Third time lucky. Previous attempts had been obscured by the normal hazards that arise trying to get a clear view of New Zealand’s tallest mountain — swirling, obstinate cloud that won’t budge. This time we were blessed. Not only was the day bright, the sky blue, but what clouds there were were of the type photographers dream: crazy patterns and shapes that shifted definition like amoebas on an azure saucer to form a perfect symmetry with the glorious Alpine landscape laid before us. As usual, we underestimated the amount of time required to appreciate fully this incredible place: we rushed into the park, stopped where we could with our bulky campervan on the side of the road to take photos, went on a great, short walk by the Hermitage Hotel and, in all too brief a time, it was time to speed off to Lake Tekapo to catch the sunset.
In Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park there are 19 peaks over 3,000 metres including New Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3754 metres. The park is also part of Te Waipounamu – South Westland World Heritage Area in recognition of its outstanding natural values. It’s a harsh, unforgiving wilderness with glaciers covering 40% of the park. No wonder it was Sir Edmund Hillary’s favourite New Zealand place to climb, a preparation before conquering the mountaineering world at Everest. There’s a fine statue of him at the Hermitage Hotel looking out towards Mt Cook, rope and ice pick in his hands. We’ll be back, definitely, but next time we’ll stay at the Hermitage and wake up to what must be among the finest views any hotel can boast.