The last six weeks have been a trial. In February we sold our home of the last 32 years. We built it then to replace the home that my wife grew up in until we were married 44 years ago. Thirty two years of raising three sons and accumulating life’s possessions, plus those possessions that flowed out of the old house, have made the last few weeks difficult at times as decisions needed to be made on to what to keep and what to re-house elsewhere. Yesterday we left the house with just three small cartons to top-up and close. Our life is now housed in a storage facility awaiting rediscovery when we find a new home some time in the next year. Finding a view of the end over the last two weeks has been difficult, but yesterday it emerged.
In two weeks we leave for a three month holiday that will take us to China, Europe, the USA and Canada. Needless to say, we are really looking forward to the adventure. Just like the last few weeks, transmission over the next three months may be a bit patchy as we search for internet connections and time to update posts. Every attempt will be made to create a regular stream of posts and express views on what we discover.
About 15 minutes drive from Omarama, south of Lake Tekapo on New Zealand’s South Island, are the large sharp pinnacles of an area known as the Clay Cliffs, Between the pinacles are ridges with deep, narrow ravines separating them. Created about 1-2 million years ago, the Clay Cliffs are made of layers of gravel and silt deposited by rivers flowing from ancient glaciers . This area is geologically very young and quite different from the nearby mountains of the Southern Alps, which are some 250 million years old. The gravel and silt layers show as sloping bands as the strata have been slowly tilted over time. In the late afternoon sun the pinnacles and ravines show in stark relief . The area reminds me of photographs I have seen of the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, Utah where we plan to visit later this year.
When New Zealand’s famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay made the first successful ascent of Mt Everest on 29 May 1953, and thus unlocked the gateway for hundreds of others since, Hillary could attribute a large part of his success to many days climbing the peaks of the Southern Alps that form the backbone of the South Island. A bronze statue of Hillary gazing towards a distant Mt Cook, to commemorate his many achievements, is found at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre attached to the Hermitage Hotel at Mt Cook Village.
Alpinists of the 1950s were in some ways a different breed from their modern counterparts. Their clothing and equipment were very basic when compared with that in use today. Under garments were made of either wool or silk, outer garments, socks, hats and gloves also of wool, rain and windproof jackets, over-trousers and outer mittens of oiled Japara cotton. Climbing packs were not of the highly technical designs seen today, but were made of canvas with steel or wooden frames, leather straps with metal buckles and corded cotton adjustment cords. Keeping the contents dry was a major problem. Climbing boots often had leather soles with hob-nails and metal cleats, and canvas gaiters or cotton-knit “puttees” kept the stones or snow from getting inside. Finally, climbing ropes were made of hemp and tents of light cotton canvas with wooden poles. The statue of Sir Edmund Hillary shows him holding a wooden-shafted ice axe. It was with clothing such as this that I first ventured into the mountains in the 1960s as a high school student. What a change there has been in the intervening fifty years.
On the way to the summit of Mt Cook Hillary would have over-nighted in huts similar to the old Empress Hut that is displayed in the precinct of the Department of Conservation Information Centre in the Mt Cook Village. These corrugated iron shelters were often placed in the mountains by volunteers from mountain clubs and provided basic bedspace, cooking space and, maybe, an emergency radio for picking up weather information or reporting emergencies.
Thus it was that successive generations of New Zealand mountaineers ventured into the mountains of the Southern Alps to learn their craft and prepare for other cold remote areas such as the Himalayas or the South Pole.
Observing sunrise is the mountains is a special experience. The mornings are cool and, if you are lucky, the sky is clear. Often the mountain tops show signs of the rising sun even before it appears. This was the case on our second morning in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. At least 30 minutes before the sun rose above the Liebig Range on the eastern side of the Tasman Valley its golden yellow light could be seen creeping down the eastern face of Mt Sefton and over the upper reaches of the Mueller Glacier. Further up the Hooker Valley Aoraki Mt Cook was getting its first light of the day while the moon still hung high in the sky from the night before (I know that’s not technically correct, but that is how it looked). Finally the the sun peeked over the Liebig Range and the Hooker Valley slowly filled with light: shadows softened and colours emerged.
Heading a play on the words of Psalm 121:6 – “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”
Six months after Valerie broke her leg skiing we had made our way to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Mt Cook had been one of the stops we made during our honeymoon 45 years ago and we had only visited the Mt Cook Village once in the intervening years. Part of our plan to “complete” the holiday that was interrupted by weeks in hospital and months of recovery was to stay for two nights in the village on our way to Wanaka.
We had never before walked in the Hooker Valley that leads from the Mt Cook Village to the terminal moraine and glacier lake at the foot of Aoraki Mt Cook, so we decided to (in Kiwi parlance) “give it a go”. It is not a difficult walk, but we had an encumbrance – Val was still walking with a limp and had only been off crutches for a month. Being a very determined person, she wanted to do the whole walk. Although it starts from the village, a shorter version starts at the Department of Conservation camping ground that reduces the posted return time by 1 1/2 hours. This is what we did, a pilot run for things to come.
The DOC camping ground provides a magnificent view Mt Sefton and La Perouse with their ice fields tumbling down the granite walls into the Hooker Valley. This makes a great place to start the walk, the most popular in the area. A short 15 minute stroll up the valley brings you to the Alpine Memorial. Aoraki Mt Cook is a technically difficult climb. More than 200 climbers have lost their lives over the years attempting the ascent since the mountain was first climbed in 1894.
The view of the Hooker Valley from the memorial is stunning.
There are two swing bridges to cross during the walk, and the first one comes shortly after the memorial. The hill above the bridge provides a view of the Mueller Glacier Lake at the base of Mt Sefton.
The walk continues on up the Hooker Valley beside the river, with the occasional stretch of boardwalk …
… finally reaching the Hooker Glacier Lake at the end of the terminal moraine.
The walk is described as being of easy to moderate difficulty, and most people complete the round trip from the DOC Camp in two and a half to 3 hours. We took 5 hours, but had a very happy lady at the end – tired, hot, a bit sore, but very satisfied.
One of the best views of Aoraki Mt Cook that is available along the road from Tekapo to the Mt Cook Village is from a layby on the side of the road called Peter’s Lookout. For such a prominently signposted viewpoint it is a disappointment to drive onto a rough gravel car park with no information boards to explain the surrounding scenery, especially the mountains at the end of the lake. In the foreground is a newly cut pine plantation littered with the remains of the forestry operation. However, if you can overlook the immediate negative impressions, you are presented with this magnificent vista which features New Zealand’s highest mountain which towers to 3,754 metres (12,316 ft).
Aoraki Mt Cook is head and shoulders higher than the surrounding peaks. It is a technically difficult mountain to climb and a favourite challenge for the climbing fraternity. The first European ascent was on 25 December 1894. New Zealand’s famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary made his first ascent in January 1948. On 29 May 1953 he and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first people to successfully climb Mt Everest.
I have somewhat irreverently called this post “Dog and Church”. It sounds like a British pub, but its not. On the shores of Lake Tekapo in the area known as “Mackenzie Country” in South Canterbury are two key attractions on every tourist coach journey through the South Island of New Zealand. Apart from early morning and late afternoon there is a steady stream to tour coaches, campervans, rental cars and other miscellaneous vehicles which arrive at the lake shore to visit the Church of the Good Shepherd and a bronze statue of a sheepdog. If one arrives during the tourist period in the day it is almost impossible to capture images of the church, especially, without people filing into and out of the building and wandering around it’s perimeter.
In this image there is only one coach. When we arrived there were three others and twice as many cars.
The little stone church is a gem. Some twenty five years ago we had the privilege of attending a Christmas Day service there with our three boys while on a camping holiday in the South Island. It was a very local service, with families from the town and surrounding farming community gathering together to celebrate the Christmas story. There were tourists and tour coaches then also, but not in the numbers you see today. One of the unique features of the church is the window behind the alter that gives a view of Aoraki Mt Cook in the distance at the farthest end of Lake Tekapo. Despite the many thousands of travelers who visit the church every year, it is still used for active worship and is a focal point for the Mackenzie Country families.
Outside the church is a bronze statue of a border collie sheepdog. Quoting from the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, “In the 19th century, Scottish shepherds came to work on the pastoral runs of the eastern South Island. The high country could not have been farmed successfully without the border collies they brought with them. To honour these ‘canine Scots’, a statue of a collie has been raised at Lake Tekapo.” The statue is a much loved attraction, and many a honeymooner and visitor has a photograph of themselves with the dog.
The Mackenzie Basin was named in the 1850s by and after James Mackenzie (or in his native Scottish Gaelic: Seumas MacCoinneach), a shepherd and sheep thief of Scottish origin, who herded his stolen flocks in what was then an area almost totally empty of any human habitation, though Māori previously lived there intermittently. After his capture, the area was soon divided up amongst new sheep pasture stations in 1857 (Wikipedia). The Mackenzie story is one that captured the imagination of many a young school child when I was small and we were closer to the living history of European settlement than we are today.