I awakened the next morning to discover just how close I was to the foot of the mountains.

Aoraki DOC site (there’s a person walking in front of my van, if you can spot them)

What an amazing place to stay for just a couple of bucks! I situated myself on a nearby rock for a quick breakfast of cereal with berries, coffee, and o.j.

my breakfast spread – rock for chair; cooler for table.

My European neighbor and I were entertained by a small family of passing ducks, the ducklings (mostly) obediently following momma in a small bobbing line (aside from an errant adventurer who came over to check out my orange juice jug).  I secured the van cargo, slathered myself in sunscreen, and headed down the path to Aoraki itself, a path alternately paved by pebbles, gravel, or small boulders, occasionally converting to swing bridges over snow and glacial melt, meandering on boardwalks over marshy stubble, or threading with handholds and guide wires atop narrow, slippery rocked outcrops that warned “Keep moving! Rock fall zone!”

creek crossing on the trail to Aoraki

aha! Mount Cook itself finally appears.

getting slowly closer….

Although the walkers included the usual mix of sunburned, giggling Brazilian twenty-somethings; Asian guided tours (sun-protective umbrellas deployed); pink, well-hatted Aussie families; and thick-calved, middle-aged Germans assertively wielding their trekking poles, it was a tough enough hike because of the constantly varying, purchase-defying terrain. I stopped intermittently to fling water over my face and neck and refresh in the icy melt streams the cooling wet bandanna around my neck. It took me about an hour and a half of hiking to get to the point beyond which signs warned of slip (rockslide) or avalanche danger. However, all the tourists were out beyond the sign, so I picked my way along the gravelly edge of a lake spiked with small icebergs at the foot of Aoraki, a glacier huddled at the far end.

yep, all those tiny dots on the the protruding spit of land are tourists.

Taking off my shoes and socks enabled me to wade through a small stream to the far side of the moraine beach, punctuated here and there by tourist-constructed cairns.

that dirty bit of flat blue wall is the foot of a glacier.

I sat down to thirstily quaff the remainder of my drinking water and refresh myself with an apple and yogurt snack.

sweaty, sunburned, and dehydrated as hell.

I picked up my pace on the return journey, making a quick steep trip up to Kea Point, yet another lookout area, and then back into the van to strike out for Geraldine, where I was due for work that evening.

back the way I came….

Back on Bunny Boulevard (mercifully rabbit-free in the midday heat) I realized I must never, ever again break my night driving prohibition: while I was dodging bunnies in the blackness, I’d missed what I can definitively say IS some of the most scenic driving in the country: the southern Alps looming above the opaque turquoise blue of Lake Pukaki. Craning your head to catch glimpses of it in the rearview mirror while hurtling in the opposite direction at nearly 100 kph is NOT the same.

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