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A perfect day amongst the Alps

Image of the February 2021 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
February 2021 Issue

Alpine enthusiast and one-time Aoraki/Mt Cook Village resident Hazel Phillips leads a whirlwind tour of the ultimate day among the high Alps

Mount Cook Village is known for its stunning mountain views, which can be enjoyed from multiple angles and heights, no matter how hardcore a tramper or climber you might be. There’s lots to see and do, so you’ll need to get your tramping boots on to make the most of your day.

Pre-dawn: When in Rome … go for an alpine start and hike up the 2200 steps on the Mueller Hut route, ascending 600m until you reach Sealy Tarns. Enjoy the sunrise lighting up the surrounding mountains – bonus points for taking a stove and brewing your own coffee on the picnic table.

Post-dawn: Keep those legs pumping, this time to check out the Tasman Glacier Lake. One short track leads to a viewing point over the lake, then it forks to Blue Lakes, which are now green – when the glacier came all the way down the valley, the meltwater from the glacial ice used to seep through the moraine wall, creating bright blue lakes below.

10am: Enjoy the fire, views, architecture and photo display at the Old Mountaineer’s Café. Oh, and coffee and a muffin – you’ve earned it. The café is the only business at Mt Cook officially opened by Sir Edmund Hillary, and it offers top coffee, beer and wine.

11am: Speaking of Sir Ed, hop along to the Sir Ed Hillary Centre at The Hermitage, where you can watch short films, inspect memorabilia and read stories of the history of the village and its surrounding mountains. There’s even a life-size photo of Sir Ed so you can see how you measure up to his great height.

12pm: Walk Hooker Lake Track to get the perfect Instagram shot. At 10km, it takes around 2.5-3 hours and it’s as flat as a possum after a hard night out. If you’re lucky, you’ll get icebergs floating at the edge of the lake. Icefalls and avalanches make it an audible experience also. Pack a picnic lunch.

4pm: Soak up some local history and enjoy a spot of tourist shopping at the DOC centre, which features everything from books to topo maps, t-shirts and historical info on famous climbers’ exploits in the park. A more sombre aspect is the memorial books to commemorate the lives of those lost in the hills.

5pm: If your legs are still co-operating, climb 300m on the Red Tarns Track (so named for the red pond weed that grows in them). Enjoy a view from one of the well-placed bench seats.

6pm: Celebrate the stunning surroundings with a glass of wine at the Snowline Bar at The Hermitage, soaking up the view.

7pm: Shift your weary bones to the Chamois Bar and Grill for a dinner to cap off the finest day.

Want to do less?

1-2 hours: The Kea Point Track from the Whitehorse Hill campsite offers an excellent view over the Mueller Glacier Lake (the glacier itself is hiding around the corner) with its surrounding moraine wall. DOC time has this at two-hours return. Trampers and fit bunnies will speed along much more quickly, so take some snacks and enjoy the serenity. A top spot to view the sun setting over Aoraki.

Four hours: To really feel like you’re in the thick of it, hike towards Mueller Hut but stop as soon as you top out on the Sealy Range. It’s around 900m ascent so you’ll need to be quick. You’ll get a spectacular shot towards the upper Mueller Glacier and Barron Saddle. Always check conditions, as snow and ice can be present at any time of year.

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