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Travelin’ Light; More Waterfalls; Rakaia Gorge; Lake Tekapo; A Sheepdog Monument; Church of the Good Shepherd; Mt. Cook; Some of My Heroes

When My Lovely Bride was starting to plan her packing list for our New Zealand Adventure, she said, “Ty, we have to pack light for this trip. You’re allowed 2 pair of skivvies, 2 pair of socks, etc… we have to keep our bags very light.” As an Obedient Husband, I followed MLB’s instructions to the letter, and our roller bags were well under the 20 kg/44 lb. limit. I thought we had done well, until I saw the bags being towed behind a young German couple’s mountain bikes. I wanted to make a smart remark, like “I’ll bet Brunhilde there packs even better than you do, My Darling..”, but self-preservation has always been my watchword. 

The West Coast of New Zealand rises steeply from sea level to the 12,000 foot Southern Alps. Glaciers may be 12-20 miles/20-30 km long, starting in the mountains and ending near the shore. It’s strange to see sub-tropical rain forest vegetation growing yards from streams that are blue-gray with glacial rock flour. 

Have I mentioned that Suzanne is a waterfall groupie? Here we see her standing next to a triple waterfall on the West Coast. I suggested that she take a quick dip in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, but my suggestion wasn’t well-received… it sounded like a good idea to me, but she said that she hadn’t brought a swim suit along on the hike. “Well, neither did I, My Love, but what’s the big deal? This is a free-spirited country, right?” Smack! Sigh…

That waterfall shower would have been an even better idea when we got to our next stop, the Rakaia Gorge, one of the prettiest tramps in the country. (In this case, “tramp” refers to a hike, not a girl with loose morals.)

MLB said it was an easy hike, but the 30C/90F temperatures and steep climbs up and down for 2 hours made it a bit of a challenge for her hubby. Here we are at a lookout point; one of us looks perky, the other (not shown) looks tired and ready for a cold beer.

Our long day’s drive finally brought us to Lake Tekapo (pronounced “Teak-a-poe”), where we had booked an apartment for a night. The accommodations were very nice; here you can see me trying to sort out the correct formula for Kiwi coffee. Those of us accustomed to fresh-brewed coffee, or even Keurig machines, will be somewhat disappointed to find that instant coffee (reminiscent of Nescafe back in the 70s) is the most prevalent variety here. Occasionally a French press (not a Bridgette Bardot look-alike, Dale) is available with a pre-packaged disc, but mostly you take your chances with instant. My Navy shipmate Dale may recall that I was up to 35 cups a day of Navy coffee aboard ship, so I consider myself something of a coffee snob.

The room had a nice view over the lake, but this shot of banks of morning mist, clouds and mountains from our balcony was one of the most striking of the trip so far. I stood on the balcony for 30 minutes watching the clouds roll over the mountains across the lake, in absolute wonder at Nature’s majesty.  This photo is going to end up on a wall at home.

Lake Tekapo is home to this famous statue, a monument to the sheep dogs who made high country sheep farming possible. The light blue color of the lake is of course due to (what else?) glacial rock flour carried downstream by the many rivers spawned in the high mountains at the feet of the many beautiful glaciers. Please note a small building just above the dog’s right rear foot…

The Church of the Good Shepherd was recommended to us by our Kiwi friend Sheree back in Auckland, and I promised to visit and put a photo in the blog. Regrettably, when we went there, a wedding was taking place, and we were unable to gain entry to see the inside of the church. It is fitting that the statue of the sheepdog was just 50 yards from the church; after all, sheep are still the foundation of farming here in New Zealand, where farms and ranches are called “stations”.

Our next stop was at my favorite place in New Zealand, Mount Cook. The mountain was named for history’s greatest multi-tasker (explorer, navigator, naturalist, cartographer and seaman), Captain James Cook, FRS, RN, who arrived in New Zealand in 1769 aboard his ship HM Bark Endeavour and claimed the islands for England. The Maori name for the mountain is Aoraki. Like in the USA with contemporaries Washington, Lee and Jackson, Cook is an old dead white guy, and his name is no longer politically correct in some circles… but he is one of my greatest heroes.

I first visited here in 1970 on a Navy destroyer, and a friend and I took leave and tent camped around the South Island. When Suzanne and I arrived at Mt. Cook, I pointed out these tents and said, “Sweetheart, that orange one is ours for the next two nights.” There was a moment of silence until she said, “Ty, you’re a funny guy.”

Our hotel room wouldn’t be ready for 3 hours, so we went for a hike up Hooker Valley to a viewpoint near the glacier of the same name. On the way was this alpinists’ memorial to those mountaineers who had lost their lives while climbing the Southern Alps. Unfortunately, there were about 30 names on various bronze plates on both sides of the monument. Icefall-covered Mt. Sefton (10,358 ft./ 3,151 meters) is in the background. Avalanches, rockfalls, deteriorating weather and equipment failure were the principal reasons for these casualties.

After an hour or so, Mt. Cook itself poked its head through the clouds. New Zealand’s highest mountain (12,218 ft./ 3,724 meters), it has three summits, and is flanked by five major glaciers, Tasman, Hooker, Linda, Fox and Franz Joseph. This side of the mountain with overhanging cornices and snowfields is not considered climbable. 

The first attempt at the summit was in 1882; two Swiss mountaineers made it to within 50 meters of the top before being forced to turn back. 1894 saw the first successful push to the summit by three New Zealanders who were anxious to beat American mountaineer Edward Fitzgerald, who was enroute New Zealand for the climb. Fitzgerald arrived and was the first to summit nearby Mt. Sefton. Today experienced climbers usually take a week or more to climb Mt. Cook, with the help of local Alpine Guides. “Experienced” means a high level of aerobic fitness and previous experience in high altitude alpine climbing, glacier travel and the ability to climb 45-50 degree snow and ice using two tools. These guys are also some of my heroes… maybe in my next lifetime, I’ll sail with Captain Cook and climb big ice-covered mountains.

N.B.: these last two photos are not mine… but I sure wish they were!

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