Mao Tse-Tung once said that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” but I bet he never hiked up Mueller Hut at Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand. It’s not like we weren’t warned. Janneke, Julian and I were on our road trip around the South Island when we took an impromptu detour to Lake Tekapo and then Mount Cook as they were scheduled for the other leg of the journey.
Spontaneous as it was, when we rocked up at Mount Cook, it was already noon, plus we hadn’t done much research so we headed to the information desk. There, the nice lady told us that we should hurry up because it was a six-hour hike and advised to rug up as it gets very cold at the top. She also enquired about our fitness level and Julian replied that we hiked Abel Tasman.
When she said that Mueller Hut was a 1,000-metre climb and therefore considerably more challenging than Abel Tasman, Janneke and I glanced at each other doubtfully, but Julian is German and therefore superhuman, so he replied we were fit enough.
Just the fact that the three of us had been sleeping in a car for days contested that fact. My spine was more twisted than Donald Trump’s mind.
I started the journey with more enthusiasm than a cheerleader, singing songs like Heidi and freaking people out like pre-Halloween clowns. As I walked, I filmed the start of the journey as happy as a clam, with the assurance that if we died, at least one of my videos would go viral. That explains why, on one of my shots, I sound ecstatic when I see an avalanche.
Whether we made it back or not, one thing was for sure, New Zealand’s dramatic scenery never disappoints. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure that what you are looking at is real and you didn’t just hit yourself and are now in the middle of a wonderful dream. This is the only country in the world that has completely hypnotised me with its magnificence.
The view was breathtaking, the exercise was breathtaking… The fact that we didn’t suffocate still remains a mystery.
After the plain, surrounded by vegetation, you start to climb wooden steps that probably inspired Led Zeppelin to compose Stairway to Heaven because that’s where they were headed. You could look up and see no end to them. Step by step, we reached higher grounds to be fascinated by the majestic snowed in Mount Cook; the rays of sunshine would hit the white snow that was so bright it would sparkle. Below, there was a misty greyish blue lake that ran through the valleys of the mountains. As you follow its trail with your eyes, the view of the blue skies framing the snowed in mountains and the streams sculpting the field will fill you with awe.
Atreyu’s steps were starting to get a hold of me thus I started to rush to get them over with and left Julian and Janneke behind. As my calves were aching, my heart was racing and my cheeks were burning, I decided to take a break, therefore I sat on the steps to wait for my companions. In the meantime, I wondered why they take celebrities to a deserted island and call it “Survivors.” That’s not survival, that’s holidays. This mountain is striving for survival and there’s no prize at the top; it is self-inflicted.
My travel mates caught up with me and then I found out that Janneke had been a bit dizzy and that is why they took longer, so they sat with me and we all ate protein bars. While we waited, I stopped a girl that was going down and asked her if she made it to the top.
“I didn’t make it to the top,” she said, “but I met someone who did and he said the views were incredible.”
“We could just Google them,” I said in the most cynical tone you’ve ever heard.
She thought that was a funny remark, so I had to clarify. “I’m not fit enough to keep going up.”
“Don’t you do steps back at home?”
“The only steps I know are The Twelve Steps of AA and they don’t prepare you for this.”
There was no room to whinge, so we all gathered our strength and stood up. We kept going up and on the steps we saw a sign carved on the wood that read: “1,000 steps left.” I contented myself that at least the end was within sight and continued on.
Hundreds of steps afterwards I found the same sign: “1,000 steps left”
“WHAT KIND OF SICK JOKE IS THIS? I was actually counting down.
I threw my stuff on the ground and sat down to catch my breath. Janneke and Julian sat next to me to have a rest.
“This is a very challenging hike,” I said. “I’m sure that only very fit people make it to the top.”
It must have been a joke from some Greek God with a cruel sense of humour because right then and there, two American men – who must have been about 60 year old – stopped to cheer me on and inform me that we were only 45 minutes away from the top. I thanked them earnestly but once they were gone, I wondered who put them up to this.
Soon after, the steps were over and we met a new challenge. We had to climb a very steep and unstable rocky hill. Janneke and Julian both were wearing hiking shoes which assured them a good grip of the ground, whereas I was wearing sneakers and they were slippery death traps.
After almost dying many times from sliding those rocks, we finally made it to the top. The sun was starting to set behind the mountains and the rays of light were hitting the peak of Mount Cook creating the most enthralling illusion. The immensity of my surroundings overpowered me and it hit me that, as a heavy-metal-hard-rock child, this was the closest I’ll ever be to Heaven. As the wind blew strong and hard, I stood up and fear overtook me. Perhaps this wasn’t the best time to find out I suffered from vertigo. Thus I sat down next to my companions and we ate carrots and bananas.
There is nothing like the feeling of completing this challenge. It was a long way to the top, but it’s worth it if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll, right AC/DC? However, the trip wasn’t over yet. We still had to make it back and soon before it became dark. We were some of the last ones on that mountain.
If I thought it was slippery climbing up, that was nothing compared to going down. Every step was like Final Destination. What? After being a backpacker for so long and eating all of that peanut butter, if I slipped, I was going to roll down like a snow ball and would probably take all the hikers with me. Just picture the headlines!
I was going down cautiously, exerting a Vulcan Death Grip on the rocks, when Julian calls out at me:
“Claudia, come on. You can do it. Do you want me to carry your backpack for you?” with a smile on his face and acting all smug.
“Yeah. Just stand on the edge and I’ll throw it at you.”
I thought ‘what is he going on about? When we were going up, I was the one leading the way and I wasn’t bragging about it. I’m slow because I’m not wearing hiking shoes and I don’t enjoy pain.’ Sorry Julian, but you know it’s true.
It looked like I was going to live after all once I reached the steps. Going down was a piece of cake. It felt amazing to have accomplished that task so I said: “If I did this hike every day, I would be super fit.”
Then Julian said: “Then why don’t you?”
I gave him a hostile look. Do you have a death wish? Anthony Hopkins would have been proud.
When we made it to the car park, some people on a jeep yelled something at us but none of us understood what they said, so I said: YOUR MOTHER. My friends gave me a reprimand look. I defended myself and said: “What? 75% chances that that comeback is right on.
Our plan for that night was to camp somewhere. I didn’t want to complain but luckily Janneke spoke out and voiced out my thoughts: “Why don’t we go to a hostel tonight?” I felt like I really loved her then and I’m not gay, not even a little.
Apart from all the complaints, that hike is amazing and a must-do if you visit NZ South Island. I’m not going to lie, my calves were burning that night, but my fitness level was not great at the time. At least now I exercise more because my remote broke so I have to get up every time I need to change the channel.
From the bottom of my heart, I hope you visit Mount Cook National Park. The magical experience and the mesmerising views will stay with you for the rest of your life.