New Zealand's highest guided trek

Sir Edmund Hillary chose Mount Cook National Park as his training ground for Mount Everest, but you don't have to be a seasoned mountaineer to enjoy it.

Mount Cook National Park

When you take your first look at the Southern Alps you'll understand why Sir Edmund Hillary, a Kiwi, was so inspired.

A half day's bus ride north of Wanaka, or south of Christchurch, is Mount Cook Village, at the base of one of the most attractive pieces of rock and ice you're likely to ever gaze upon—Mount Cook, a cloud-piercer of 12,316 feet and New Zealand's highest peak.

The 434-square-mile national park it sits in is synonymous with New Zealand mountaineering, and over the years has been a magnet for a hoary bunch of locals and foreigners.

The 6,986-foot Ball Pass crossing is one way to get up there without any mountaineering experience, allowing you views of Cook that most tourists only see through the windows of a light aircraft.

The first day is a tough six-hour, 2,788-foot climb out of the glaciated Tasman Valley to the private Caroline Hut, a comfortable eyrie that looks straight across to Cook's dramatic Caroline Face.

Climb a nearby peak the next day and rest up for Day 3, a demanding nine-hour trek across the pass and down through tricky gorges and bluffs into the East Hooker Valley.

If necessary you'll use crampons and an ice axe and the guide will belay you.

Alpine Recreation (+64-3-680-6736) offers this three-day hike for NZ$1300.

For more information call the National Park Visitor Center: (+64-3-435-1818)

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