Aoraki Mt. Cook

Day 165
January 27, 2013
We take leave of Evan, who has some days of bus travel ahead to get back to Auckland in time for his flight, which leaves New Zealand on January 31st, the same day ours does. 
Over breakfast a German girl shares her experiences of working and traveling through New Zealand. She finished high school in summer, and although it was her dream to spend a year here, she is completely disillusioned by her inability to earn enough to live on. As crowds of young people flood the market, the competition has increased, making it almost impossible to find well paying jobs. Employers swamped with employees desperate for work are under no obligation to pay them a decent wage. She earned only one Euro per hour while working in the kiwi orchards, and now has no choice but to return home to Germany.
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On the way to Mt. Cook, we stop briefly to see Maori rock art, some reddish brown cave paintings on the crumbling limestone cliffs, that are remarkably similar to the cave paintings we saw – Day 65 – in Sedona, Arizona. Included is an article by Guy Williams – published in the Ortago times on June 19, 2008 – about a French Anthropologist/Archeologist who is charting the sites, and hoping to raise awareness for this unique cultural heritage. Fading quickly, a concerted conservation effort will be necessary to preserve the paintings for future generations.
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The drawings in Maori rock art depict human figures, moa and bird-like figures, fish, taniwha, the huge extinct pouakai (or Haast’s Eagle), canoes, mythological figures and mysterious recurring motifs.
Maori rock art is found at more than 550 sites in the South Island and more lies hidden, waiting to be discovered. More than 95 per cent of the art is located on private land. Most sites are rarely visited.
Rock art drawings range from a single faded symbol on a weatherbeaten rock to murals up to 20m long, drawn under the overhangs of limestone outcrops.
The images are especially prolific in South Canterbury and North Otago. The density of sites in zones near Pleasant Point and Oamaru is astonishing. For example, there is a cluster of 48 sites in a 2sq km zone near Pleasant Point. Virtually every limestone outcrop has drawings.
For the past three years, a French anthropologist and behavioural archaeologist, Dr Yann-Pierre Montelle, has been methodically mapping, describing and photographing the South Island’s Maori rock art.
He does this fieldwork for the Ngai Tahu Maori Rock Art Trust, a non-profit organisation established to protect and manage the sites. The project is called Simrap (South Island Maori Rock Art Project) which involves using the data to create an electronic database that will form the basis of protection and conservation measures at the sites and a resource for ongoing research.
The trust is developing a tourism operation, the Maori Rock Art Centre (expected to open in Timaru’s Landing Service building early next year), to provide funding for this work.
Dr Montelle (44) has lived in Christchurch with his New Zealand wife for the past three years. He first learned about Simrap from Lady Fiona Elworthy, whom he met while visiting a rock art site on her family’s Craigmore Station soon after arriving in the country.
A specialist in human behaviour in caves, he lectures on cave art archaeology and human evolution at the University of Canterbury, as well as spending about three months a year researching rock and cave art in Australia and Europe.
He believes the reason why New Zealanders know so little about Maori rock art is that it was discovered by Europeans at a time of ‘‘antiquarianism”, when the drawings were dismissed as ‘‘doodles”, difficult to understand and a less interesting manifestation of Maori culture than artefacts like tools or sites such as pa.
Although fieldworkers had collected pieces since the late 19th century, they were not considered beautiful enough to be prominently displayed in museums, he said.
Forgotten treasure: Until the 1990s, Maori rock art suffered from public ignorance and a lack of scientific inquiry, French anthropologist and behavioural archaeologist Dr Yann-Pierre Montelle says.
As a result, Maori rock art had suffered from public ignorance and a lack of scientific inquiry.
‘‘There has been very little work done here, so there is nothing to show.
‘‘On the world map of rock art, there is no dot on New Zealand. One of my jobs is to put the dot on that map.
‘‘People around the world are just starting to get very interested in it.”
The only reference book on Maori rock art – Michael Trotter and Beverley McCulloch’s 36-year-old Prehistoric Rock Art in New Zealand – was dated, Dr Montelle said.
Dr Montelle will contribute to a couple of books being produced by the trust over the next few years, one of which he expects will be a photographic work accessible to non-academic readers.
Dr Montelle’s fieldwork is building on the work started in 1990 by archaeologists Brian Allingham and Atholl Anderson.
So far he has visited and catalogued about 200 of the South Island’s 550 known sites. He usually spends three days at a time in the field, spending anywhere between an hour to two days mapping and documenting a single site.
Using a GPS receiver and laser distance meter, he fixes the location of each site, then collects distance and angle data, all of which is transmitted to a wireless handheld computer.
At the end of each trip, back in the office, he uploads the data on to a computer to create a map that shows the position of each drawing within a site, then plots the sites on a Google Earth map.
This is complemented by high-resolution photographs and detailed written descriptions of each drawing.
Within two years, he expects to have mapped all known sites.
The real fun would begin when the database was complete, Dr Montelle said. It would form the basis of attempts to answer the big questions hanging over the rock art: Who drew them? When? And why?
The drawings might have started with the first wave of people into the South Island between 700 and 1000 years ago.
Although it was impossible to know their intent, Dr Montelle thought their early motive to draw was purely functional, to make ‘‘spatial markers”- in other words, road signs.
‘‘People who are walking the land, looking for things, finding things – you create a story for a specific area to help you remember it.”
He believed the markers were gradually elaborated on, made to depict local mythology and, perhaps, the genealogy of the sites’ visitors.
Interpreting the meanings of drawings made after contact with Europeans could be informed by the memories of descendants living today.
However, drawings made before this were beyond interpretation, Dr Montelle said.
The best academics could do was make propositions and test these with scientific analysis.
One of the most exciting prospects for the future of research into Maori rock art was the opportunity to situate it in an international context, he said. Comparative analysis of rock art found on islands in the Pacific Ocean could improve knowledge of migratory patterns. One of the best ways of learning more about the image makers and their movements was to analyse the charcoal and red and yellow ochre pigments they used, he said.
Some drawings were made using dry pigments, which had made them especially prone to disintegration and fading.
Other drawings were made with oil binders mixed into the pigments to make them longer lasting, suggesting a desire on the part of the image makers to pass on their stories to their descendants.
Because Dr Montelle visited sites that were rarely visited, he approached them with the attitude of a forensic analyst.
‘‘When I go to a site, I more or less go to a crime scene.”
There were no big clues, so he looked for the little clues – to electron microscopic level.
Dr Montelle said South Canterbury people should treasure the rock art as a fragile cultural asset.
‘‘It gives South Canterbury a universal dimension, because rock art is universal.
‘‘It’s a proto language – the first form of language that was purposely placed to be read. If you don’t protect it, it’s gone.”
Because of the natural ‘‘exfoliation” of limestone, many of the drawings were in an advanced state of degradation. Unlike the cave drawings of Australia and Europe, they were exposed to the weather and would slowly continue to fade away. Few were fenced off from stock, which sheltered in the same overhangs the image makers chose for their drawings, he said.
Dr Montelle said Timaru’s Maori rock art centre would help Ngai Tahu remedy this lack of protection, both financially and by raising awareness.
Although he believed being a foreigner was an advantage for his fieldwork, he believed the only people who could fully appreciate the rock art were the descendants of those who created it.
‘‘It must be amazing to come and see a moment in time of your ancestor, just a few generations down the line.”
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The weather is splendid, and the breath-taking sight of Mt. Cook’s snow covered peaks rising up from Lake Pukakai’s turquoise colored surface defies description. 
As an awareness and respect for Moari culture evolves, increasingly the original names for places and sights, once displaced by the English ones, are being reincorporated. In 1851 John Lort Stokes named the highest peak of the Southern Alps in honor of James Cook, the first European explorer to circumnavigate New Zealand. Interestingly, James Cook never saw the mountain peak that carries his name. Aoraki means something like ‘cloud piercer’, and was, according to Moari legend, the eldest of Sky Father’s four sons. Once, while the boys were canoeing around Earth Mother, their canoe ran aground on a reef and tipped them into the water. Climbing onto it for safety, they froze to death in the bitter southern winds. Their canoe became the South Island, Aoroki – the tallest of the boys and its highest mountain peak, and his younger brothers the Southern Alps.
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The Aoraki Mt Cook Village is situated in a wide glacial valley and offers visitors a wide range of accommodation: luxurious hotel rooms, self-contained motel units, Swiss-style chalets, a Youth Hostel and a picturesque campsite. There are numerous activity options: boat tours to the Tasman glacier, guided walking tours, 4WD tours into inaccessible valley sites, hiking tracks, mountain bike trails, flights over the National Park, and to the top of Aoraki Mt Cook, heliskiing, glacier skiing, ski touring, avalanche courses, guided winter hikes on snowshoes, tours on nordic skis, a museum documenting the history of mountain climbing in Southern Alps at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a planetarium equipped with 3D effects, and star gazing under one of the few remaining dark skies in the world.
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We leave our car in the parking lot of the Hermitage, an immense sprawling building, and after weighing the options, book a simple double room in the attic of the Youth Hostel.
DSCN5344Having just missed a 3D film on Sir Hillary’s life, we take in the simple exhibition in the museum, consisting mainly of mountaineering paraphernalia; clothing, hiking boots, cleats, ropes, parkas and backpacks. Having grown up accustomed to modern materials and specialized sports clothing, the mountaineer equipment used during the late 19th to mid-20th centuries is surprisingly primitive. A series of photos document Edmund Hillary’s highly unusual life.
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Tall and gangly, lacking the physique normally associated with mountain climbers, his life and accomplishments are astonishing and read like something from The Guinness Book of World Records. This biography is copied fromYour Dictionary:

1919
On July 20, 1919 Edmund Percival Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand.
1920
Hillary’s family moved to Tuakau.
1935
Hillary went on school trip to Mount Ruapehu and is exposed to climbing.
1939
Hillary completed his first major climb. He reached the peak of Mount Ollivier with his friend Tenzing Norgay.
1948
Hillary climbed to the south ridge of Aoraki to Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak.
1949
Hillary went to Switzerland to climb in the Alps.
1951
Hillary participated in a reconnaissance expedition to Everest.
1952
Hillary was part of the team that tried unsuccessfully to climb the Cho Oyu.
1953
On May 29, Hillary and Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Hillary is knighted by Queen Elizabeth and becomes Sir Edmund Hillary.
He married Louise Mary Rose.
1955 – 1958
Hillary joined the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition to become the first group that crossed Antarctic over land, via the South Pole. Hillary was the first man to reach both of the poles of the Earth.
1975
His wife Louise and his daughter Belinda were killed in an airplane crash.
1977
Hillary led a group of explorers to trace the route of the Ganges River from the Himalayas to the mouth of the river.
He founded the Himalayan Trust to finance humanitarian efforts for the Sherpas including building schools and hospitals and helping in conservation efforts.
1985
Hillary was appointed the New Zealand High Commissioner to India.
1989
Hillary married June Mulgrew.
1990
Hillary’s son Peter climbed to the summit of Mount Everest.
1992
Hillary’s picture appears on the New Zealand five dollar note, making him the first New Zealander to appear on money during his lifetime.
2008
On January 11, Hillary died in Aukland City of heart failure.
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My favorite photo shows Hillary and his friend and partner Tenzing Norgay after climbing Mt Everest in 1953. 
Some books lying on a table in front of a wall onto which 121st Psalm has been painted:
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
depict the lives of mountaineers lost while climbing in the Southern Alps. Most of them were experienced guides leading expeditions, caught unexpectedly and buried by avalanches. 
A melancholy depression settles over us as we turn the pages of two books filled with lost lives. It’s impossible to imagine a siren so seductive that climbers are willing to forfeit their lives in order to answer a call luring them up inhospitable mountain sides for a brief fleeting thrill.
Of the three tracks prepared by the DOC – Department of Conservation – their length, grade of difficulty and high points all succinctly described, we choose the Hooker Valley Track. Traversing the Hooker River on two swing bridges, it leads up to the Hooker Glacier terminal lake, a four hour round trip.
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It is a perfect day to be out in such splendid surroundings, the sun is burning hot, the air crystal clear, and it’s fantastic to stretch our legs after spending entirely too much time in a car seat. Instead of the green glowing ice I’d envisioned, the glacier looks tired and dirty and runs into a muddy lake, in which stray pieces of broken ice jut through its surface.
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The track is crowded and we get caught on a swing bridge behind an incredibly slow group of Indians. Thinking they are afraid of heights, we wait patiently as they traverse it at a snail’s pace. On firm ground they are no quicker, and every stone and small impediment – the only fun parts left on prepared tracks – slows them to a stand-still where they hang onto one another for dear life. Having just seen the super-human challenges mountaineers master, it’s sobering to observe that even the ability to walk on a flat wide path atrophies with lack of use.
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Leaving Christof – who says he’s too exhausted to join me – behind at the hostel, I drive up to the Hermitage for a star-gazing course at 10:00 p.m. just as the light is fading from the evening sky. It’s frustrating to spend a whole hour inside looking at a film beamed onto the ceiling of the observatory while the real stars glitter invitingly in the vast, black sky overhead. When I leave the observatory an hour later however, I know to find the Southern Cross and feel my heart jump when I spot it for the first time.
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