Aoraki Mount Cook is the symbolic, iconic, singular peak that snapshots the south in no uncertain terms.
‘Aoraki’ is Maori for ‘cloud piercer’, which requires no explaining, right? At 3755m it’s spectacular, but there are another 21 mountains over 3050m in the 700 sq km park. And the park’s the point, even if the peak is an actual point, if you get the point: don’t just get your snap of the top on a clear day and head back to Queenstown for a bungy. There are heaps of brilliant walks around this amazing place and unique wildlife to coax out from behind bushes and frolic with. (OK, stretching it, but, we’re just saying — don’t disappear. Stay for days).
Glaciers abound, lakes the colour of which you’ve never seen before slide into view and mesmerise your weary eyes, and the tussock floor is delightfully springy beneath your feet.
Once you’ve dodged the kea, head back to the Hermitage for a regroup. Heaps of walks emanate from this legendary hotel — along the Tasman Glacier, up the Hooker Valley, or check out the Blue Lakes if you have the time and the puff. A word of warning: unless you’re uber-experienced, a Hillary in the making, don’t attempt the true alpine tracks and longer, more significant walks.
With that out of the way, be assured the views from the more approachable tracks are utterly stunning to the point of bewildering. How do you get that close to these mountains, you may well ask yourself? One foot in front of the other, course!
Or, course, one ski in front of the other. This is mountain territory and there are world-class skifields within a pole’s reach. Snowboard if you’re the speedy kind, or go glacier heli-skiing, a heady combo that scoots you down some of the country’s highest peaks.
There are alpine tours and guides if you want to get your crampons on, but loads of stunning stuff to attack with nothing more than sturdy boots, a stout heart and loads of layers.