Friday, August 15, 2008

New Zealand's beauty - and its dangers

Photo: Mount Cook National Park

Today's news that six mountain climbers believed to be Australian are missing on the Annette Plateau near Mount Cook village in New Zealand's South Island is just the latest in a long line of New Zealand bush mishaps.

New Zealand has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. I have spent many hours just looking at the southern Alps. There is something incredibly mysterious about the cold feel of those mountains stretching up into the sky.

It is almost sixteen years since I had an extended holiday in New Zealand. Prior to that date I went every two years.

I had been to Wellington on a marketing trip. We were trying to break into the New Zealand Government marketplace for consulting and training services, something that was hard because our fees were high by New Zealand standards.

After a week knocking on agency doors, I collected a car and took the ferry to the South Island. It had been cold, snowing heavily. The weather cleared, allowing the mountain passes to re-open. I drove from Christchurch to the West Coast through the just re-opened Arthur's Pass. It was quite spectacular.

I then drove south along the coast, travelling back up over the mountains to Te Anua. The last time I had been here I had walked the Milford Track.

Hearing that the road to Milford Sound had re-opened, the road is often closed by avalanche, I decided to see the area in winter.

Climbing over a ridge and looking across the snow covered land towards the Homer Tunnel I stopped the car to have a look. There was low cloud, so that the mountains and sky merged.

The road had been deserted, with not even car tracks in the light snow on the cleared road. Standing by the car in the cold, I listened to the almost continuous rumble of avalanches in the surrounding mountains. There would be a pause, and then the rumble would start again in another spot. I had never heard anything like it.

The Homer Tunnel was not far, but it was also near the centre of the most continuous noise. I stood there for ten minutes, and then turned back.

Time, I think, for a return visit to New Zealand. There were five tracks that I had planned to tramp. So far I have just done one in full, with bits of two others.


In a happy postscript, the lost group were Australian and have survived.

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