In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

The invisible chief

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From:       Kirstie
Subject:   The invisible chief
  Date:         20th December 2004
     Lake Tekapo, MacKenzie Country, New Zealand


We travelled fifty kilometres down a one way road to get there. We trailed the children up the Tasman and Hooker valleys, stumbling over rocks and scree to find a place where we could view it. We enquired about a helicopter to take us above its' shroud. We sneaked into the panoramic glass lift at the alpine resort hotel and whizzed up and down ten floors, our noses pressed against the window for a sudden glimpse. We camped overnight under its' glacier, and waited for it to show itself. But only the snow came in the night and our toes froze in our sleeping bags. In the morning I went for a walk in the long wet grass, snow sprinkled like baby powder under my feet. Still no sign. Mount Cook was an elusive creature. The Maori have a saying about the cloud that often surrounds the mountain they named Aoraki. "It is for Aoraki to choose when to emerge from his cloak of mist, a power and influence beyond mortals. Aoraki does not always 'come out' for visitors to see just as a great chief is not always giving audience or 'on show.'" Just as Aoraki kept himself to himself during our camp in his shadows, he remained hidden as we travelled back to Twizel, disappointed by our luck.

Three days later we camped on the banks of Lake Pukaki. In the distance Aoraki and his brother mountains towered behind their cloak of cloud. It was a wild, wild camp. The wind hammered at the shelter we had constructed from a groundsheet and two trees. The lake lay cold and unwelcoming beside us, its' rocky beach grey and lifeless. Stuart cooked dinner (six packets of instant noodles) while holding up the ground sheet and clutching our four precious plastic plates that the wind constantly threatened to take. We set up the tent in a hollow with little shelter from the wind and huddled inside. At darkness Stuart nipped out too the loo and came back complaining, "Would you believe it, there's nothing for miles around and someone has camped just forty metres away from us."

The morning after and the sun warmed the tent

In the morning the wind had dropped. The sun warmed the tent, and beads of condensation adorned the inner. We had planned an early start to get a few kilometres under our belt by breakfast. Stuart opened the tent, and let out a long whistle, "Come and meet the new neighbours Kirst." Expecting to come face to face with our fellow campers, I stumbled like a mole, out of the canvas opening. And there it was; Mount Cook, dominating the horizon. Its' peaks sharp; it's centre sagging like an old armchair; shimmering with virgin snow. Aoraki had emerged from his cloak of mist, and the effect was spellbinding. A reluctant procession of sleepy toddlers rubbed their eyes in the sunlight, took one quick look at the mountain and then asked "Where's my muesli?" But in the cold morning air, as the long shadows withdrew from the lake, Stuart and I were able to see clearly the power and beauty of this special mountain. For just a few moments.

The great white chief grants a rare audience

Then, our audience over, Aoraki disappeared like the great chief retiring to his tent. But the wind was in our wheels all the way to Lake Tekapo; energised by this rare meeting with the immortal power of Aoraki.



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