According to Maori Legend, Aoraki Mount Cook and the surrounding peaks that make up the Southern Alps were formed after Aoraki and his three brothers set out on a voyage around the earth. Their canoe struck a reef and left the brothers stranded in the ocean. They climbed on top of their canoe to survive, but the cold south wind froze them and turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island of New Zealand and Aoraki and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps. The tallest of the brothers, Aoraki, formed the highest peak.
Aoraki Mount Cook sits at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) and is the highest mountain in New Zealand. The surrounding national park, named after the famous peak, is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and for good reason. It is the “home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. It is alpine in the purest sense - with skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snow fields, all set under a star-studded sky” (newzealand.com).
I have been living in Mount Cook Village for about 3 months and I continue to be amazed by the beauty in this area. I often find myself staring outside at the crystal clear glacier I can see from my living room. During my late night walks home from work, my neck becomes sore as I gaze straight up into the twinkling, starlit sky.
The same national park that draws people in with its beauty and scenery also attracts people in search of adventure and adrenaline. The park is a playground for climbers, hikers, and mountaineers. It’s easy to forget that somewhere so peaceful and awe-inspiring can be so dangerous. A visit to the Department of Conservation information center is a quick reminder of the relentless and unpredictable environment in which we live. Four folders, dating back more than 100 years, list all of the fatalities that have occurred within in the national park. To date, there have been more than 230 fatalities recorded making this the deadliest national park in New Zealand.
Living here has served as another reminder of the power of nature. She is harsh, unabating, persistent, uncompromising; She is beautiful, inspiring, empowering, calming.