The vengeful rain continued to fall as we snaked our way towards the exit of Arthur’s Pass. The mountain tops were shrouded in blotchy grey clouds, lending a mysterious Jurassic Park like aura to the landscape. Sadly, Jeff Goldblum’s mischievous grin was nowhere to be seen.
Our next stop was Lake Tekapo, and it took us about four hours to get there, the wet weather following us for every kilometre. Glaciers within the headwaters of Tekapo grind down rock and create a fine dust, which when mixed with the lake’s water, colour it a magnificent turquoise blue. Unfortunately for us, the grim sky dampened the effect considerably, and we left the lake cursing the weather.
We continued onto our next stop for the night, a small sugary-treat-sounding town called Twizel, which was originally built in the late 60’s to house construction workers for a local hydroelectric project. Today, as with many south island New Zealand towns, its survival relies on tourism, and it seemed incredibly quiet. Shops and restaurants were concentrated in a small central area, with wide curved roads winding their way around everything. We were checked into our hostel by a man that looked like an offended bulldog, but thankfully didn’t act in accordance with his appearance. The hostel was cheap and crappy, and the heater rattled like an old man with bronchitis. Our room number was 707, which when turned upside down appropriately spelt LOL.
In the morning, we checked out and made our way towards the biggest mountain in the country – Mount Cook – passing Lake Pukaki on the way. Like Tekapo, Pukaki is a glacial-fed lake, and it shimmered lucent blue in the early morning sun. The mountains in the distance looked as though somebody had very carefully ran a white-coated paintbrush along the top of them.
We drove north along its west bank, the mountains to our left gradually getting taller. Eventually the colossal, 3724-metre Mount Cook appeared, a snow-laden giant in the distance.
Things of such immensity often imbue me with a quiet humbleness, such is their unfathomable size and extensive existence. Every petty, tiny worry that might once have dulled my soul is vanquished in the face of such wondrous natural greatness. All falls away except for the spectacle before my eyes. It’s truly awe-inspiring; one of the most pleasurable emotions to experience.
As we drove deeper into the mountains, the landscape became even more dramatic, with whitewashed mountains soaring high into the cloudless sky. Our destination was a walking track that ended close to the foot of Mount Cook, and as we pulled into the car park, it was clearly a popular attraction. The track led us through Hooker Valley, walled by mountains and criss-crossed by a turquoise blue river, which was overcome by a handful of suspension bridges that could only hold twenty people and bounced as you went across them. Nervous laughter floated through the air as we tentatively trod its wooden planks.
The temperature dropped steadily the further we walked, and by the time we reached the end of the track our ears were like strawberry ice-poles. Mount Cook was towering over another beautiful glacial-blue lake, like an eternal watchman.
This is without doubt the most amazing place I’ve ever visited. Trying to describe its magnificence is impossible, and the pictures are equally mediocre compared to the real thing. It has a stark and unerring majesty; an unapologetic perfection, without a shred of ostentation (unlike my writing).
We slowly made our way back to the car, dodging hoards of Chinese tourists who seemed to have the spatial awareness skills of Ray Charles after a hit of brown sugar. Wanaka was our next stop, a bustling alpine town that ran along a southern section of yet another beautiful New Zealand lake.
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