Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and saying ‘yes’

After our Milford adventure, we had one more before heading over to Australia. One of our Kiwi Bus drivers had mentioned that on the Queenstown to Tekapo leg of our trip, we had the option of having the bus drop us off at a place called Twizel, where we could arrange our own transfer and accommodation for a place called Mount Cook village in Aoraki National Park. He recommended the trip for the hiking and to see New Zealand’s highest mountain up close.

We jumped at the opportunity to get a bit off the beaten track and away from the bus for a day or two. While we enjoyed travelling on the Kiwi Bus, the walks we did with them were single-file, back on the bus in 30 minutes, school trip style. We wanted to take our time and see some cool places on our own.

Blakey started looking into the hostels and transfer options, and I notified the Kiwi Experience office that we were once again changing our trip and needed to be booked on new buses. All credit to the Kiwi staff – they never got impatient or annoyed with us chopping and changing our plans, they were always really quick to sort everything out. The hop on, hop off aspect of the Kiwi Experience bus was one thing I was worried about – space on buses, being stuck on waiting lists etc – but it has been surprisingly easy to sort.

We got our transfer up to Mount Cook village with one other girl from the bus. I was surprised that more people hadn’t taken the opportunity to do something a bit different and get away from the usual crowd, but I think by this point in everyone’s trip, money was running low.

On the way to the village we passed the brilliant waters of Lake Pukaki, where Lake Town from The Hobbit was situated. It just shows how many beautiful lakes we’ve seen here that we didn’t even take a picture…

Mount Cook village itself is a tiny settlement in the national park, with hotels, hostels and a few private houses. No shops. Not much to do in the village itself. That’s because the reason you come to Mount Cook isn’t to hang around town… it’s the beautiful hikes.

Mount Cook Village from the Governor’s Walk, Aoraki National Park

It was pretty cloudy the day we arrived, so the mountain tops were obscured and the whole place looked kind of moody and brooding. We didn’t have time for a long hike but set off on the 45 minute Governor’s bush walk through the apline forest on the slopes of the nearest mountain. It’a a pretty little walk if you have only a short time, with good views over the valley and lots of nice ferny forest.

Luckily, the next day dawned with bright sunshine and pretty clear skies – perfect for the main attraction… the Hooker Valley Trail. This walk is really popular with visitors to Aoraki National Park because of it’s beautiful views the whole way along, the relative shortness (4 hour return from the village), and because it’s pretty much completely flat, making it easy and achievable for any fitness level.

Hooker Valley Trail, Aoraki National Park

We set off by 9am, which was a good shout as the trail is really popular and bus loads of tour groups descend on it by late morning. The trail winds it’s way through the valley via rocky pathways and wooden boardwalks, with the odd bridge over the river. We really enjoyed it because it seemed like there was a new spectacular view behind each new bend. The few low clouds hanging around the glaciers soon cleared for a great view of a mini avalanche up on the ice, the sound echoing around the valley.

Hooker Valley Trail, Aoraki National Park

We made it to the end of the walk – the slate grey Hooker Lake and a cracking view of Mount Cook and the glacier terminus at the end of the lake, mini icebergs floating around the glacier where they’d sheared off the main ice flow. The view points were all pretty crowded and we wanted somewhere quiet to eat our lunch, so we scrabbled over a heap of boulders until we found a secluded spot with some boulders big enough for two.

Our own private spot by the lake for lunch

I’d turned to admire the view while Blakey bent down to get his sandwiches out. I turned back to find him on one knee, ring in hand, a massive smile on his face and tears in his eyes. He asked me to marry him. I started laughing and crying and said yes. It was a perfect moment, in the best possible place.

The sneaky bugger then pulled out a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses from his backpack and we had lunch in style. It was completely surreal and totally wonderful. We were both so happy to get engaged in a country which we loved so much, it seemed the best end to our time in New Zealand.

Engaged at Mount Cook!

The hike back seemed to take no time at all after a whole bottle of bubbly, and the transfer on to Lake Tekapo flew by. Blakey had arranged the perfect end to the day for us – a lovely private room (the luxury!) and a midnight hot springs star gazing experience. Lake Tekapo is a Dark Sky Reserve, making it fantastic for star gazing. The milky way blazed overhead as we floated in the hot pools and…cheesy AF but true… we saw a shooting star.

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