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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrTowering 3,724 meters (3,724 meter) within the Southern Alps' region on New Zealand’s South Island, Mount Cook, or ‘Aoraki’ in Māori, is Australasia’s highest mountain. It is protected within the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, a region of glaciers, snow and ice fields, lakes and immense mountains, 140 of which are over 2,000 meters in height. This stunning landscape is part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed region of Te Wāhipounamu, or ‘The Place of Greenstone’.
GeologyMount Cook and the Southern Alps are the result of tectonic uplifting as the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates collided on the South Island’s west coast, a process which is ongoing. The mountain lies along a 650 kilometers' active alpine fault, which adds to the ongoing uplift and moves around every 100-300 years. Every year it is estimated that Mount Cook’s height increases by around 7 millimeters (0.28 inches), although continual erosion by exposure to the powerful Roaring Forties ' winds erodes the ice cap at the same time.
The height of Mount Cook was first established in 1881, but records were forced to reduce this by 10 meters in 1991 when the northern peak lost around 13 million cubic meters of rock and ice.
Māori FolkloreIn Māori folklore, the mountain is believed to be one of the most sacred ancestors of the Ngāi Tahu tribe. Aoraki was the son of the Sky Father, Rakinui, who traveled across the ‘Earth Mother’, or Papatuanuku, with his brothers before their canoe became stranded on a reef. When Aoraki and his brothers climbed towards the canoe’s tip which had been tipped skywards, they were frozen by the southern wind and transformed into Aoraki and the Southern Alps of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana. The canoe itself was transformed into what is now New Zealand’s South Island, or Te Waka o Aoraki.
Summit AttemptsThe first attempt on Mount Cook’s summit by Europeans was in 1882 when Irishman, Reverend William S. Green, and his Swiss mountaineering colleagues, Emil Boss and Ulrich Kaufmann, came only 50 meters short of the actual peak. It was 12 years later before the summit of the mountain was conquered by New Zealand mountaineers, Tom Fyfe, James Clarke, and George Graham. Since then, many climbers have attempted the challenging ascent which consists of three summits - the Low Peak, Middle Peak, and High Peak. Conditions are, however, unpredictable and often dangerous, and only highly experienced climbers should attempt Mount Cook’s summit.
Exploring the Aoraki/Mount Cook National ParkAoraki/Mount Cook National Park is home to many trails, from short strolls to multi-day treks which traverse this stunning mountainous region. There are walks to glacial moraine walls and lakes to explore the geological wonders which have produced the park’s dramatic features, and a diverse bird life can be found throughout the silver beech forest. Mount Cook Village, 12 kilometers south of the summit, is the tourist hub for the region, and trail information and conditions can be found here. The trails are well-maintained and signposted, and many have shelters and scenic lookouts which allow you to appreciate all the grandeur of the surrounding environment.
The area is also famed for its powdery white snow, and the Mt. Dobson, Roundhill, and Ohau Snow Fields cater to skiers and snowboarders who want to take advantage of these conditions with Mount Cook as their backdrop. The area is known as one of New Zealand’s premier ski destinations and excellent facilities, including ski lodges, chairlifts, equipment hire and lessons, make it perfect for all experience levels. For those after something more adventurous, heli-skiing is also available with helicopters dropping skiers in remote wilderness regions where long runs and challenging terrains traverse this impressive glacial cut landscape.
To get a different perspective on the scale of this rugged region, take to the air on a scenic flight which depart from either Mount Cook Village or Tekapo in both fixed wing planes and helicopters. This allows you to get a birds-eye view of Mount Cook and its surrounding peaks, as well as the ice and snowfields, pristine lakes, and cascading glaciers which lie below, and access areas which are either inaccessible by foot or take many days of trekking to reach.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is also known for being one of the best stargazing places on Earth and is part of the South Island’s famous International Dark Sky Reserve. At more than 4,300 square kilometers, this is the largest of its kind in the world, with clear starry nights uninhibited by the light pollution produced by big cities. At Lake Tekapo you can visit the Mount John Observatory, home to New Zealand’s largest telescope which can observe up to 50 million starts on a clear night. Astronomers will guide you around the great Southern Sky, pointing out individual planets, stars and distant solar systems, and offering a wealth of information on star gazing.
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Author: Pip Strickland. Last updated: Mar 26, 2015