New Zealand’s main tourist website introduces Mount Cook National Park as the “home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers.” (100% Pure New Zealand)
And it’s also a lesson in what we have lost.
I checked out of free camping site number one bright and early. At the information desks in each town they tell you to get to your next campsite early because they fill up quickly. I was off to Lake Tekapo, a night sky reserve, but the weather forecast called for a week worth of clouds, rain, and a full moon. So we’ll skip that for now.
One hour south and Mt. Cook National Park is the next highlight on the map. Glaciers! I have never actually seen a glacier and I almost missed the opportunity this time because the information center host cautioned me that rain is predicted all week. So I checked into a Holiday Park — paid campgrounds with hot showers and real toilets. Oh la la! The receptionist also cautioned me there. Everyone is coming down from Mt. Cook before the weather turns. It’s a good thing I reserved my spot early because spaces are filling fast. So naturally, I sulked for a bit. It was supposed to rain in the afternoon and with nothing to do I took myself down for a walk by the river. “Gosh, the weather is nice minus the clouds” I thought. I checked the weather again. 2 mm of rain predicted in the afternoon. “Wait, what?! People are cautioning me against 2 Millimeters of rain?! GTFO.” So I showered, gassed up and made the hour long drive up to the park.
Its 2 pm. I ask the lady at the information desk, “I know it’s cloudy and its supposed to rain. What hikes do you recommend?” Most people do the Hooker Valley Trail, a 3–4 hour trip to see the main attraction Mt. Cook and the Hooker glacier. There are 3 swinging suspension bridges and not much elevation change. Its cloudy on the way out there but by the time I reach the end, the clouds have lifted just enough to get a good view of the peak. The glacier was covered with sediment but overall it was beautiful.
With the main hike out of the way, it was now up to my enthusiasm to see how many of the smaller hikes I could conquer before sunset. So what is the best way to guarantee maximum viewing potential? Run. I power walked up the trails and ran back down. 11 miles crammed into just under 5 hours.
Kea Point was supposed to be another 1–2 hour trek to see the Muller Glacier and the moraine wall. But there was no glacier. Just remnants of where the glacier once was.
The Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View trails were the last highlights to catch before sunset. Sadly though, the lake isn’t blue. Its green because it is no longer fed by glacier ice. Its fed by rain water and the temperature is so warm that it is green with algae. It was named Blue Lakes back in the 1800’s when the glacier spilled over from the top of the ridge line. But that hasn’t been the case for the last 100 years and now there is hardly any ice on the other side, much less a glacier. Blue Lakes after Kea point was a little disheartening but the Tasman Glacier View had been built up by other hikers so onward I went to the top of the staircase.
See if you can find the Tasman Glacier in the picture above. I’ll give you a hint. Its not white. Zoom in to the back end of the waters edge where the moraine walls are not two stories high. Those little pinpricks of white is what is left of the glacier. In the early 90’s this lake water was still ice. In 2011, there were patches of ice and the water was crystal blue. The current rate of retreat is 480–820 meters/yr, which translates to 6–10 city blocks, or 1,500-2,700 ft EACH YEAR!
I ended the day feeling both exhilarated because I got through all the hikes that I wanted and sad because I felt like I had just walked through a cemetery. If you haven’t seen the movie Chasing Ice, please watch it. The situation is dire and it is tragic that we cannot collectively address our carbon footprint. Find a permanent change that you can make to your regular habits and then encourage someone else take up the cause in their own way. Don’t wait for government bureaucrats to make stricter recycling laws. Don’t brush off the option to pay $4.00/mo extra on your utility bill to support renewable energies. How many disposable coffee cups can you eliminate in one year by just keeping an extra one or two reusable ones in the car?