Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To Mt. Cook (NZ part 24)

(NZ part one here)

Back on the main roads, we make quick miles on the way to Mt. Cook. Riding along the Waitaki River, with the Southern Alps to our left and ahead of us, it is hard to pay attention to the road.

We pass Lake Waitaki, then Lake Aviemore, and through Otematata. Just east of Omarama, we head north across a wide, flat valley. The miles pass and we suck down water to keep hydrated on the hot and shadeless bitumen. We cross the Ohau River and stop at Twizel to resupply. Campers are the dominant vehicle here, and I again feel a little disappointed with being out of the backcountry. While I certainly have enjoyed the cover of a camper van, there is something about hordes of them that just feels so anathema to appreciation of the backcountry that I can't reconcile. But we are running low on supplies, and this is the place to stop. We get it done and head farther north.

For the most part, our route is quite flat - no big elevation changes, only rolling hills here and there. We come along side Lake Pukaki and my spirits lift. The road follows the contour of the Lake and occasionally pops up onto small plateaus with grand views of the Lake, and the Gammack and Liebig ranges. It is not until we have almost left the Lake that we catch a view of Mt. Cook.

We ride all the way to Mt. Cook village, with the National Park visitor center and the Hermitage lodge. In true dirt bag style, we will not be staying here, but will find a campsite down the road a bit. We spend some time wandering the visitor center, looking at maps and reading displays before hoping back on the bikes for a gentle coast down to a suitable camp site. And we found a good one. We set up on the outwash plain of the great glaciers of the Southern Alps - the Hooker, Tasman, and Murchison glaciers. We backed up to the Ben Ohau Range to our southwest and Lake Pukaki to our southeast. Mt. Sealy and the Sierra, Navigator, and Balfour ranges formed a shoulder wrapping around to our west. And in our face Mt. Haas, Tasman, and the great Mt. Cook, with the rugged Burnett Mountains embracing us from the east.

We were rewarded with a stunning evening at one of the most inspiring sites I have found myself in. The simple luxury of a warm meal and good company seemed heightened by the surroundings in some way.

The morning starts out chilly, but who can complain when you wake up here?

(Camping near Mt. Cook - Photo Dan Cantrell)

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