherd, and from the front window of the church, the lake
is perfectly framed in the background.
We all dropped our jaws when we rounded that first curve and
saw the view. And on an ordinary day, that
would have been plenty and we could have loaded up the car and headed to down
to road to accommodations for the evening.
But the fun was just beginning.
We soon arrived at Lake
Pukaki, which looms in the southern
shadow of Mt. Cook and its sister giant peaks. (Pukaki, like Tekapo, is a Maori name. In fact, the Maori name for Mt.
is Aoraki. According to the legend, the
boy Aoraki created the mountain after a boat trip from heaven to earth.) The water of Pukaki was as blue as the waters
of Lake Tekapo, but the mountains were much
closer, producing a super panorama. The
road leading from Tekapo into the Mt.
Park was one of the more spectacular drives of
the trip thus far. On our right remained
the azure waters of the lake. On our
left were gently sloping hills covered in sheep, scrub vegetation, and the
occasional rushing stream and waterfall.
Ahead of us sat Mt.
Cook and the range of
gigantic, snow-covered peaks.
More of the Southern Alps.
Lenticular clouds. Ask Sheldon.
Soon we dropped anchor at the luxurious lodge at the
mountain’s base. If we had US$600 to
blow, we could have stayed there a night.
As it was, we had a bite to eat at the café and then headed off down on
a 90-minute hike to a feature called the Mueller Glacier. (Kiwis use the term “tramping” to describe a
hike. The trail we followed was the
Hooker Glacier trail. So we tramped the
Hooker trail. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.)
The scenery was amazing.
While the ground was relatively flat, once we neared the overlook, we
ascended rapidly to a place called Kea Point.
On our left sat a peak of over 9,000 feet. On its side crawled a bright blue
glacier. Below us were extraordinarily
tall glacier moraines. At their base
rested the Mueller Glacier, which intersected with a glacial lake full of that
typically blue-green glacial water.
Sunrise the morning we left Christchurch.
heard the ice crack a time or two, but other than that, the place was literally
Seated on a bench, we could see Mt. Cook
ahead of us, ferocious winds kicking snow from its rocky summit.
The stillness, coolness, and freshness of the
location combined to give each of us a sense of absolute remoteness.
All too quickly, we tramped back to the car
and headed to Twizel
, our home for the evening.
Twizel is really out in the middle of the nowhere. Go ahead and look at it on the map. Twice full of life (once when the
hydroelectric company took over the town to build its generator and plants, and
then again when a group from Middle Earth descended upon the village to film
scenes for three motion pictures), the town now is the personification of
rural. Yet in this itty bitty place we
found a wonderful motor lodge and, perhaps more important, a delicious
restaurant that could rival some of the best in Atlanta.
The three of us sat around a fireplace for about two hours, eating and
talking and making merry. When we
finally exited, the sky twinkled with countless stars and the temperature had
dropped somewhat drastically… to zero degrees Celsius, i.e., 32 degrees