If I said my first day in Mt. Cook started with an early bus ride, is anyone even going to be surprised at this point? The bus ride to the Mt. Cook area was scheduled to take 7 hours, which seemed really excessive. The thing about the buses I am taking is that they stop all the damned time. I'm used to buses where they just drive and drive until they get to the destination. This route is specifically considered a scenic route, so we stopped at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki in addition to a million other places.
Once I got to my hostel I was chomping at the bit to get outside. I had heard the Hooker Valley walk was stunning and thought I might like to do that since it was such a gorgeous day outside. The lady at the front desk said it was about 3-4 hours round trip and quite an easy walk. I brought my 1L water bottle, slathered on some sunscreen and set off. Did I mention it was 30 degrees outside and I felt like I had Mono I was so tired? Yeahhhh. While it was a beautiful walk, and I did get some stunning photos, it just kind of sucked for me! I ran out of water before getting to the end and the sun burned me to a crisp. However, at the end of the trail is Hooker Lake which is glacial fed and has little icebergs floating in it! I sat there for a while, dreading walking all the way back with no water. In the end I did make it back to the hostel, where I unceremoniously collapsed into bed.
As you can imagine, I woke up the next morning after my little walk feeling like death warmed over. My hip was killing me and I felt like I had sun stroke. I did what any reasonable person would do, I stayed in my p.j.'s all day and watched the extended versions of LOTR. I also got ready to hike up to Mueller Hut the next day, now convinced it was going to kill me.
Mueller Hut is what I am affectionately calling, the Grouse Grind of New Zealand. For those who don't know what the Grouse Grind is, it's a staircase up Grouse Mountain in Vancouver and it is the literal definition of hell. I do it every year I am in Vancouver because apparently, I hate myself. The Grouse Grind is 2.9 km long, 2830 steps and an elevation gain of 2800 ft. The hike to Mueller hut on the other hand is 5.2 km one way, approx. 2200 steps and an elevation gain of around 3159 ft. However, I don't usually hike the Grouse Grind with an overnight pack. The hike up to Mueller Hut goes in the following order: valley, a million stairs, rocky path marked with rebar, BOULDER FIELD WEEE, scree aka at least when I slide to my death it will be like a rollercoaster and finally don't break your ankle going through this rock field. With that being said, it is hands down my favourite hike I have ever done! There are no trees so the view literally gets better with every step you take. I am an instant gratification type of person, so that sealed the deal for me. The views were breathtaking! I started the hike early so I had all afternoon and evening to spend just gazing down at the world below me.
I had decided to spend the evening at Mueller Hut in an attempt to get some star photos. I was also hoping to see some Kea as they had eluded me thus far. The hut wardens assured me they came up there every night and put on quite the show. Not only did the little bastards fail to show up, right as the sun went down clouds poured over the mountains and reduced the visibility to also zero. How about those stars... I went to bed feeling pretty defeated. I also set my alarm to go off every hour and a half the entire night in case the clouds cleared. Sorry everyone else in the hut, this is why I came up here!
Finally at 2am, I looked out the window and it looked like it maybe had cleared. I gathered up my camera gear and ducked outside. I was not prepared. There are no words in the English language that would even begin to describe a tenth of the feeling I got when I went out and looked up at the sky. Someone has probably written poetry about it, but I'm not going to even try to put it into words. The one thing I will say, is I have never felt the insignificance of my existence like I did looking up that night. I do actually mean that in a positive way, it is a freeing feeling. I tried very hard to capture what it looked like with my camera. I spent an hour outside freezing my hands off taking photos. I had a really difficult time trying to get the focus right as I couldn't feel my fingers :( While the photos of course have been edited, they are a very accurate representation. It really was that vivid.
The hike down the next day was pretty uneventful, but I did love getting to see everything again! I don't think those views would ever get old. I just hung out at my hostel that night, pouring over my photos, considering if I should just move to Mueller Hut permanently. The next day I got to take a bus that I didn't have to board until 2:30pm, so I went to the Mt. Cook visitor centre for the morning. They had a great film playing there about the area and lots of really interesting little exhibits. Worth checking out for sure (and it's free!). It was then off to Queenstown to prepare for the Routeburn Track and to finally see those damned Kea!