Day 12 Travel Notes
It was cloudy when we started out from Christchurch to Mount Cook. We traveled through farm country with vineyards and orchards. About half way along the route we got into more uplands terrain and the sun came out again. This part of the drive was along some of the most beautiful lakes we have seen on the whole trip. Lake Tekapo and later Lake Pukaki were breathtaking. They were the most beautiful blue and blue-green that I have ever seen in a large lake. Both of these lakes are artificial, behind hydroelectric dams, but they did not have the out-of-place appearance that such reservoirs often have in the US. Probably because both are in glacial valleys that may have held smaller lakes before the dams were built.
We couldn't stop as much as we would like because we had to meet a bus for the Mount Cook Ski Plane trip to the Tasman Glacier at 3:00pm. We got to our hotel (The Hermitage) about 12:30 and checked into our room. It was on the 10th floor with a post-card view of Mt. Cook. Once settled in, we went looking for a place for lunch. The hotel was overrun with bus loads of tourists, mostly Japanese. Both of the hotel's operating restaurants were crowded and noisy. We decided to walk to another lodge which had a bar with food, but when we got there it was closed. Finally we ended at the Old Mountaineers Inn which was just what we were looking for. Not too fancy nor too crowded with a decent menu. We ate and bought a bottle of wine for later.
Once back to our room we got our stuff ready for the Ski Plane flight and made arrangements to eat in the nicer (non-buffet) dining room that night. Then off to meet the shuttle to the airport.
The airport is really tiny and the planes matched. They were Pilatus Porters - single engine ski-equipped high wingers. There were at least three that we saw and each could carry 8 passengers and the pilot. They gave us a short safety briefing then we were ready to take off. It was sunny and clear with little wind and we made an easy take-off. The plane then flew up the Tasman Glacier, climbing all the way.
The glacier and mountains below us were like nothing I have ever seen. Ice mixed with broken rock (Geological Term?) and gray sediment-filled water, flowing through braided channels. Higher up we saw the snowfields and another plane which had already landed.
The landing was a genuine adrenaline rush, not very bumpy but raising rooster-tails of slushy snow behind us. Steering on the skis must be a trick as we tended to slew around as the aircraft slowed.
Once stopped, we were able to get out on the glacier and walk around. Because it was very warm the snow was soft and slushy. We took pictures and threw a few snowballs but mostly everyone just stood in awe of the fantastic view. After about 15 minutes we got back on the plane to prepare for takeoff and return. Taking off on the downward slope of the glacier was a thrilling experience too, but we were airborne quickly and easily without a problem. The pilot said they sometimes do six flights a day so they have plenty of experience.
We flew back by a slightly different route with spectacular views of waterfalls and 'jet-boat' rafts zipping along the glacial ponds. I think Jan and I agree that this flight was the most exciting event of our trip. Anyone who visits the Mt. Cook area should certainly try it themselves.
Once we landed, a short bus trip got us back to our hotel and we relaxed and prepared for dinner. We had a nice evening with a great meal and a panoramic view of Mount Cook as the sun set.