Mount Cook – New Zealand

Mount Cook was a bittersweet stop. It marked leaving Queenstown and that my time in New Zealand was drawing to an end. If this trip made me realize anything it was a new found love for mountains and lakes. I was really looking forward to staying near the famous Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand.

On our drive we stopped at Lake Pukaki. Oh my goodness was this lake stunning. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before. The blue was just unreal with a mountainous backdrop. The water was also unmoving and the lake was surrounded by rocks of all shapes and sizes (perfect for skipping). 

The little town surrounding Mount Cook seems tiny, but our driver told us that they have strict rules on the colors of the buildings so they blend into the landscape. I thought that was a brilliant way of planning the city and keeping everything true to nature and not just catering to tourists.

Our first day in Mount Cook was beautiful and something we were told doesn’t happen often. We had a clear view of the mountain the entire drive and day. We were encouraged not to waste the day and check in quickly to fully enjoy it.

We did the Hooker Valley track and it was unbelievable. The track each way was just over 3 miles and filled with gorgeous views of Mount Cook, the Southern Alps, Lake Pukaki, and Hooker Glacier. There were beautiful suspension bridges throughout and gorgeous scenery. It was a nice walk to really take in a gorgeous day. Before turning around you end at Hooker Lake, which has floating icebergs in it! Plunge in if you dare into the ice cold water and you’ll have the bragging right of saying you stood on an iceberg in the middle of summer. We really took our time making the entire walk and then hung out by Hooker Lake for a bit, the total trip time was about 3 hours. You can do it quicker or even slower if you choose to lounge around and have a picnic by the lake. Around the lake the weather was cooler because of the surrounding mountains, but most of the actual walk was very hot with the sun over us.

Given the remoteness of the area and care taken to protect it the light pollution is very limited here, therefore the night sky is incredibly clear once it’s dark. Feel free to grab a mate and go star gazing, but note if you come during the summer that won’t be until at least 11:30pm, but it’s worth it.

Accommodation – Mount Cook Lodge

Recently refurbished Mount Cook Lodge was a treat. It was basically staying in a hotel room that was converted into a four person dorm. They renovated in November so it still felt clean and fresh. The ensuite bathroom was the biggest perk as it was spacious, clean, and stylish. On the second level there was a restaurant/bar with an outdoor terrace so there really wasn’t any reason to venture out. The staff was also very friendly and gave the environment even more of a hotel feel. I think there were other hostels in the area, but this one would be my pick. Location and cleanliness of it would be hard to beat.

Franz Josef – Seeing Glaciers

Just when I thought New Zealand couldn’t get cooler I was proven wrong. We went from sailing in the sun to mountains and glaciers in one day’s drive. The township of Franz Josef is in the middle of the rainforest, but it also features a massive glacier. It’s is the weirdest oxymoron. Each year the glacier is “retreating” further, i.e. getting smaller, and they placed plaques throughout the walk so you are able to see how significant of a change has taken place. I’m not sure how anyone can say that climate change isn’t a thing while seeing first hand the drastic change that has occurred in just a few years.

The only way to actually access the glacier is with via helicopter. They had scenic rides available to get a bird’s eye view of the area or you could actually access the glacier and do a heli-hike or heli-climb. I was scheduled to do a heli-hike the morning after we arrived. Unfortunately, the clouds that day were not in our favor and they cancelled all flights for safety reasons. We were told this happens 70% of the time and so I guess the odds were not in our favor. We persisted in trying and went to another company and even a neighboring glacier, Fox Glacier, to do the hike there, but no luck. Although, we were disappointed I was extremely impressed by how careful the companies were – it really wasn’t about the money to them. Not being able to go on to the actually glacier was a bummer, but that day consisted of two hikes/walks and seeing the two glaciers – Franz Josef and Fox. It’s not every day you can say you saw two glaciers. 

So I’m adding Franz Josef to my list of places to revisit. 

Accommodation – Rainforest Retreat 

Possibly one of my favorite accommodation stops to date.  There were great vibes from the second we walked onto the property. We were greeted warmly. We had the option to choosing your own roommates. The first night they had a great pizza party deal – I didn’t partake, but everyone that did enjoyed it. Our second night another Stray bus was coming in, as well as a Contiki tour, so it was going to be a party night. We treated ourselves to dinner at Moonson and then had a couple of drinks to pity ourselves for the heli-hike cancelations that day. It was a great night and the best part was just walking back to our rooms. 

The Rainforest Retreat also had a hot tub and sauna to use. It was a nice getaway spot that I would recommend. They had private little cabins, hotel rooms, and of course the backpacker geared dorm rooms.