Story: South Canterbury places
Page 1 – Aoraki/Mt Cook
Godley Glacier and River
The Godley River flows from the Godley Glacier into the head of Lake Tekapo. The mountains at the head of the Godley were set aside as a reserve in 1927, and were included in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park when it was established in 1953. The highest peak at the head of the Godley, Mt D’Archiac (2,865 metres) is sometimes mistaken for Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Aoraki/Mt Cook (3,754 metres) is the highest of New Zealand’s mountains. Named after it are a national park and a tourist settlement in the lower Hooker Valley. The settlement is also known as the Hermitage, after the main tourist hotel.
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park has five major glaciers. Most of the highest peaks are on the park’s boundary with the Westland National Park, but Aoraki/Mt Cook itself lies just east of this. The no-exit road to the Aoraki/Mt Cook settlement follows the west side of Lake Pūkaki and the Tasman River. Mt Cook Station, one of the Mackenzie Country’s historic sheep runs (it has been in the hands of the Burnett family since 1864), is on the opposite side of the Tasman Valley.
Race to the top
Hearing that the English climber Edward FitzGerald aimed to be the first to reach Aoraki/Mt Cook’s summit, three New Zealanders vowed to beat him to it. Early on Christmas morning 1894 they launched their final assault. Tom Fyfe recalled: ‘I am afraid that the reckless way we romped over those last rocks was very foolhardy; but one would indeed need to be phlegmatic not to get a little excited on such an occasion.’ 1 The outfoxed FitzGerald consoled himself by making maiden climbs to the summits of Mt Sefton and Mt Tasman.
At 27 kilometres, the Tasman Glacier is New Zealand’s longest and largest glacier. It starts below the Tasman Saddle and flows south-west along the eastern flank of the Mt Cook Range.
Below Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, the Hochstetter Icefall flows into the Tasman Glacier from a huge snowfield known as the Grand Plateau. Since the late 19th century, ice melt has created a lake at the end of the glacier. The Tasman River, which flows from the glacier into Lake Pūkaki, is also fed by melt-water from the Murchison, Hooker and Mueller glaciers.