With big thanks to Jetstar New Zealand, with whom I have flown 5 times, hiccup-free, from Sydney to the land of the long white cloud

I love to picture that very first instant, when the Maori stumbled upon Aoraki and Tititea, which translate to 'cloud in the sky' and 'steep peak of glistening white'. I imagine the sheer energy they must've felt, to compel them to both weave these peaks into their world, through stories and folklore, as well as elevate them into the supernatural. How frighteningly beautiful they must've found the mountains to treat them with both awe and a healthy dose of fear. 

For us today, we have so many sources of information that make things easier and more accessible but undeniably dilute our experiences. We don't need to wander down those side alleys to find that restaurant a friend of a friend raved about; we just need to Google Maps it. We don't need to strike up conversation with the locals to ask where the best café is; we can just look at ratings on Facebook. Maybe it can go so far as to - we don't need to push ourselves to go to places far-flung and wild; we can just Instagram or Google Earth it.

But the thing with the mountains is that you can research and read and plan and dream but nothing ever compares with the real deal. In my mind (and like in the minds of many who have come before me like the Maori), it's because they are transcendent and so our brains cannot really imagine or comprehend until they are standing there, in front of our very eyes. Their scale always takes me by surprise; there is nothing quite like only being able to see nature for as far as the eye can see, and feeling so small, like you could just disappear right then and there. What I love most of all, though, is how the light is ever-changing in the mountains and how it seems to hit the summit in a different way to the rest of the earth. I could sit all day, tracing the lines and textures in the rock like I read the sentences in a book, watching the clouds move and light change like I watch a film. These are the things that you can't feel, see, learn with just information...

Though it wasn't the very first time anyone have ever laid eyes on Aoraki or Tititea, it was my first time, and I could feel it all; all the history, the inspiration, the power, the reverence, the intimidation. This totality of emotion, in stunning alpine environments, is what I live for.

•••

On my latest adventure with Jetstar NZ, I chose to fly directly into Christchurch from Sydney, before road tripping down to Queenstown. My best friend, Bree, joined me. We stopped by Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and Tititea/Mount Aspiring National Park along the way. It was truly special to watch these mountains sweep her off her feet, the way many have done to me before.

For me, they join my all-time favourite list with the likes of Yosemite, Zion and the Swiss Alps. I can't wait to come back for proper backpacking trips...and maybe even some climbing.

If the outdoors have been calling you, I hope these photographs inspire you to start up your own relationship of reverence, exploration and FUN with the mountains. 

•••

Here are the logistics and details to help you plan your trip:

Aoraki/Mount Cook NP: 

Travel: ~4 hours drive from Christchurch or ~3 hours drive from Queenstown. Any old car will get here just fine.

Accommodation: We camped 2 nights at White Horse Hill Campground, which is one of the best regulated campgrounds I've ever camped in with flushing toilets, a public shelter and drinkable water.
At the time, it was NZD 13 per person, per night.
This is practically car camping as the carpark is just metres from tent sites.

Hikes that we did: 

  1. Kea Point Track 
    • Departs from the Campground
    • About 25-30 minutes one-way with very little incline
    • Views of an ancient and epic landscape with Mueller Glacier, Mt Wakefield (2012m), Nazomi (2925m), Mt Sefton (3151m), The Footstool (2764m) and of course...Aoraki/Mount Cook (3593m)
    • We did Kea Point in the evening after setting up camp, and had the track and views to ourselves. We waited until the stars came out before dawdling back to camp.
       
  2. Hooker Valley Track 
    • Departs from the Campground
    • About 3 hours return with also very little incline, along a well-formed track
    • Walking through a vast valley, surrounded by mountains, crossing 3 suspension bridges over the rushing Hooker River, before arriving at Hooker Lake where icebergs float below the highest peak in New Zealand...
    • HIGHLY recommend making the effort to wake up well before sunrise to start this walk. We did it in early April, leaving camp at 5.30am. At 6.30am, the Milky Way was still blazing brightly above the track and it is something I will never forget.

Hikes that I'll be coming back for:

Mueller Hut Route - This is a 5.2km advanced track, estimated time of 4 hours one-way. I WILL be returning to do this track with the intention of staying at Mueller Hut overnight (1800m) to do some astrophotography and photograph the sunrise, before hiking back down. 

And I would also love to do the Hooker Valley Track, to arrive at Hooker Lake for sunset. 

Tititea/Mount Aspiring NP:

Travel: ~1 hour drive from Wanaka, ~2 hours drive from Queenstown. You need a SUV/4WD to get all the way in as there are several river crossings.

Accommodation: We stayed at Glendhu Bay Motor Camp, the closest drive-in campground to the NP. This caravan park is clean, grassy and there are lakefront sites. However, as it is a caravan park, expect large groups.
There are campgrounds in the NP which would have been favourable, but we didn't have backpacks. 

Hikes that we did: 

  1. Rocky Mountain Summit Track (just outside the NP in Diamond Lake & Hospital Flat Conservation Area)
    • About 3 hours return from the carpark (no toilets here)
    • Based on a Ranger's advice, we ascended up the west-side and came down on the east-side. These words of wisdom were INVALUABLE. The west-side is very shaded and so after rain, the track is muddy and slippery. Coming down this way in the dark would be tricky. 
       
  2. Rob Roy Glacier Track
    • About 3-4 hours return from the Raspberry Creek carpark (toilets here and you can stay in a self-contained vehicle here)
    • Pretty much the entire walk is uphill, though at a gradual incline. 
    • Walk through a shady beech forest, with the river gurgling away beneath you, before finishing with the hanging glaciers high above your head...sometimes, you can even see the avalanches. 
    • TIP: makes for a GREAT trail run!!! 

Hikes that I'll be coming back for:

West Matukituki Track - this is like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' track. To go all the way in and out would take ~8 hours one-way. I'd love to explore West Matukituki over 1-2 nights.

Routeburn Track - this is one of NZ's 9 Great Walks so of course, it is on my to-do list. It is a 32km one-way, 3-4 nights tramp. 

•••

 Road to Mount Cook NP

Road to Mount Cook NP

 Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track

 Kea Point Track

Kea Point Track

 Rob Roy Glacier Track

Rob Roy Glacier Track

 White Horse Hill Campground

White Horse Hill Campground

 Mount Cook

Mount Cook

 Rocky Mountain

Rocky Mountain

 Hooker Lake and Mount Cook

Hooker Lake and Mount Cook

 Mount Aspiring NP

Mount Aspiring NP

 Kea Point Track

Kea Point Track

 Rob Roy Glacier Track

Rob Roy Glacier Track

 Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track

  I have wanted to see Aoraki for a very long time. Winding along Lake Pukaki, on the way into the national park, I finally saw her...in the far distance, overlooking the breathtakingly blue glacial waters of the lake. A moment I'll always hold dear.

I have wanted to see Aoraki for a very long time. Winding along Lake Pukaki, on the way into the national park, I finally saw her...in the far distance, overlooking the breathtakingly blue glacial waters of the lake. A moment I'll always hold dear.

Thank you again to Jetstar NZ. This was my third project with them and I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity.

 

 

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