With our base camp established in Twizel we prepared to explore the Mt. Cook area. Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in all of New Zealand at 12,218 feet. However, we were low on breakfast treats, so Jane and I hiked to the Town Center Cafe & Bakery. Here we spotted breakfast pastries on top of the counter, and we used some of our remaining NZ $’s to purchase two sultana scones, two blueberry muffins, and one apple crumble. Jane and I split the crumble, when we returned to our room.
The Prices rolled by and picked us up at 10AM, and we continued on to a campground near Mt. Cook Village. The parking lot was jammed, and we nearly found ourselves locked in a big city traffic snarl, when a huge tourist bus attempted to turn around on a narrow dirt road loaded with pedestrians and parked cars. John somehow managed to execute a U-turn in advance of the bus, and we parked on the shoulder along the entry road. A longer walk was a preferred trade off to sitting in the van among the parking lot chaos.
The tramp was a three hour round trip undertaking, and it ended at a glacial lake, where we enjoyed spectacular views of Mt. Cook and surrounding peaks. The glacial lake next to our viewing point was filled with dense silt-laden glacial melt. The guidebook suggested that floating icebergs would be visible, but we only noticed one small one near the outlet of the lake. The river that carried gray sludge through the adjacent valley was more impressive to me, and we crossed it three times on suspended bridges supported by sturdy metal cables. Jane formulated an exit strategy each time we crossed one of the suspended structures, in case it collapsed during our time hanging above the river.
Numerous waterfalls cascaded down the steep slopes on both sides of the river, and several significant ribbons of rushing water disappeared in a rubble of gray boulders and gravel. It was obvious that this was the source of the dense gray sedimentation that converted the water into gray sludge.
After we returned to the minivan, we detoured to another trailhead to view the Tasman Glacier. The sign informed us that the viewpoint occurred after a fifteen minute walk, but it neglected to tell us that the trail was a continuous climb up steps. The view at the top was interesting, as another glacial lake appeared just below a massive block of gray and charcoal ice. The return hike was tricky, but not physically taxing.
Upon our return to the IMAX we sped back to Twizel, and the Prices deposited us at the Lakes Hotel. After a brief happy hour with snacks, Jane and I sauntered across the highway to the convenient wood oven pizza truck. On Tuesday night we ordered a meat pizza to demonstrate that we were not in a deep food rut, and after ten minutes it was baked and ready for our consumption. It disappeared in the same amount of time that it required to bake.
Wednesday is a travel day to Christchurch, and Thursday we make our return to the USA. This was a bittersweet thought, as we neared the final day of our long anticipated New Zealand trip.