aoraki mount cook sealy tarns3

Wild about New Zealand – Mt Cook

By New Zealand Trails

5 minute read

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The 'Wild about New Zealand' documentary series continues this week with Gus Roxburgh visiting our most mountainous and possibly best known national park, Aoraki/Mt Cook. This is part three of a six part documentary series screening on TVNZ which highlights New Zealand's national parks, not just the fantastic landscapes, but also it takes close up look at the people that live and work there, the unique ecology and history that makes up our natural heritage. Gus is an adventure guide and film maker, originally from Nelson but now based between Wanaka and Los Angeles. Here at New Zealand Trails we are loving this series as it highlights a lot of the areas we visit on our small group New Zealand hiking tours.

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Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is stunning from all angles and Gus began with a bird's eye view of the peaks and glaciers with stunning footage taken from a glider, riding the thermal currents from the prevailing westerly wind rising off the backbone of the Southern Alps. Amazingly, gliders flying over Mt Cook can ride these thermal currents to the same height as jet airliners! These aerial shots were a great introduction to the mountain itself and the treacherous business of mountaineering. For most of us, true alpinism is a spectator sport, but for a certain few it's a calling and Gus provided us with a great insight into mountaineers both present and past, including Sir Edmund Hillary and Freda du Faur, the first woman to climb Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1910. For many in the mountaineering community, it must have been very emotional to see Marty Schmidt leading Gus on an ice climb as Marty passed away climbing on K2 in the Himalayas between the filming and screening of Wild about New Zealand.  

The biggest danger to mountaineers is the risk of avalanche and Gus gave us a clear insight into how avalanches occur and more importantly how the rescue teams can locate buried climbers. The star of this part of the show was Simba, an avalanche rescue dog (Labrador) with beautiful weather the simulated rescue was quite light hearted but as Gus allured too, the risk is very real and a day on the mountain can turn bad very quickly. Second on the hazard list is the weather and looking up the Hooker Valley track Gus had the perfect view of a Northwest storm bringing bad weather in fast. The combined risk of avalanche and severe weather has led to over 200 climbers losing their lives on the peaks around Mt Cook and the Alpine memorial, easily accessible from the Hooker Valley hike, is a tribute to the courage and an everlasting memorial for these climbers.


Gus then moved from day to night and introduced the Aoraki MacKenzie Dark Sky reserve with some amazing footage of the night sky. With only three Dark Sky reserves in the world, they're a very unique type of conservation area that involve local laws in which govern how lights are built and even what time they must be turned off at night. This has given rise to the relatively new phenomenon of Astrotourism, which is proving very popular with visitors. At the heart of this reserve is the Mt John observatory, where we visit in the evening after our day hike in Aoraki/Mt Cook national park on our small group tours.

No visit to Aoraki/Mt Cook national park would be complete without introducing the Tasman Glacier, easily New Zealand's longest glacier at 29 kilometres (18 miles) and of course Gus showed his heli ski guiding experience with some nice turns on New Zealand's longest ski run. But as pristeen and immortal as these areas look to the eye, of course there is the ever increasing risk of climate change to glaciers all over the world, including our own Tasman, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. As the glacier retreats, terminal lakes like we see in the Hooker and Tasman Valley are increasing in size. Gus got close up views of the Tasman glacier lake with a boat ride around the lake and learnt some fascinating facts, including how in the Christchurch earthquake (330 kms / 200 miles away) caused a 50 million tonne chunk of ice to drop off the glacier and cause a 3 meter (10 feet) high tsunami!  


As a regular visitor to Mt Cook for over 10 years now, it's easy to see the attraction of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, to most of us it is the opportunity to visit this alpine area, get up close to the peaks, glaciers and lakes without the risk or massive physical challenge of mountaineering. New Zealand has 20 peaks over 3,000m (10,000ft) and all of them except one are in this national park, when you consider the relatively small size of the park (700km sq / 173,000 acres) it gives you an idea how much of an alpine world this is. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is easily accessible by road and there are some great hiking trails with fantastic alpine views to choose from such as the Hooker Valley or Sealy Tarns, which we walk on our small group guided New Zealand hiking tours. Weather permitting, you may also have the opportunity to view the park from above, not in a glider like Gus but by either helicopter or ski plane, highly recommended for the most memorable perspective on this World Heritage landscape. With the amazing MacKenzie country night sky, stunning lakeside vistas of Lake Tekapo and the national park itself, our two night stay in the Mt Cook region will be the perfect finale to your New Zealand tour.


New Zealand Trails operates small group guided walking tours which include Mount Cook National Park and Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. Our 13 day tour offers two great Mount Cook hiking options - the Hooker Valley or Sealy Tarns tracks plus some of the best walking in New Zealand - the Milford, Hollyford and Routeburn Tracks. You'll love the variety of activities, as well as the guided hiking, iconic New Zealand activities such as the TranzAlpine train, Nile River glowworm caves, Fox Glacier hiking, Okarito Sea Kayak, Fiordland helicopter flight and backcountry jetboat are all included in your tour.  There are no crowded huts or musty sleeping bags on this tour, all accommodation is to a laid-back luxury standard, even in remote areas.  Please take a look at more information on our New Zealand walking tours here.

Andrew Wells - New Zealand Trails

Note - The documentary is being uploaded to the TVNZ website for viewing on demand but this is not available outside of New Zealand.  The best way to see all this wonderful countryside is to join us on one of our tours!


Mount Cook

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