Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand
Aoraki Mt Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, standing at 3,754 m. It is located in the Southern Alps, the mountain range that runs almost the length of the South Island. It is also part of the World Heritage site that makes up much of the Alps region. The base camp for Aoraki Mt Cook is at Mount Cook Village, and is sometimes known simple as The Hermitage after the hotel there.
As with many places, Aoraki Mt Cook has a local Maori legend to tell the story of its formation. Aoraki and his three brothers, the sons of Rakinui, the Sky father, were on a canoe voyage around Papatuanuku, the Earth mother. Disaster struck and they became stranded on a reef. The brothers climbed out and perched on their canoe, but a cold south wind passed by and froze them, turning them into stone. Their canoe became the South Island, Te Waka o Aoraki, the canoe of Aoraki. Aoraki, the tallest of the brothers became the mountain now known as Aoraki Mt Cook and his brothers and crew became the rest of the Southern Alps.
Aoraki also means ‘cloud piercer’ in Maori.
The Naming of Aoraki Mt Cook
Although named after Capt James Cook, the famous navigator, he did not actually see the mountain. The first European to see it was Abel Tasman, the Dutch navigator, in 1642. The mountain was named Mount Cook, in honour of Capt James Cook, as late as 1851, by Capt John Lort Stokes.
In 1998, as part of a settlement between Maori people and the Crown, the mountain was renamed Aoraki Mount Cook, in order to incorporate the original Maori name.
New Zealand’s Ultimate Climbing Challenge
For many mountaineers, climbing Mount Cook is the ultimate climbing challenge within New Zealand. Sir Edmund Hillary, of Everest fame, first climbed the mountain in 1947. A bronze statue in his honour was erected at The Hermitage in 2003, facing the mountain he so loved.
The first successful climb was on Christmas Day 1894 when three men, Tom Fyfe, Jack Clarke and George Graham successfully made it to the top. It was to be ten years before the mountain was climbed again.
In 1910 Australian Freda Du Faur became the first woman to reach the top. She made her climb wearing a skirt. She was also part of a group of three who made the first Grand Traverse of the mountains three peaks in 1913.
Other Interesting Facts
The first known fatality on the mountain was in 1914, when three men were killed in an avalanche. At the time only one body was recovered.
The height of the mountain was reduced by ten metres in 1991 after a huge avalanche of rock and snow took part of the east face away.
The Hermitage, the main accommodation in the settlement of Mount Cook Village, was first flooded beyond repair in 1913. Rebuilt on another site, it was then destroyed by fire. The hotel now lends its name to the base camp from which the mountain can be explored.
Many people have been inspired by the sight of Aoraki Mt Cook, but only the most experiences dare attempt to reach its highest peak. Tourists can reach the Mount Cook village by car, the journey taking approximately 2.5 hours from either Christchurch or Queenstown. It is well worth adding this trip to any New Zealand travel itinerary.
Other New Zealand South Island locations: