Sunday, August 11, 2013

A bucket list special from the top of NZ

Aoraki, or Mt Cook, is the tallest peak in NZ. It's smack bang in the middle of the South Island but only 30km from the West Coast. That means it's frequently buffeted by wind and weather from the west, making it hard to find a great day when the sun is out, the sky is blue and not a breeze to be felt. Well Friday was one such day.

Having received a less than optimistic phone call before sunup from the mountain guide at Mt Cook village, I took the plunge and drove down the highway on a hope and a prayer that the clouds from the overnight rain would disappear. Around Lake Pukaki it started to look promising....

The drive up towards Mt Cook skirts Lake Pukaki, yet another glacial lake used in the south island's network of hydroelectric dams and generators. The view is dominated by Aoraki towering up ahead as you wind up into glacier land. There's about 3 or 4 glaciers on this side of the divide: Tasman, Hooker, Kelman...., with Fox and Franz Joseph accessible from the west. But today, the action will be on Tasman Glacier, extending 14km before disappearing into a moraine lake.

We meet at Mt Cook airport. The sun is shining and there is no breeze. It's looking good! I meet the two other punters plus guides joining us, we don our avalanche transceivers and do a quick trial search before packing the ski plane with our gear and hitting the skies.

The point of a trip like this isn't so much the skiing as the scenery. The flight up the glacier, past Mt Cook and other towering peaks is just spectacular. The plane travels so close to the mountains you feel you could reach out and touch them. And then we land at the top of the glacier!

We unload and the plane takes off, then all is silence. Just majestic snow covered mountains, blue skies and an occasional roar from an avalanche. Nowhere near us though!

We click in to our skis and begin the descent of the glacier. It's pretty cruisy skiing through nice fresh snow, but lower down we are faced with rain soaked conditions which are less than ideal. Meanwhile, we visit weird ice formations, called seracs, and marvel at the beauty of mother nature.

The plane picks us up again and we take another scenic flight up to another section of the glacier for our second descent. After a lunch with a million dollar view, we visit some more ice formations, including making our way through an ice cave. The climb back out was a bit of an effort!

Finally we are back in the rain soaked terrain, and we crunch our way down to board the plane for our final scenic flight over the moraine lake at Tasman's base before landing back to the airport.

Gasoline can... or cordial??

What a day! Definitely worth every cent!

I've put together a video of the day. It's quite long, at 15min duration, but the scenery is just beautiful. You can view it by following this link.


  1. What an amazing day that must have been. I took a helicopter flight over the same area several years ago on a beautiful sunny day and would have so much liked to have landed and done what you have done (could you toboggan the glacier?). Thanks for posting.

    1. Hi Mandy, they don't even take snowboarders as the terrain is too flat. Not sure anyone has ever asked about tobogganing, ha ha!! It was a pretty amazing experience and we got such a cracker of a day for it I felt very blessed!