The Land of The Long White Cloud is indeed an apt name for New Zealand. The clouds we saw on our trip were so different from those we get back home in Singapore. Their shapes, colours, and textures, really made me wonder if they are indeed sky spirits as some people believe them to be.
Except, maybe, "The Donald" (see photo below).
At Aoraki/Mount Cook, this was all the more apparent. Aoraki means "cloud piercer" in Maori, and that was exactly what we were hoping to have happen.
As it turns out, the great Aoraki often remains shrouded in billowing clouds, hidden from view behind this cloak, only revealing himself to those who are meant to view him. So it was, that when we took off on the Hooker Valley Track, our view of the peaks were more cloudy than anything. Nevertheless, as this was an unplanned leg of the trip, we kept on going until we could see the terminal point of the glacier, that awaited us at the end of this track at Hooker Lake.
The kids had been wary about starting off on this hike, as they knew Dany and I would bamboozle them into a longer than usual walk. We managed to (bamboozle them), anyway! As we wound round the base of Aoraki/Mount Cook, the kids kept busy with their map, Kiwi Ranger booklet activities and little competitions about who could make the swing bridges shake the most as they ran across them.
Rumbling, retreating ice
Rumblings of the moving ice amidst the mountain tops could be heard - a little nerve wracking to be honest - along with the cries of the New Zealand Falcon, as we gazed upon the deep ravines left behind by the retreating glaciers. Information signboards along the way indicated where the glacier had once been several hundred years ago, and looking around us then and there, the impact of global warming became all the more real. But also the realization that global warming has been happening for a long time.
In stark contrast to the power and strength of the ice, what I loved seeing among the rocky faces, gushing glacier runoff rivers, and rumbling ice, was the delicate beauty of the Mount Cook Lily (Ranunculus lyallii), or Kōpukuku in Maori, which is actually a buttercup, not a lily. Its pristine white petals and cheerful yellow centres, really stood out against the green, grey and brown of the terrain and brought large smiles to Anais, at least (Summer was too busy competing with Adan about something as we took these photos).
The iceberg and "fake photos"
After a 90 minute or so walk, we reached the terminal end of the glacier and came face to face with an ice berg ...of sorts - black from soil and dirt - floating in the middle of the cloudy Hooker Lake (again, cloudy due to the glacial flour suspended in the water).
The kids had a whale of a time posing for photos...which strangely looked like they had been taken against a fake background because of the grey hue of the lake and unreal mountain ranges surrounding us!
Finally, Aoraki emerges
As we had started out on this hike a little late in the afternoon, we had to rush back before the sun set around 8:30pm. It was a 1.5 to 2 hour walk, depending on how distracted the kids would be, so after taking those photos, we made our way back along the same track.
As it turns out, our timing could not have been better. As we walked quickly along the track, a quick glance behind us showed that the highlight of the walk was about to take place. The clouds were beginning to clear, and the peak of Aoraki/Mount Cook was finally visible to us, as well as the few late stragglers along the path.
We literally stopped in our tracks to drink in the awe inspiring view of the lofty peak. Filled with immense gratitude and joy, this made the return walk all the more enjoyable. There's nothing like Mother Nature to take your breath away. In unexpected ways, and in unexpected times.
Another surprise was to meet a couple, Ankit and Sanjana, who live in Singapore, just a few streets away from us!
Remember to come back for Part 2!