A few months ago, while our borders were still firmly shut, we decided to book an extra long weekend away to see one of New Zealand’s most iconic landmarks, and somewhere I couldn’t believe I had never been (given I have spent a fair amount of time in the surrounding area) – Aoraki/Mount Cook.
Last winter I’d seen lots of beautiful photos of the Hooker Valley Track, which is one of the most popular tracks of the area, so I booked two nights at the famous Hermitage Hotel for myself, Craig and Jessie, and also for my Mum and Step-Dad John (whose birthday was on the 24th).
We made our way down to Mount Cook on Thursday afternoon, via a funny little place called Kakahu, where a man who makes fire heated hot tubs lives (a package to pick up for Mum and John), and through some very thick fog between Fairlie and Tekapo.
At the turn off to Mt Cook (which is a dead-end road, hence never having been) we met Mum and John who had come from the opposite direction from Arrowtown, and they took Jessie in their car for the final 50km or so. The corner must not see any sun in winter as the hoar frost was next level.
It was absolutely beautiful driving into Mt Cook Village – a dramatic red-sky (which I was pleased to see as I knew it would bode well for our hike the next day), and it just made for a really grand arrival at the hotel – I regret not making a stop to get photos at the popular road side stop (where people stand in the middle of the road with an excellent view of the mountain in the background).
The hotel itself has a fairly grand entrance, and the check-in staff were lovely and cackled away at John’s bright orange Kathmandu jacket – he wouldn’t be getting lost in the snow, that’s for sure.
We were advised that the only time available for dinner that evening was 5.30pm – perfect for Jessie, however just 15 minutes away from when we arrived, so we moved as fast was we could to find our rooms (ours in one of the lower wings, and Mum and John’s in the tower) – it was like a rabbit warren, two different lifts and several corridors, but we found our cozy warm room and quickly got ourselves changed for dinner. The rooms themselves are comfortable but definitely due for a refurb – the bathrooms are particularly old-school, with bath over shower and no power outlets (other than the archaic shavers ones), however you’re paying for the fact that you’re in this remote location with a magnificent view.
Rushing back through the labyrinth, we joined the line leading into the restaurant for the $65 buffet dinner. We sat down and ordered their Matariki special – half a dozen oysters and two glasses of bubbles (oysters for the boys, bubbles for the girls) and took in the surroundings. The restaurant has clearly been refurbished in recent times – it has nice modern decor, and quite cool carpet with topographic markings which I assume are of the area.
The buffet was outstanding – they had everything you could possibly want, and we absolutely stuffed ourselves before we rolled back to Mum and John’s room for a nightcap of gin.
Mum and John’s room was the highest category, and not cheap at something like $350 per night (including buffet breakfast), so we were disappointed to find that the room was only slightly bigger than our room and it didn’t have a telescope like was advertised in the photos. However, it had a picture view of the mountain (whereas it was a bit more cut off in our room due to the overhang of the roof above us) and a comfy couch set up where we were able to have our drinks.
It wasn’t long before we needed to get Jessie back to our room to get a decent night’s sleep before our big hike, and she’d had a big day of travelling and was well due for it, so we all turned in.
24 June (Matariki) 2022 – Aoraki/Mt Cook
Friday morning we got up and went down to the restaurant to fill our tummies with the, once again, generous buffet, and then got all our gear ready for our hike. The weather was great – sunny and mostly still, just what I had hoped for. With our waterproof boots, hats, gloves and jackets, we jumped in one car and made our way down to the beginning of the track… I somehow lost my sunglasses when transferring things into Mum and John’s car, so the squintage was real with the sun reflecting off the snow, but it wasn’t going to stop me.
The track is 10km long – 5km each way, and it had been snowing so we weren’t sure how far we would make it between the ice and having a four year old with us, but we marched on and gave it a shot. The first km or so was not too bad, mostly powder, and we had lots of laughs between throwing snowballs at each other, and quietly having a giggle at the “instagrammers in the wild” wearing heeled boots.
The first look out point was so beautiful and we exchanged a photo taking moment with another family who were there, and I think it’s probably my favourite photo of the trip.
After that the ice started to get quite full on and we were hopping side to side on the track to try and stay on the snow/any gravel we could find rather than standing directly on the iced over patches – there was no holding on to the foliage that line the track as that looked like something straight out of Maleficent’s Forest. Jessie did so well navigating this, and mostly just needed a few promises of “snacks at the next swing bridge” and the like.
The unfortunate thing about the track is that the picnic tables are at the end, and after we got past the second swing bridge it wasn’t long before we realised that we weren’t going to be able to make it to the end – the ice was getting intense. We had passed a flat lookout point a few hundred metres back which looked like it had a nice view and some rocks we could sit on, so we turned around at what I think was around the 3km mark and headed to the lookout. We’d packed a few snacks, and also included a couple of beers for the boys, and a flask of hot milo for the girls – it hit the spot nicely.
Heading back the ice got thicker, and the crowds got bigger, so we were dodging both along the way, and unfortunately came across an older man who we guessed had slipped on the ice and was wrapped in an emergency blanket while they waited for the Westpac Helicopter to arrive. As we got to the very end we passed a paramedic who had arrived in an ambulance and looked quite surly when we explained where the man was – it seems this is an extremely common occurrence.
We were so pleased with our Hooker Valley experience – what an absolutely majestic part of our country. The mountains are so imposing, and almost give you that megalophobic feeling, it’s just amazing.
We didn’t eat at the restaurant that evening, but did go for a pre-dinner drink at the bar (delicious cocktails) before we headed up to Mum and John’s room for buns for dinner, and more gin.
25/26 June 2022 – Tekapo
After our Mt Cook stay, we tacked on a couple of extra nights staying in Tekapo, at a two-bedroom apartment. We did the usual Tekapo things – we drove up Mt John with the intention of doing the Matariki tour of the observatory, but when we realised it was 45 minutes long, and Jessie was quite tired, we grabbed a coffee from the cafe and headed back down the Tekapo.
We went to the hot pools, considered ice skating but decided against it, visited the church, and went down to the waterfront to skim stones – the lake is very low at the moment, which was an odd sight.
On our last night we had planned to go to the Dark Skies Project Diner for dinner, but they ended up being booked out (a shame as it looks quite cool – Argentinian cuisine), so we ended up going to Blue Lakes Eatery, which was very good – it’s nice to see some of these spots bouncing back after being so affected by Covid.
On our way home on the 27th, we stopped at the Barkers Cafe in Geraldine – very much worth a look, they have extensive products available for purchase, and I picked up a couple of sauces while we had a hot drink and snack, and Jessie did some colouring in.
We’re back home now – the weekend went so fast, but it was lots of fun and we’re now looking forward to planning a ski trip for this season.
Until next time!