Getting out of Christchurch (packing up the house, returning furniture friends had loaned us, selling furniture and appliances that we had purchased, donating items that didn’t sell, shutting off utilities, cleaning the house, turning in keys to the rental company, etc. etc. etc. all with the kids underfoot) took a bit longer than we had hoped.
This meant that we drove most of the way to Twizel in the dark, not really getting a good look at the surrounding area until the following morning…
I woke up overnight to the sound of rain and a stiff breeze. We were staying just one night in Twizel. Twizel, a town of about 1200 residents, was the first overnight on our South Island farewell roadie. Inwardly I groaned because the morning’s plan required good weather: a three hour hike up the Hooker Valley Track to see Mount Cook/Aoraki. Rain would put a significant damper on that.
But at 7:30 when I opened the curtains of our bach, I fell in love. Rain clouds were gone and I could see for miles around. The town is surrounded by mountains and hills, and this autumn morning it also was aflame with yellow and red trees: poplars, maples, dogwoods, and oaks in riotous colors.
The drive up Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park elicited stuttering… I kept saying words like “unbelievable,” “unreal,” “ridiculous”…
I mean, come on. My heart felt like it would burst from the beauty.
As we got closer to the national park, however, raindrops started pelting the car windows. We knew this was a possibility, so James had checked the hour by hour forecast, hopeful that a window would open up for us to hike.
In case that didn’t happen, we cut holes in black plastic garbage bags to at least have ponchos for the kids.
That’s how we do.
We ate our picnic lunch in a shelter before heading into Mount Cook Village in hopes that the weather would clear. James and I decided we could wait an hour to see if the rain and clouds blew away… if they didn’t, we’d have to call it a day. At this point, not only was Mount Cook (3724 meters) not visible due to the cloud and rain, even the closer peaks were completely muted and obscured.
At the visitors center we browsed around, read exhibits about mountaineers and adventurers who had attempted to summit the peak over the years, and enjoyed being out of the rain.
And then I turned around from reading about native plants and could suddenly see the mountains…
Ecstatic (at least James and I were; the kids were less enthusiastic as it meant that we were, indeed, going to hike), we set out from the White Horse Campground up the Hooker Valley Track. The mist and rain from just 30 minutes before had drifted away and we were left with incredible views of Mueller Lake, the waterfalls flowing down the steep stone mountain-faces, and of course… Mount Cook itself.
The walk took us over two suspension bridges, which were really cool.
We probably only hiked for about 90 minutes but got great views and enjoyed the exercise. It also helped the kids get some of their sillies out…
The drive back along the shores of the lake, heading south from Mount Cook/Aoraki, offered more stunning views as the sun dropped down and illuminated the snowtopped mountains. No camera (certainly not our inexpensive point-and-click model) could really capture the scale and majesty of the scene.
As we continued our journey, the kids bickered in the car. Well, to be honest, more than bickered. They were flatout fighting. And James and I tried to impart to them that this is one of the most beautiful sights they may ever, ever see in their lives.
It probably didn’t work. Hopefully some day they’ll look back on this experience and on these photos and retrospectively appreciate it more.