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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Mount Cook

Mount Cook.

Our next trip must be to the grandest old mountain of New Zealand, Mount Cook, whose snow-clad sides and heights may be seen for hundreds of miles. We embark on the New Zealand Government Railway at Dunedin, and, having secured for our party a carriage of the latest design, and which is simply luxurious, we have a pleasant journey of 120 miles, accomplished in seven hours to Timaru. Putting up at a commodious hotel, we start early next morning for Fairlie Creek, a distance of thirty-seven and a half miles, occupying two hours and three-quarters by rail. This is by far the easiest and most expeditious way of reaching this region. Speedily seated behind four spanking greys, comfortably ensconced in our rugs, we are bowling over a smooth gravel road on our way to Aorangi (the cloud-piercer). Arriving at Lake Tekapo we alight, and stretch our limbs preparatory to partaking of a good lunch at the half-way house. The calm placid waters of the lake reflect the dark and light outlines of the mountain chains in the background, and the fleecy clouds above them.

We change horses, and dash away over the dreary yellow wastes of the McKenzie Plains, and as the sun sets we sight the waters of Lake Pukaki, on whose banks our hotel is situate. As we alight from our long ride of fifty-six miles, we see far up the valley rising from the Tasman Flats, the great mass of Mount Cook. After a hearty though homely tea, we stroll out in the moonlight to have a further look at the grand old mountain, and the lake at our feet. A brief walk satisfies us, as we are tired by our journey, and speedily we retire for the night, and are safe in the arms of Morpheus. Next morning, refreshed by our repose, we breakfast early, and are page 48 speedily on the road again. We soon arrive at the ferry of the Pukaki River, where a wire rope stretches across, the boat being worked by the current. Our road lies over the tussocky downs of a sheep run till we enter the bed of an old river which has ceased to flow, probably owing to the diminution of the Tasman Glacier. Up this river bed the road is formed by utilising an old bullock dray track, and the engineer has succeeded well if his object was to make the road long and rough. An amusing story is told by the driver of a tourist, who excitedly asked the Jehu to pull up, and, dismounting, took a close scrutiny of the construction of the vehicle. On being asked what was the matter, he replied, "0h, nothing; I merely wished to see if your wheels were square." A good few of the tourists are apt to come to a similar conclusion before this spot is safely left behind. There is no half-way house at which we can lunch on the trip from Lake Pukaki to the Hermitage, so we rest at a little patch of scrub close to a clear stream of water, and eat our sandwiches quietly at the dog's grave, which was erected in memory of a favourite who met an untimely death, and has been honoured with a tombstone, epitaph and railed fence.

As we proceed we get grand views of Aorangi, St. David's Dome, De la Beche, and Elie de Beaumont, and as we approach the Hermitage, a distant view of the Tasman Glacier is obtained, and we also can make out the white ice of the Hochstetter coming down into it from the left of Mount Cook. The Hermitage is nicely situated at the foot of the Moraine of the Mueller Glacier, now covered with bush, and from the windows the steep sides of Mount Sefton, with its wondrous hanging glaciers, are plainly seen. The Mueller and Hooker Glaciers are within easy reach of the hotel, while further a field is the Great Tasman and Murchison Glaciers. It would be impossible to describe the scenery of the various excursions available to the tourist from this interesting spot, where large glaciers run down to within 2,000 feet of the sea level, while luxuriant vegetation, native trees, bright with blossoms, a wealth of fern and alpine flowers all conspire to delight and cheer the visitor. But we must join in an excursion to the wonders of the Ice King, so with tents, ice axes, sleeping bags, and provisions, we start off. We are speedily on the banks of the Hooker River, which roars over its loose boulders and dashes page 49 itself savagely into foam. Means are provided for crossing the tumultuous waters—a wire rope has been stretched from bank to bank, high up, and on this rope a narrow cage dangles over the fearful torrent. Seated herein we resolutely forget our nerves, and pull on the rope, by which we draw ourselves steadily over to the opposite side in safety, and give a sigh of relief accordingly. We have much toiling and climbing and many experiences; our labours are, however, rewarded by the most charming sights, and our rest in our sleeping bags, under the tent, is undisturbed, even by the rattling of the avalanches.

We now stand on the Great Tasman Glacier, which is the largest in New Zealand, being 18 miles long, with an average width of I mile II chains—above us the gleaming ice slopes and dark precipices of Mount Cook, which culminates in a tent-shaped ridge, 8,000 feet higher than where we stand. The Hochsteller Glacier is, perhaps, the grandest of the sights to be seen in these southern alps. It issues (says Ross) forth from the great ice plateau at the foot of the precipices of Mount Cook, descending in a wonderful cascade of broken ice 4,000 feet high. Down from the great ice plateau, between the south-eastern spur of Mount Cook and the Tasman Spur, the Hochsteller icefall poured its beautifully-coloured cascade of broken ice in spires, and tubes, and pinnacles. Every few moments great masses of ice were broken off, and went thundering down the steep declivities and awful precipices below. We are surrounded with marvellous peaks and glaciers too numerous and beautiful for particularisation. We leave this wondrous region by a different route. Taking a buggy, we drive past the lovely scenery of Lake Ben Ohan and the mountains of that name, and arrive at Omarama, and from thence by coach to Kurow, whence by train we arrive at Oamaru,