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The Hooker Valley track has been called the best day walk in New Zealand. Glorious alpine areas are normally available to the most nimble but here Jo and Joe Average can walk smack-bang through a high mountain valley then say a casual hi to New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook.
It’s a three-hour return walk with only a 124m change in elevation. Its general amazingness has led to an annoying popularity so, to avoid the crowd, start out early.
Nature’s at her best then anyway, with fresh, pungy smells and curious early birds flitting unguardedly. A tom tit suggested that death and peace will come soon enough so we might as well be at peace here in the meantime. Perhaps it was recent bereavement talking or perhaps the ancestors comfort us in mysterious ways.
There actually is a peace in the huge rawness of the mountain tops. Or perhaps their scraped-naked ruggedness is ugly. Daunting and deathly. Oppressive rock.
But as the eye travels downwards, there’s evidence of life. Soil has built up and plants have grown. What was once a destructive glacier is now a life-giving river flowing down the valley floor. There’s even a wee sweetie of an alpine tarn, with a gently rippling surface.
After navigating the old glacier’s humpy fallout, you round a corner and meet a beaming Aoraki. The valley floor opens up and widens. Boardwalk and gravel path let you doddle along and marvel. Screes of gravel spew out of mountainsides and just sit there.
Another corner and you’re hit by the bulk of the full mountain and its glacial lake with floating icebergs. Nature is under construction. The lake formed only in the 1970s, left by the melting glacier.
Bald gravelled slopes and dirty chunks of melting ice make a boldly desolate nothingness. In a no-frills way, it’s all happening here. Isolation and wailing emptiness fill the space. Bleakness just is. All that’s missing is a thrash metal shred guitar solo.
But the sun peeks out. Clouds wisp away. The same spot morphs into something sparkling, enticing, even enchanting.
Some facts of life can never be changed. And sometimes, through no fault of its own, everything looks ugly. And then the sun peeks out.