Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is part of the Southern Alps on the South Island of New Zealand. It was created in 1953 and consists of reserves that were established as early as 1887 to protect the area’s significant vegetation and landscape. Along with neighbouring parks it is a World Heritage Site. It covers little over 700 km² (170,000 acres; 270 sq mls).
According to the legend of the Ngai Tahu, the main Maori tribe of region, Aoraki was a young boy who, with his three brothers, were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. While on a sea voyage around Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, their canoe capsized on a reef. When the brothers climbed on top of their canoe, the freezing south wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island and Aoraki and his brothers became mountain peaks. Following the settlement between Ngai Tahu and the Crown in 1998, the name of the mountain was officially changed from Mount Cook to Aoraki/Mount Cook.
The mountains of the Southern Alps are considered young, less than ten million years old. They were formed by tectonic uplifting and pressure as the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates collided along the island’s western coast. They are still building at the rate 5-10 mm per year although this is countered by erosion. 19 peaks over 3,000 metres (9842.5 ft) lie within the park. One, Aoraki/Mount Cook, is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3,724 metres (12,218 ft). It consists of three summits lying south and east of the main divide, the Low Peak, Middle Peak and High Peak, with the Tasman Glacier to the east and the Hooker Glacier to the west. Glaciers cover 40% of the park area.
At 27 kilometres (16.8 mls) the Tasman Glacier is the longest in New Zealand. It starts at a height of 3,000 metres (9,842 ft) above sea level and flows into Lake Tasman where it meets the outflow of other glaciers. In 1973 there was no terminal lake, only several small meltwater ponds. Its existence now is a result of the glacier’s retreat which is becoming faster each year. It is estimated that the Tasman glacier will eventually disappear and Lake Tasman will reach a maximum size in 10 to 19 years. Although the upper reaches of the glacier are snow covered, rocks carried by it are deposited along its course as it melts and cover its lower section.
Aoraki/Mount Cook receives heavy rainfall throughout the year brought by the moisture laden westerly winds of the Roaring Forties. Most of the park however is above the tree line where vegetation is limited mainly to snow tussock grassland. Some of these grasses can grow to two metres (6.5 ft.) in height. Other plants include the Mount Cook lily, the largest buttercup in the world and large mountain daisies. Some introduced species such as the wilding pine and Russell lupin have become invasive.
While the park is home to about 40 species of birds, including the kea, the only alpine parrot, and many insects such as dragon flies and butterflies, the only animals are the introduced red deer, chamois and Himalayan tahr which can be hunted.