We had made it to Queenstown but by this stage time was against us. In two and a half weeks we had to be in Auckland for the first of our flights back home. This left some time for more cycling but not a lot so we got the guide books out and started researching one last trip on the bikes.
At first we thought about going to Milford Sound. The idea of cycling through the Homer Tunnel and doing hikes around the area was really appealing but time was against us unfortunately, and we would have to race through to see everything we wanted. We decided against Milford Sound in favour of going to Mt Cook Village instead. What drew us to Mt Cook, home of New Zealands highest mountain, was the snow. We had experienced lots of frost coming down the West Coast and some snow on the tops of the hills but we hadn’t actually experienced any proper snowy conditions yet. Even Queenstown was about 100m below the snow line while we were there.
To fully enjoy Mt Cook we decided to take a bus there. This cut out a few days of cycling and ment we could stay a few days longer. Riding the bus was torture. Looking out the window we wizzed past beautiful landscapes with high mountains and almost nothing around except sheep and the odd small town. At stages, the landscape was golden brown and looked almost alien due to the barrenness. We would have loved to have cycled and we felt slightly car sick as the bus blundered along.
The bus turned off highway 8 onto highway 80 for the final 55kms to Mt Cook Village. Highway 80 is a dead end road. Once you head in you need to come out the same way. With the promise of strong prevailing (tail) winds, that blow through the vallys in the area, we planned to cycle back out this way in a few days time.
As the bus continued up Highway 80, we got closer to New Zealands Highest Mountain and even though it was directly in front of us, only the driver got a good view. After a short while the bus made a photo stop. Everyone jumped out of the bus to get selfies with Mt Cook in the background. After two minutes we were all herded back onto the bus and made the the final 25 kms to the Village.
Getting off in Mt Cook Village, all reservation about taking the bus quickly disappeared. At 760m everywhere was covered in snow. The mountains rose up all around and it was eerily quiet. We quickly checked into the YHA, dropped our stuff off and went for a walk, hats and gloves on of course.
When we arrived back at the hostel we walked in on a yoga session and asked if we could join. We got talking to Ollie from Wales and HeeJin his girlfriend from Korea. They were stretching because they had been rock climbing that day. They were going climbing again the following day and asked if we would like to come. After the yoga and stretching we hopped into the sauna for a sweat. So far I was liking this YHA hostel.
The next day we got up early and headed off with Ollie and HeeJin. They took us off the beaten track through an area they had explored extensively in search of bouldering problems. Along the way Ollie pointed out different problems they had worked on over the last few months. He brought us to the boulder that he was currently working on. To get to it we had to climb down a small scree slope to a river bed which may have been the site of a glacier that had now receded further into the mountains. What was left behind now was a large area of boulders and a stream flowing through the middle. In the distance we could hear the thunder of avalanches sliding down Mt Sefton.
When we finished climbing, Jasmin and I got back on the beaten track and walked on further to see the Hooker Glacier. The glacier was by far the most impressive one we seen. It came down the mountain and stopped abruptly with a long terminal face that stretched about 100 meters. What was most impressive though was the lake in front of the glacier that had totally frozen over. We were able to walk across the ice and climb up on large pieces of the glacier that had broken off.
I didn’t realise it at the time but when I was taking a picture here, my lens brushed against some snow and made the pictures blurry. I thought it was the focus wheel for the viewfinder that was set wrong but the photos actually came out with a really cool effect.
The next day we took a hike up to the Sealy Tarns. In summer this would be a fairly easy hike because there are steps that lead all the way up to a ridge. However, at this time of year they were covered in thick ice. It was pretty slow going and we had to watch every step. Although it was sketchy at times we managed not to slip. The weather was perfect that day. We stayed a while at the top, enjoying the views of Mt Sefton, Mt Cook and the Village below. Every now and then the silence would be broken by the crash of another avalanche in the distance. Making our way back we realised that going up was much easier than going down.
We were sad to leave Mt Cook. It was truely one of the most beautiful places we had ever been to. The bouldering, the hiking, the quiet, being surrounded by the mountains and hearing nothing but avalanches in the distance was simple magical. We certainly wont forget this majestic place anytime soon.