Driving into the Mackenzie country always brings back the story I was told as a youngster. Mackenzie the sheep-rustler and his loyal dog. The dog who is honored in brass outside the iconic Church of The Good Shepherd in Tekapo. An earlier pioneer Mackenzie would steal sheep at night and drive them hundreds of miles and sell them to farmers well out of the way of his victim’s farms.
The drive along Lake Pukaki heading into The Hermitage at Mt Cook lifts my spirit every time. I have visited this sacred place many times however I never turn down an opportunity to pay homage to our highest mountain Aorangi (Maori for Cloud Piercer) Mt Cook. The mountain named after the first European Captain James Cook who mapped and claimed the country for Britain.
Checking into a room with a view of The Mountain is a must at The Hermitage.
The late Sir Edmund Hilary’s head and shoulders lightly etched into the widows is even special. Sir Edmund trained on Mt Cook before he conquered Everest with Tensing Norgay in 1953. The boutique museum at the hotel is named in his honor with memorabilia of Hilary’s many conquests.
Early to bed as the next day was something I was looking forward to immensely.
I was to be flow around Mt Cook National park by Heliworks. I was early to the heli-port after a hearty Hermitage breakfast and met a pilot that ended up being someone who I would fly with anywhere anytime again. Mark Hayes knew this mountainous terrain as if he was comfortably at home using his TV remote.
His attention to detail and safety was paramount. He could read the valleys and guts in the rugged mountains so well he warned the
passengers well before we even received a little turbulence. His willingness to assist and answer questions was more than expected.
Over to the West Coast side to see the sprawling river valleys over spectacular edges and suspending into mid-air was awesome.
One highlight was landing beside the Tasman Hut and leaving the machine, walk in the pristine white powder and breath the fresh thin air. The atmosphere in this theatre of nature is unreal. The odd squawk from a rogue Kea is the only noise. Sometimes at the end of summer there are avalanches and the noise they make is spectacular.
Back in the machine and off to another rare highlight. Mark had spotted a Bull Thar and a young yearling a few days earlier; he was “right on the button.” Dancing like ballet dancers over the treacherous rock and shale these two animals were just breathtaking to watch. Mark hovered for quite some time as these two hardy beasts turned on a display for the peering eyes from the helicopter. This was turning into a production.
The Himalayan Tahr was introduced to New Zealand some 100 years ago primarily for the purposes of sport. Lord Bedford had retrieved some from the Paris Zoo and had them at his English estate of which he shipped some to NZ. A statue was unveiled recently to mark Bedford’s contribution to hunting in New Zealand.
Heading back to the heli-port we flew across Glacier Explorers while they were showing travellers the icebergs in Lake Tasman. A terminal
lake of the Tasman Glacier
where the ice regularly breaks off into this water shed.
Alighting from the machine with all my senses humming, feeling like I had just experienced something surreal. My profession fortunately has taken me in helicopters often however this one was the crowning glory. A competent pilot, beautiful helicopter with headphones for commentary, special natural treats and a National Park that turns it on. Wow I’m back for that one anytime!
After coming down from the Heliworks flight it was off to boat on the lake we had flown across previously to experience the icebergs.
Booked from The Hermitage Hotel Glacier Explorers run 2 trips a day. However this is seasonal and operates in summer and autumn. Taken by their transport from The Hotel we walk into a jetty and don our lifejackets and receive a very intense safety briefing. It would be minutes if one fell in this ice-fed lake before hypothermia would engulf the body and the rest is history.
The bergs are amazing and the patterns of crystals differ and glint in the sunlight.
We approach the terminal however it is safety that we only go as close as 100 meters as the ice can break off and cause mini tsunamis and threaten ones safety.
Our young guide Claire was well versed on the whole geological and scientific information that made for a very informed and enjoyable trip.
It was with regret I left this sacred place however Lunch at Shawtys in Twizel was just something else Twizel is 30 minutes from Mt Cook and was built as a construction town in the sixties for hydro schemes. Twizel is now a resort town that boasts this amazing café/restaurant. I started with a coffee a traditional Flat White, then another. The show stealer was the hearty Gumbo Prawn and Chorizo spicy, served with crusty bread and at $12.50 was a deal from heaven. The Mackenzie Country is just another exciting region with a character like no other.