My New Zealand Trails 'World Heritage Walking Tour' – Part 5
Join Tom and Susan Patterson for the last few days of their New Zealand hiking adventure. After hiking, helicoptering and jetboating in Fiordland they are now entering what promises to be a fitting finale - Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Susan shares her journal from days 11 to 13 of their tour.
My New Zealand Trails 'World Heritage Walking Tour' - Part 5.
Travel day from Te Anau to Mt Cook. Te Anau is located on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island. Its sparkling blue waters are surrounded by spectacular mountains and native forests making a beautiful site. We were in a lakeside villa with rose beds surrounding the hotel and pool, and a good piano for Tom to play in the bar/ lounge. We left a bit later today which gave us a chance to do a load of laundry and me to send off my previous blog chapter. We drove up to near Queenstown again for lunch and a meeting with Pyong, a Korean American who had gone on the New Zealand Trails November trip. She had left that group in Queenstown and missed the Mt Cook part of the trip. She liked NZ so much she decided to come back and join us for our last two days of hiking.
Our first stop was Cromwell, a former gold mining town, which is now “The Fruit Bowl of the South”. Pyong and I loaded up on apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and plums which I’ve been eating ever since. Can’t take any produce to Australia so I must finish my stone fruit gorging here. Our afternoon stop was at Omarama, in the Waitaki District which produces the world-class merino wool used by Icebreaker for their great merino sportswear I covet. Once again, the price tags deterred me, but I did buy a Paua (highly polished blue green abalone shell) necklace in the shape of the Maori symbol for new life which I’ve worn ever since. Paua is also called “Sea Opal” and high quality specimens do resemble Australian black opal.
From this area we could see Mt Cook and Mt Tasman and their neighbors, glacier laden and ever more large and majestic as we drew nearer. I’ve run out of superlative adjectives but should have saved the best one for Mt Cook. It is one of the most photogenic mountains in the world. It is (only) 12,316 feet, but Mt Cook village is at only a little over 1000 feet, so you are looking at the entire mountain and it is spectacular. I could not stop taking pictures as we arrived on a blue sky sunny day. There are two main valleys on either side (from the east where we were) – the Tasman Valley and the Hooker Valley. Andrew was keeping close tabs on the weather report and decided we should do our hike up the Hooker Valley to Hooker Glacial Lake (with ice blocks from the glacier still floating in late summer) early the next morning as a westerly was to move in by afternoon.
The hotel complex at Mt Cook village is The Hermitage. The top hotel rooms are at least $600 a night, so we were in the motel part which still had good views of the mountain, and we had access to everything in the hotel (including a grand piano which Tom took good advantage of). First thing we saw upon arriving was the life size statue of Sir Edmund Hillary which stands on the hotel balcony looking at Mt Cook where he trained for climbing Everest and always counted as his “home mountain.” In fact, The Hermitage and the mountain seemed to me to imbrue the spirit of Hillary. There is a museum dedicated to him, and a full length documentary interviewing him and all the crucial people of his career and, of course, his conquest of Everest. He’s the biggest of all NZ heroes and rightly so. A tall, gentle, shy man, his life was full of adventure and conquest (He was also the first person to drive a vehicle – tractor with ice treads - to the South Pole.) but also tragedy, (His wife and one daughter died in a plane crash in the Himalaya.) depression, great generosity to the Sherpa people, (He raised lots of money and used it all to build schools and hospitals for them, sawing and hammering himself.) and very negative feelings on the part of his surviving son (who has also climbed Everest) and daughter who feel he was selfish and an absentee father. Even now, about 5 years after his death, his children are feuding with his second wife over his estate.
Our Hooker Valley hike was lovely and very fitting for our last New Zealand walk. Near the start is a large memorial to “all who have lost their lives on mountains.” My brother Nick died at age 17 rappelling on a mountain cliff near his boarding school, Colorado Academy, outside Denver. I mostly walked by myself on the trail, and while feeling sadness still after 47 years, I reflected on how happy Nick would be that I also love walking in mountains and have gotten to experience beautiful alpine scenery all around the world on foot while pushing my body to strength, endurance and exhilaration. I would have liked to have been walking with my brother Charlie, a great and accomplished mountain man and master of all 14,000 foot Colorado mountains and very nearly all 50 High Peaks of the US. I intend to advocate strongly for Charlie and Liz to make a similar trip to NZ, perhaps with New Zealand Trails, and end at Mt Cook.
I was keen to be back at the Hermitage in time for the 2:30 showing of the Hillary documentary. I watched that while Tom had his afternoon nap, then he joined me for a 3-D Mount Cook Magic movie which was also excellent with the camera skimming over mountain tops and dropping down into crevasses, and flying with a Kea over the Southern Alps. We also watched a Planetarium show called” Space Traveler” which reminded me in an awe inspiring way how we humans are a random, tiny species of a very small planet in the tiny solar system of a medium galaxy in a universe of billions of other galaxies. In fact, the show made the point that our Milky Way is being pulled toward a much larger and more powerful galaxy, often referred to as “The Great Attractor” at a rate of 14 million miles an hour!
With my reflective thinking day before, Andrew and I had lots to discuss on the drive back to Christchurch. He mentioned that NZ was the first country to enfranchise women to vote – in 1893. We speculated that happened because the colonists who came out to NZ were really cut off from their home countries, had to work extremely hard and independently to survive, women often raising families while their men were away for long periods of time and were probably not willing to accept male dominance when they returned for brief periods. Andrew told me about a time in the late 90s when the Prime Minister (Helen Clark), the chief of the Supreme Court and the Governor General of NZ were all women.
We stopped to have a last morning tea (Andrew’s treat), a last lunch (end of our life of gourmet food), and a last visit to a supermarket (our request as we think you learn much about a country’s culture by checking out their grocery offerings and prices) where I bought a box of chocolate One Square Meals for Tommy and Kiwi Hokey Pokey Chocolates for our close friend Lindsay who is from NZ but for many years a sheep farmer in Orange, NSW, Australia. We bid a very appreciative and fond farewell to Andrew who picks up a new group on Monday.
We are spending our last morning in Christchurch with the TV on while I write, our B & B hostess Fiona is taking us to the airport in a couple of hours. It may take us several days to work out and buy the equipment to have internet service in our flat in Sydney, so I think I’ll go ahead and send out this NZ blog from here where I do have a connection. Andrew offered to edit my facts before sending, but that would mean sending it to him and waiting to get it back so I’ll take my chances, promising to make any corrections (in very fine print) in future chapters. As authors say, “all errors are strictly mine".
Footnote - by Andrew Wells (New Zealand Trails head guide)
Travelling around New Zealand for two weeks with Tom and Susan has been a real honour and a privilege. What I enjoy most about guiding in New Zealand is to be able to show appreciative folks the truely special spots in our wonderful country, having such a small group this time we really got to know each other and by the end of the tour it felt like travelling with friends. Susan and Tom are no doubt from the 'baby boomer' generation and I have been left with a real impression of what a rich time these people have been living in and how fortunate I have been to hear some of their experiences first hand. I'm on Susan's mailing list now and have been following them on the next leg of their travels. Thanks Tom and Susan, for making it so much fun and I hope to see you back here again one day soon. Safe travels.