New Zealand and Mount Cook National Park
By Doreen Kerby

I once read an ad encouraging travelers to come to New Zealand. It boasted that New Zealand had the unspoiled wilderness of Alaska, the beaches of Hawaii, the fjords of Norway, and the Alps of Switzerland. This was not boasting; this was fact.
I might also add that New Zealand’s lush meadows reminded me of Ireland and dozens of times I thought I was in England. So many place names originate in the Old Country, as do many of their local dishes.
The only place I have seen more Union Jacks is in England.
New Zealanders have a special place in their hearts for Britain and the monarchy. People I talked to told me they had watched every moment of the Royal Wedding and think Will and Kate are the greatest.
I found New Zealanders to be very much like Canadians and though I may be prejudiced, I think that is a nice compliment. The Kiwis are kind and generous, endowed with a good sense of humor and a bent for adventure. They invented bungee jumping and jet boats to speed around lakes hiking, boating over white water or walking on glaciers.
If I ever get back to New Zealand I would revisit Mount Cook National Park in the South Island. At 3754 metres it is New Zealand’s highest mountain, known as
Aoraki by the Maori, meaning, “cloud piercer”. Yet there are 27 other mountains with peaks over 3050 metres and hundreds of others not far short of that, making up the famous Southern Alps. There are also 72 named glaciers, which cover 40 percent of the park's 700 square kilometres (170,000 acres).

The 125-year old, Hermitage Hotel at Mt Cook is a must in New Zealand. Because of its location, it is rated the best hotel in the country. This 4-star hotel is not pretentious and fits into the mountains without detracting from the natural beauty that surrounds it.
My room was spacious, warm and comfortable with an excellent view. Mt Cook leapt out between clouds and the sun was brilliant, making the snow sparkle like magic. Meals at the Panorama Room were another highlight. I would go back in a heartbeat.
The Hermitage is also home to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre with a 3D movie of his adventures, a Planetarium, and a Museum that showcases his achievements, expeditions, and life’s work. The Planetarium shows the night sky and is the first full dome digital planetarium in New Zealand. It is always a thrill to see the Milky Way and especially, the Southern Cross.
Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the world’s greatest explorers, had a long- standing connection with Mount Cook National Park. He was born in New Zealand and made a number of ascents in the Park and used the area as a training ground for his Everest and Antarctic expeditions. On May 29, 1953 he achieved with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

There is a statue of Sir Edmund Hillary just outside the hotel. It is a prime location to take photographs of Mount Cook. The Hermitage Hotel commissioned the sculpture based on a picture taken when he completed the ascent of Mount Cook in 1970 and Sir Edmund Hillary unveiled it in 2003.

While we were there we took an alpine hike to Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake. Based in one of the world’s most beautiful settings, Glacier Explorers operate boating excursions on the Lake. The cost was $140.00 but it was worth every penny. We were taken by bus to the end of the road and then took a 30-minute walk to Terminal Lake where we donned life jackets and were assigned to rigid–hulled, inflatable boats that took us right up to the icebergs, so close in fact that we could break pieces off the ice. The Lake has formed because New Zealand’s largest glacier- the Tasman is melting.

The glacier is carrying stones, rocks and boulders
, a solid mass of debris making it look quite unpleasant. Despite its considerable melt it is still estimated to be over 600 metres thick. Though we saw this glacier again by climbing to vantage points above the glacier, nothing could match the thrill of viewing it from the water. That was an experience of a lifetime.

For more information : Tourism New