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Aoraki Mount Cook

Soaring at 3,724 metres, Aoraki-Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Standing proudly in the Southern Alps, it's the kingpin of this mountain range running the length of New Zealand's South Island.

The three summits of Aoraki-Mount Cook consist of the Low Peak (3,593 metres), Middle Peak (3,717) and the High Peak. All lie slightly south and east of the main divide of the Southern Alps, in a south to north direction. The Tasman Glacier lies to the east and the Hooker Glacier is to the southwest.

In December 1991 an avalanche consisting of 10 million cubic metres of snow and rock slides caused a 10-metre reduction in its height. Subsequently, the ice cap was reduced by a further 30 metres due to two decades of further erosion.

The legend of Aoraki

According to Māori legend, Aoraki was a young boy who, along with his three brothers, were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. On their voyage around the Papatuanuku, (Earth Mother) their canoe became stranded on a reef and tilted.

Subsequently, Aoraki and his brothers climbed onto the top side of their canoe. However, the south wind froze them and turned them into stone. Their canoe became the Te Waka o Aoraki, (The South Island) and their prows, the Marlborough Sounds. Aoraki, the tallest, became the highest peak, and his brothers became the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (The Southern Alps).

The Ngāi Tahu, the main iwi (tribe) of New Zealand's southern region, consider Aoraki as the most sacred of the ancestors that they had descended from. Aoraki brings the iwi with its sense of community and purpose and remains the physical form of Aoraki and the link between the worlds of nature and the supernatural.

European exploration of Mount Cook

In January 1848, the European sailor Captain John Lord Stokes was dispatched by the British Royal Navy in the HMS Acheron to New Zealand. He Arrived in the Hermes-class wooden paddle sloop in November of the same year and embarked upon a coastal journey of surveillance. The first such survey since Captain Cook's visit in the 1700s.

Stokes surveyed the land through until 1851, whereupon he gave Aoraki the name Mount Cook in honour of the British explorer, navigator and cartographer, Captain James Cook.

Captain Cook of the Royal Navy, sailed the very first ship (The Endeavour) to circumnavigate New Zealand in 1771.

In March of the same year, due to budget cuts within the Royal Navy, HMS Acheron was ordered to be laid up in Sydney, Australia. Whereupon, Stokes and her crew returned to England and the paddle sloop remained in Sydney until being sold in 1855.

Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park

With over 40% of the park comprising of glaciers, the Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park is one of New Zealand’s most unforgiving national parks. Nineteen of the peaks within the Park exceed 3000 metres, with New Zealand’s highest peak (its namesake) the most stunning.

The area was gazetted as a national park in October 1953. It consists of reserves that were established as early as 1887 in order to protect the area's significant vegetation and landscape. Considering most of the park is alpine terrain, it is easily accessible. Access to Mount Cook village is via the well-surfaced highway 80. The highway skirts the shoreline of the pristine turquoise-blue glacial Lake Pukaki.

Boring factual stuff about Aoraki Mount Cook

  • This is New Zealand's greatest alpine park extending across 70,696 hectares encompassing the countries highest mountains (19 peaks over 3000 metres) and largest glaciers (covering 40 per cent of the area).
  • At 28 km in length, Lake Tasman is NZ’s longest.
  • Celebrated mountaineer and New Zealand's favourite son, Sir Edmund Hillary trained on Aoraki Mt Cook for his successful May 1953 ascent of Everest.

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