Climbing the Stairway to Heaven at Aoraki/Mount Cook
Aoraki/Mount Cook is NZ’s highest mountain and lies in an outstandingly beautiful national park, along with another 18 snowcapped peaks over 3,000m, multiple waterfalls and permanent glaciers.
One of the most famous walks in the park is the Hooker Valley track (an easy 3 hrs return). It leads past Mueller Lake, crosses three swing bridges and ends at the relatively young, milky-grey Hooker Lake, which lies at the foot of Mount Cook. This proglacial lake started to form in the late 1970s due to the retreat of the Hooker glacier, which can be spotted at its far side. The lake’s temperature is typically lower than 2°C and you can see a few icebergs floating in the freezing cold water. However, that didn’t stop two young lads having a (very) short dip in the lake!
After returning from the Hooker Valley track we also scaled the (in)famous Stairway to Heaven. 2200 steps that lead to Sealy Tarns, a little fresh water lake high in the mountain. From there you are rewarded with a stunning view over Hooker valley, icy glaciers and vertical rock faces.
Sealy tarns (fresh water lake) | Stairway to Heaven with view towards Lake Pukaki
Sealy Tarns marks the halfway point of the Mueller Hut track which leads up to 1,800m through tussock and rough land of the mostly snow-clad Sealy mountain range. However being short on time we skipped that part. That however, is another reason to return!