Friday, May 30, 2008

Mt. Cook

The next morning we head out up the road and are now into rolling hills and beautiful green pastures. We see a few herds of deer and then realize that they are actually fenced in. We also start to see Elk that have obviously also been domesticated. Add this to the goats, pigs and beef cattle and you have NZ meat industry. We stop at a cute little at the base of a huge Lake called Lake Pukaki and get our first glimpse of NZ's highest mountain.

We decide to do the deviation up along the lake to see Mt. Cook closer up. It is a beautiful sunny day and the larch trees are all orange and about to lose their needles. We start to encounter the one way bridges that are everywhere in NZ. They work like a charm now and usually have a sign designating who has the right of way. I can't imagine what it must be like in the summer, though, when the tourist traffic must be huge.

We have to slow to a stop as there is a herd of sheep going up the road. It feels kind of like going west of Bragg Creek towards Elbow Falls where there are Texas Gates and cattle on the road. This herd has a fellow with the ever present rubber boots and a couple of sheep dogs trying to get the sheep over the bridge and back into the ditch to let us pass. The dogs are working from small calls and hand signals. One of them is the traditional black and white sheep dog and the other one looks like a small Rottweiler. They are running from one side to the other and collecting the strays.

We arrive at the Hermitage Hotel which was first built in the 1880's but was wiped out by a flood. They changed the location and rebuilt, but that one was destroyed by fire in 1957 (along with many items of Hillary memorabilia). This new one was built in the 1950's and added on to for the millenium. There is a museum dedicated to Hillary, but it is closed due to a power outage. We don't want to miss it and 2 nights has been enough for now in the campervan, so we check in for the night. It is great to be here in the off season as they really work hard to give you a good rate.

Mt. Cook is 12,316 feet high and was first climbed in 1884. It is called Aoraki in Maori which means Cloud Piercer. A woman by the name of Freda du Faur became the first woman to climb it in 1913. Hillary climbed the southern ridge in 1948.

We watch the sun go down over Mt. Cook and go for a great meal in the dining room. Amazingly, all of the kinds of animals that we had seen in paddocks alongside the roads are on the menu! We then go star-gazing with a guide and we get to see Saturn through a huge telescope, complete with rings! We also see the craters of the moon and a cluster of stars that formed part of the galaxy next to us. It is quite cold, but there is a propane heater.

In the morning we sit in the Museum and watch a fascinating film on Hillary.

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