Last January, my friend Ailsa and I planned and executed a photography mission to one of our favourite spots in New Zealand, Mount Cook. Armed with nothing more than one structurally questionable tent, a couple of DSLRS and enough hummus and crackers to feed a small village we set off in her parent’s car.
In between gossiping and offering each other life advice (something we do a lot of for two people with very little direction), we couldn’t help but be totally awestruck by the scenes at Lake Pukaki. This is a view I have driven past time and again, but it never loses its awe factor. On a fine day, Mount Cook sits majestically like a jewel at the top of the lake, a picture of blue and white perfection coloured by every shade in-between.
At just under 100 km, the road from Tekapo is a relatively long one, but the scenery 100% makes up for it. There is always something to look at. This is the beauty of road tripping in the South. As we arrive in the Hooker Valley, we are greeted by a Nor-West tail wind which pushes and prompts the Volvo up the road. ‘Hurry, Hurry’ it whispers.
It was lunch time by this point, so upon arrival we parked up in the White Horse Hill carpark and laid our spread on the uneven ground. We sat there on my tartan picnic rug munching our wholegrain crackers and desperately holding our hats on whilst our hair blew wildly and took in the surroundings. To our left was Foliage Hill, an ancient moraine deposit covered in, well, a whole lot of foliage. This bought back memories of a certain school trip, only this time, much to my disappointment, we were not obliged to make a hasty (albeit stressful) observational sketch. This trip was about admiring the view and soaking it all in. No NCEA credits on the line, or god forbid, well intentioned class bonding activities.
After a quick wander up the track to view the magnificent Tasman Glacier, the early evening was upon us. We stumbled back down the rocky track to the campground with the late afternoon sun hot on our heels. Erecting a tent amongst the bushes was somewhat of a challenge resulting in an inconveniently placed rock right in the middle, but by this point we were willing to consider the situation a win and just sleep around the obstruction.
During the night, the light Nor-West breeze that had first greeted us turned into a full and unforgiving gale force wind. At Mount Cook, you must always expect extremes of weather. And pack accordingly. This means packing a structurally sound tent, with a minimum of at least 10 pegs. Every now and again we would hear a roar from up in the mountains, a premonition of the incoming gust. We would then wait a few seconds before the entire tent would bend over parallel with the earth and the nylon would brush against the tips of our noses.
After several hours of lying awake, we decided a midnight venture to the bathroom was in order. Confident that the excessive amount of gear would be sufficient to hold the tent down in our absence, we crawled, armed with our trusty phone torches, out into the cool summer night. After stumbling our way through the dewy tufts of grass and several near miss rabbit holes, it occurred to me to look up. “Ailsa, the stars! Look at the stars!” We were completely dumfounded; the night sky was like nothing either of us had ever seen before. Try as I might (and I will try) words simply cannot do it justice. Essentially, we were surrounded by a 360° dome of glittering diamonds which disappeared only as they dipped behind the velvety silhouette of the surrounding mountains. Nothing short of unreal.
As we drove out of the national park the next morning, drugged on tiredness, we were brimming with tales of what we had seen and marvelled. Mount Cook might be unpredictable, but it also offers an incredible reward to all those who dare brave its wild elements. What we had assumed to be the roar of the wind, was all along the mountains calling out to us to admire their work, one million little lights in the sky – a masterpiece in the making.
By Eva Izard