Our biggest and world famous mountain – Aoraki Mt Cook – is 95% visited by overseas tourists. How can this be?

I know there’s nothing like getting on a plane and travelling overseas to ensure you are away from the ever-ringing telephone, but, have you been to Aoraki Mt Cook lately, because it doesn’t matter how often Don and I trek down she is always breathtakingly majestic.

 Don and I have just spent the most amazing weekend relaxing at Mt Cook recently. We left Ashburton early Saturday morning, stopped at The Brewery for a coffee before continuing on to Mt Cook. It’s only a 2 hour drive from Ashburton to the turn off, and then an hour to Mt Cook. It’s a lovely scenic drive with diverse country and you follow Lake ……. along the road around ending up at the Hermitage.

I had booked our trip back in March – an Aoraki Mt Cook Winter Special staying at the Hermitage with Mt Cook views all for $299 including dinner, bed and breakfast, but because we wanted to do several walks we stayed another night at Aoraki Motel (which also included Mt Cook views!).

Arriving early afternoon we put on walking boots to walk to the Blue Lakes and up to the summit. It’s a beautiful walk, and while the level of the lakes was low the vistas were fantastic; barren but with enough native vegetation to know you were deep in the heart of the South Island. No avalanches as we have seen on other visits to Aoraki Mt Cook, but lots of frozen snow trapped in ravines. That night we dined at the Chamois Restaurant with great music, fantastic views and superb hospitality.

We awoke the next morning to cloud just above ground level, but not too cold which was surprising. It didn’t take long to lift and by the time we had had breakfast it was time to head out to the Hooker Valley. The carpark is great and there were quite a few camper vans that had spent the night. We arrived about 10 o’clock and there were already close to 30 cars so that gives you some idea of the popularity for tourists. How do I know they were tourists? Because without exception every single person says “hello” so you hear their accents and everyone is friendly. Perhaps it’s the majesty of the mountain in the background or maybe the whole atmosphere which creates this ambiance.

The Hooker Valley walk is our favourite. (We have walked it six times now). It’s a good 3 hour walk on excellent tracks and this time there was even a boardwalk. With three or four swing bridges you feel a bit like an explorer, but we only carry water and some fruit and snack bars! As you go, the vegetation changes from snow tussocks and grasses to more bushy vegetation but amazingly, as we got into the walk we suddenly heard the sound of deep thunder and looked around; it was the beginning of an avalanche. You hear the sound before you see the huge white cloud as the snow falls; it’s a truly magical site and goes on much longer than the time you have to stand there.

Now to the real reason for writing this story about why it is so important to come and be part of this mountain.

Don and I have been coming to Aoraki Mt Cook for the past 22yrs and walked up to the Hooker Falls every time; your reward for the 3hr walk are the icebergs at the end, and the view of the Hooker Glacier. When we first started going the icebergs were very large and overpowering, now they are much smaller and will not be around in another 22 years’ time I would suggest. (Confirming the current size was an Australian lady who did the walk 6yearrs ago).

Aoraki Mt Cook would be one of the most enchanting places I have ever been, and I have travelled reasonable extensively. The staff at all the eating and accommodation places are very friendly and the information centre is definitely worth a look. I really do challenge you to take a day, if not a weekend to go and soak it up. Once the icebergs are gone they will not be replaced. There is no airfare to buy or currency to change, and you can take a picnic lunch with you. ps no entry fee at the gate either! It’s ours. Let’s enjoy it while we can.

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Sue Cooper is originally from sunny Blenheim and is a self-confessed ‘jack of all trades.’ Currently working in real estate in Mid Canterbury, she is also a regular contributing writer to Essence Mid Canterbury. She is the founder and chairperson of The Ashburton Business Club; founder of the Mid Canterbury Topless Car Club and tireless worker for many causes close to her heart.