Glaciers, icebergs and a birthday.
The departure from Queenstown was a milestone in that we had passed the high point in the frenetic Stray Tour schedule and the majority of us started our wind-downs towards onward flights from Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland.
The journey to our overnighter at Mount Cook took us back into the mountains and through some incredible scenery - particularly because the scale of the terrain was simply enormous. What were described as "tussock hills" were in reality massive undulations in the earths surface, diminished to "normal" in one's mind only because of the lack of anything manmade which could act as a yardstick of measurement. When the odd telegraph pole was spotted it was so insignificant in the wider scheme of things that it barely registered.
The nature of the terrain is such that, once Mt Cook comes into view, it is constantly part of the horizon, regardless of the twists and turns that the road has to take.
Our arrival at the fantastic acommodation in mid-afternoon gave us sufficient time to book in and then embark on a walk to see a glacier which runs into a small lake. The route crossed all terrains and, rather fortunately, afforded most of us with a clear view of an avalanche on the middle slopes of the mountain - another first for the Fool. Whilst watching at some distance was pretty cool it was the sound of the event which really made an impact as, despite our being some kilometres away, the crack and rumble of the event reverberated around the mountains making it seem very close by. Although we only saw one avalanche there were several others that we heard but could not see, a reminder of the potential dangers of hiking in the avalanche season.
Along with the views the walk gave us the opportunity to forge new friendships along the way, discovering the hidden skills and talents of our companions. One such person is the amazing Liz from Holland who, during our trek, revealed her professional acomplishments (a criminal defence lawyer and subsequently a university lecturer) along with a surprising number and variety of other talents (a love of all forms of dancing, a very short term cougar, tarot card reading and a professional belly dancer!!) and her wonderfully individual and engaging personality.
Having returned from the walk we celebrated the birthday of one of our two Taiwanese ladies, Mira Lo, with a choccie cake organised by ET, washed down with an ice cold beer.
Next morning there was just enough time to visit the Edmund Hillary museum which, whilst compact, provides a very real and understated account of the build up to Hillary and Tensing scaling the Everest peak. With some of the original vehicles on display and a small 3D cinema this tribute to a very humble man and his epic achievement is a must-see part of the Mount Cook experience.
Sadly all too soon it is back on the bus to head towards Lake Tekapo across the flatlands of the South Island.