Thursday, 9 December 2010

Aoraki (Mount Cook)

Getting a free map and driving instructions at the local tourist information centre, we left Twizel heading for nearby Aoraki (Mount Cook) in the national park carrying the same name.

Aoraki / Mount Cook

Aoraki is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. It's summit currently lies at 3754 metres above sea level. Currently? Yes the mountain, as part of the Southern Alps, is still growing.

So why the fuss with two names for the same mountain? As you probably already guessed Aoraki is the Maori name for the giant, while Pakeha (non-Maori Kiwis) named the mountain after their hero Captain Cook.
Traditionally the Maori name was supposed to mean: "Cloud Piercer"  judging from the word-meaning parts in Aoraki. A fitting and romantic name. However, closer to the truth is that the impressive mountain was named after Maori hero and legendary figure Aorangi (Maori spelling of Aoraki). After a Maori legend the South Island (Te Waka o Aoraki or Aoraki's Canoe) was the Canoe of Aoraki from which he pulled up a giant whale. Centuries later in the 19th century European explorers renamed the mountain to Mount Cook, giving it an English name.
After treaties between Maori and Pakeha the New Zealand government renamed the mountain again to: Aoraki / Mount Cook to account for the preceding traditional Maori name.

The mountain lies in the Aoraki / Mount Cook national park. Legally the area belongs to the Ngāi Tahu tribe. To present the government still needs to the return the land, however. Also the tribe agreed to officially hand over the land as a gift to the people in the form of a sacred national park, like it was done with Tongariru.

Romanticised or not the name "Cloud Piercer" fits the mountain perfectly. It towers even over the other tall giants of the Southern Alps that surround it and always has a cloud in the middle, which it actually pierces through, as the cloud is around the mountain.

Following the driving instructions we hit a nearby DOC camp with parking ground, from where we started walking the official track leading to the feet of Aoraki.

Right at the beginning of the track we found a stone with a little plaque commemorating the first woman to climb Aoraki all by herself. An impressive deed at the time considering the patriarchal society at the time. Bilge Rat took the woman as inspiration to achieve similar impressive deeds on her own, and we made a commemoration picture of her in advance :D.

The track leads through Hooker Valley. Yes that's the name of the valley. Probably some Pakeha explores carried that name. Anyway, the valley is really beautiful and diverse making the hike extraordinarily enjoyable.

At the end you don't only stand by the feet of New Zealand's tallest giant, you also see and feel the roaring glacier fighting its way down the mountain into a fast glacier torrent carrying the melted ice dutifully away. The minerals carved out by the glacier further give the water a milky white colour. The time when we were there was the middle of summer, so the glacier melted down and was covered by a lot of gravel (see pictures below).

milky white glacier torrent
Hooker Glacier
Aoraki, truly a remarkable mountain.

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