Time has flown by so quickly here. I cannot believe it has been a week since the last blog, much less seven weeks since I left home and began this journey. My weekends are filling up fast with loads of activities, and I am continuing to make new friends every day. My first assignments in my classes have come and gone, and I still feel very little pressure in regards to schoolwork.
This past weekend a group of nine of us traveled to Twizel. On Friday, the group of us who did not have class packed up and left in the morning. We checked into our Air B&B (which was fabulous!) and then went into town to find some lunch. I had the best salmon burger I have ever had, and then we walked around the tiny town square. We went into a couple of shops and ended up playing with the giant chess set outside. Some of us then went over to Lake Ruataniwha to get our feet wet and play some Frisbee. We found a little playground and went for a swing. The second group arrived that night and we played some card games and ate dinner together.
Saturday morning, we packed up and headed over to Mount Cook National Park. The road from Twizel to Mount Cook was absolutely breathtaking! The snow on the peaks of the mountains was beautiful, and Mount Cook stood up above the neighboring peaks. The Lake Pukaki was also absolutely stunning. Its water was incredibly blue and clear. Once we got into the National Park, we stopped at the visitor center to have a look around. The center was really cool and had some artifacts like old hiking boots and ice picks. At 9, we drove over to the carpark for the Mueller Hut/Sealy Tarns hike and went on our way.
I cannot emphasize enough how many stairs there were. We walked about twenty minutes to the first stair and then it took us an hour and a half to reach the lookout point, where the stairs finally ended. I had read about the stairs, but nothing could have prepared me for this. It is supposedly around 2200 stairs, but it sure felt like more. It was a relief to get past the stairs and to take a break at the stunning lookout point. After this, the trail turned into an alpine rock trail, and it was pretty exposed. We did some scrambling as well, but this was more exciting than the mundane stairs. The vegetation kept getting shorter and smaller until finally, all there was were rocks. We made it to the crest of the mountain and took a short break here where you could see the mountain behind us. There were huge glaciers and stunning waterfalls all over this mountain.
We kept trekking on to the Mueller hut. The cute red hut had some fresh (and cold!) water for us to drink with our lunches and take a much-deserved break. Four of the nine continued on another thirty minutes of scrambling to see the viewpoint from the very top, a 360-degree view that literally took my breath away. It was so worth the extra little hike. We made it back to the hut and gathered the rest of our group. Going down was very fun, but worked even more muscles. By the time we had made it to the stairs, we did not want to lose our momentum, so we took very few breaks. Once we reached the last stair we celebrated a bit before finishing the hike. We did really well on time (much faster than the trail estimated) and were back at our car leaving the park at 4.
We wanted to do the Hooker Valley Track as well, but it was closed due to heavy rains and one of the bridges was out. So we left Mount Cook and headed into town. We took turns showering, made some dinner, and then had an awesome and relaxing game night. The next morning we had a huge pancake brunch and packed our bags. We went to a couple of rivers and ponds and then headed over to grab some lunch. We left Twizel and started back to Dunedin. We made a couple of pit stops along the way. The first one was the Elephant Rocks. These huge boulders were featured in the Narnia movies and were really cool in person. The second pit stop was at the Moeraki boulders. These were very round boulders that are right on the beach and are a popular tourist destination for photos. A few minutes away was the Katiki point lighthouse. Here we saw some penguins (!), sea lions, seals, and of course all sorts of birds. This was such an amazing way to end the trip and I am so happy that everything turned out so well. It was supposed to rain and storm most of the weekend, but I am happy to say that once again we have been blessed with amazing weather.
I still cringe every time I have to walk up or down a set of stairs, but the soreness is a reminder of how much fun the hike was and how amazing our bodies are. They carried us up a freaking mountain! I am utterly in awe of New Zealand, no matter where I go, and I hope to see much more of it!