Over the clouds in Mount Cook National Park
Before I came to New Zealand I had plans of doing at least one Great Walk during my stay, but because of lack of time and equipment (you need to bring all your equipment with you to the huts, even cooking utensils. I would have loved the simplicity of the Norwegian trekking huts where you don’t even need to bring a sleeping bag, just liner, and you can buy dried and canned food on a trust basis at the un-serviced huts) I ended up doing just a few – too few – day-walks instead. That’s why – when planning my last short week in New Zealand – I decided to go to Mount Cook National Park and do some day-trekking there as well.
The only problem was that there’s only a few hostels in National Park Village (no BBH-hostels, the chain I usually stayed with) and the YHA one was fully booked (me doing the booking late and all). When it seemed like all was lost, and I would have to plan something else for my last few days – or pay a lot more for my stay – I found somewhere I could stay by chance (it turned out the be the cheapest option as well), so I booked my bus and went for it.
I arrived in the middle of the day, the room wasn’t ready yet, so I just dropped my luggage off at the reception, sat down on the grass outside the hostel, looked at the mountains and glacier – and how the clouds moved over them – through a whole album by Susanne Sundfør, which felt really nice after all the adrenaline and fun in Queenstown.
As I was the first in our four bed dorm I could choose my bed, and I (finally!) got a bottom bunk. You really get sick of the top bunks after a while, especially when 90 percent of the time the mattress – for some extremely weird reason – is in a lot worse shape than the bottom ones. The other girls in the dorm were two nice English girls, and Simone, a girl from Switzerland who turned out to be great walking company for our hike the next day.
Climb, climb, climb, and then climb some more
As we were slightly more ambitious than the English girls – and maybe a little more fond of and used to mountain hiking – Simone and I decided to trek up to Mueller hut. Apparently a lot of people do that in two days, up one day, sleep at the hut, and then down the next. A six to eight hour trek didn’t seem too daunting for us (especially not after the Tongariro crossing) so we decided to do it in one day – not that it would make sense to do it in two days though, as we had already paid for the room in our hostel.
It turned out to be three hard hours up (with tons of breaks), and three hard hours down again. Our leg and bum muscles really got a nice workout. In the beginning there were stairs (I still don’t understand the point of that), then there was just a really steep track (more like what I’m used to) and the last climb we staggered up big rocks (it turned out to be quite difficult to walk down there again a few hours later), trying to follow the orange sticks that were used as sign posts.
Most of the climb we were accompanied by a thick, unpromising fog. It seemed like it would be a repeat of the Mt Nguarohoe climb, just pain, and no gain (amazing view-wise). We even met a few day trippers going down halfway as they felt it was no point continuing if they couldn’t get to enjoy the view at the top. But we continued on, as we had no shuttle to reach, and the only time constraint would be getting down before dark, we thought we could always wait it out, and maybe it would clear up during the day.
And then, when we reached the hut and the highest point of our trek, we were suddenly above the clouds. A carpet of cotton candy with snow clad mountains peaking through. The scene was so serene and beautiful, and all we wanted to do was just to lie down on that seemingly soft carpet of clouds. We had our lunch at the top of a big rock instead, and there we stayed. Relaxing, napping (getting sunburnt, again!), taking pictures, waiting for the clouds to break up (which they didn’t – not until we were half way down at least), until finally we decided that maybe it was about time to start the descent.
Going down turned out to be just as hard as going up, and when we finally reached the part where the stairs started it was almost a relief (though I still thought they were kind of pointless, even then). Back at the hostel we all had a nice warm bath (we had a room with ensuite bathroom with a bathtub, how perfect is that?), though I probably used ten minutes just trying to get the – completely stuck – plug out. I even ducked my head under, with a plan to bite the end of the plug and drag it out, which totally failed (just as well I guess), as I couldn’t even get my mouth close enough. A little hair pin did the trick in the end.
My muscles were sore for days, but it was definitely one the best hikes I had in New Zealand, and I never regretted going there.