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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 2 (June, 1926)

High Places in the Southern Alps

page 34

High Places in the Southern Alps

The mountains stand and laugh at Time;
They pillar up the Earth,
They watch the ages pass, they bring
New centuries to birth.

Mount Cook, or Aorangi (Cloud-in-the-Heavens) to give it its beautiful native name, has, in the language of the poet, brought new centuries to birth—and some of the most momentous centuries that have been measured by the flight of time. Civilisations with all their long life and splendour of achievement have come and gone, and again will come and go, but still Aorangi will endure and laugh and mock at the follies of men. It is not with such musings, however, that we are concerned in this article, but rather to glimpse at the great Southern Alps and Mount Cook, towering majestically above them, and describe some of the wonder and grandeur they reveal.

Samuel Butler the famous author of “Erewhon” who had a sheep station “Mesopotamia” on the Canterbury side of the Alps more than fifty years ago was, perhaps, the first writer of distinction to direct attention to this wonderful country of glacier and eternal snow. This historic station, it is interesting to observe, is now owned by the Hon. W. Nosworthy. Nature, in all her varied forms, appealed to Samuel Butler, and in his pastoralist days he did a lot of exploring in the Mount Cook region. But the first serious exploration of the Southern Alps and Mount Cook was made by Sir Julius von Haast in March, 1862. Sir Julius was a geologist of great attainments and a charming writer. In his Geology of Canterbury and Westland he describes his first glimpse of the gigantic mountain and its environing peaks obtained from a position commanding a view of the Hooker Valley:—

Back of Mt Cook Hostel.

Back of Mt Cook Hostel.

Alpine peaks appeared everywhere glistening with snow and ice, frowning rocky precipices furrowing their sides, and above them all, the bold majestic form of Mount Cook stood out conspicuously. This was still more striking as the glorious mountain rises abruptly in the foreground for more than 10,000 feet above the broad valley, and on its western flanks it is also separated from its southern continuation by a low snow saddle. After this low saddle the Moorhouse Range rises again to a great altitude, the sharp contours of this glistening ice-clad mountain mass, standing out boldly against the azure sky of a summer day, whilst deep below it two large glaciers, one, the Hooker Glacier, coming from the southern flanks of Mount Cook, and the other the Mueller Glacier, bringing down the ice-masses from the Moorhouse Range, filled the broad lateral valleys. Nothing I had previously seen can be compared with the sublimity of the scenery which certainly has not its equal in the European Alps.

The story of great mountain peaks, of awe-inspiring glaciation, and the magic forms of snow and ice told by Sir Julius von Haast and page 35 other explorers, urges us irresistibly to see these scenes of wonder and fascination for ourselves. So we will journey first to the Hermitage—the important base for all excursions. This most comfortable and commodious hotel was erected in 1913 on the terrace at Governor's Bush (2,350 feet above sea-level), and it commands the finest view of Mount Cook that is known. This modern Hermitage has provision for tennis, golf, croquet, and all kinds of winter sport—bob-sleighing, ski-ing, skating and curling can be enjoyed there. It replaces the old Hermitage built in 1884 at the base of the Sealy Range about a quarter of a mile south of the terminal face of the Mueller Glacier, a spot which will always have a cherished place in the memory of travellers.

Looking up the Fox Glacier from Cook River Flat

Looking up the Fox Glacier from Cook River Flat

A word in passing about the tariff and accommodation at the Hermitage. This varies from 17/6 to 22/6 a day, or from 12/6 to 15/- a day for the use of a camping hut. A special reduction is made in the case where visitors stay more than one month, and a similar reduction is made throughout the months of winter. The guide fees for glacier excursions vary from 7/6 to £1 a day according to the number in the party. For the ascent of Mount Cook, Tasman or Sefton the guide fee is £5 per day per guide. Less ambitious ascents, though yet providing great fascination, are available to climbers at the rate of £2/10/- per day per guide. Horses can also be obtained at the rate of 12/6 per day. All necessary equipment (boots excepted), is provided for these excursions at the Hermitage.

To reach this alpine resort,—which is not excelled by any in the world, either in its appointments or its setting,—we travel 40 miles by rail to Fairlie which is 1,000 feet above sea level and the terminus of the branch railway from Timaru. The rail journey is full of interest, for the running is through delightful agricultural country with neat farms dotting the landscape. At Fairlie, powerful motor cars are requisitioned to complete the journey to the Hermitage. A pleasurable view of the giant peaks is obtained from Burke's Pass (2,300 feet), which is soon reached by car, and the journey onwards now provides mountain and lake scenes of incomparable beauty. Lake Tekapo (2,320 feet above the sea) is a great lake fed by the glacier streams of the Godley and the Glassen Glaciers and will one day provide electrical service to turn the wheels of industry and brighten the homes and the lives of dwellers far away. One enjoys the lunch in the bracing air at Lake Tekapo and resumes the journey to the Hermitage with increasing enthusiasm. Some thirty miles from Lake Tekapo there is Lake Pukaki. This lake is also fed by the great glaciers of Mount Cook. The great snow mantled peaks which tower to 10,000 feet about Aorangi present a magnificent spectacle, and although forty miles away, they are mirrored in the pellucid waters of this beautiful lake. Every mile of the thirty six which separates us now from the Hermitage provides vistas which we are not soon likely to forget.

(To be continued.)