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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Aoraki / Mount Cook

Aoraki /Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, reaching a height of 3,754 metres / 12,316 ft. It lies in the Southern Alps, the mountain range which runs the length of the South Island. It is one of popular tourist destination and it is also a favourite challenge for mountain climbers. Aoraki/Mt Cook consists of three summits lying slightly 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.

The mountain is in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, which was gazetted in 1953 and it is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The park contains more than 140 peaks standing over 2,000 metres / 6,600 ft and 72 named glaciers, which cover 40 percent of the park's 700 square kilometres / 170,000 acres. The settlement of Mount Cook Village which is also called as The Hermitage is a tourist centre and base camp for the mountain. It is 7 km from the end of the Tasman Glacier and 12 km south of Aoraki/Mount Cook's summit.

Aoraki means "Cloud Piercer" in the Ngai Tahu dialect of the Maori language. Historically, the Maori name has been spelt Aorangi in the "canonical" Maori form.The mountain was known to Maori centuries before, the first European known to see Aoraki/Mount Cook was Abel Tasman, on December 13, 1642 during his first Pacific voyage. The English name of Mount Cook was given to the mountain in 1851 by Captain John Lort Stokes to honour Captain James Cook who first surveyed and circumnavigated the islands of New Zealand in 1770. Captain Cook did not sight the mountain during his exploration.

The Southern Alps on the South Island were formed by tectonic uplifting and pressure as the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates collided along the island's western coast. The uplifting continues, raising Aoraki/Mount Cook an average of 7 millimetres / 0.28 in each year. However, erosive forces are also powerful shapers of the mountains. The severe weather is due to the mountain's jutting into powerful westerly winds of the Roaring Forties which run around approximately 45°S latitude, south of both Africa and Australia. The Southern Alps are the first obstacle the winds encounter after South Africa and Australia, having moved east across the Southern Ocean.

The height of Aoraki/Mount Cook was established in 1881 by G. J. Roberts and in 1889 by T. N. Brodrick. Their measurements agreed closely at 12,349 feet / 3,764 m. The height was reduced by 10 metres / 33 ft when approximately 10 million cubic metres of rock and on 14 December 1991 ice fell off the northern peak.

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