My bus came to pick me up early in the morning for the three and a half hour ride from Queenstown to Mt. Cook. A word about the South Island’s bus service: I couldn’t write about the South Island without mentioning the bus transportation system.
Motorcoach travel is well organized, and the coaches are comfortable, offering reclining seats. Most passengers are picked up and dropped off at their hotel. I was surprised to find that seats are usually assigned, and that there is often a Japanese-speaking hostess onboard. In addition to keeping count of the passengers, the hostess serves as a translator, repeating the bus driver’s fact-filled commentary for Japanese visitors onboard.
My first view of the Mt. Cook area proved desolate. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, as I had been warned that Mt. Cook was often shrouded in clouds and fog. The weather was raw, and there was a fog hanging over everything. I checked into the cavernous Hermitage Hotel, a behemoth of a hotel at 164 rooms, plus 32 motel and 20 chalet units.
The hotel has several dining areas, as well as a mountaineering exhibit and a film dedicated to Sir Edmund Hillary, who climbed in the area. My first stop was the National Park Center, a 5-minute walk from the hotel, where I armed myself with a hiking map and a book on New Zealand’s plentiful bird life.
Following what looked to be a dismal, disappointing afternoon and night, I awoke the next morning to a clear blue sky and a stunning view of fresh snow blanketing the mountain (the hotel’s guest rooms provide panoramic views of the mountain). So, after breakfast I set off on a short hike prior to catching the onward bus to Christchurch.
Several trails lead directly from the hotel to the mountain. However, there seemed to be no way of getting to Lake Tasman and other areas below without a car. So, leaving the hotel, I chose the short, but scenic Kea Point trail. The trail started off in a valley covered in low-lying shrubbery, complete with lively birdsong accompaniment. Listen to an audio clip of some of the birds I heard here:
Once the trail started climbing, the scenery changed, revealing a stark, rocky and glacial terrain. The trail led to a stunning viewing platform of cirque rock formations dropping to a glacial basin below, and surrounded by mountains.
I sat down on a bench to take in the scenery, when I was joined by a couple who turned out to be U.S. expats camping in the area for the weekend. After chatting a while, it was time to go back down the trail, change out of my hiking boots, and meet the onward bus. My quest to see Mt. Cook had been achieved!
Goway, specialists in travel to New Zealand, arranged for my transportation and stay at Mt. Cook.