Mt. Cook, New Zealand

2013 was my Year of Mountains!  I hiked and/or biked them on four continents in Patagonia, Europe, Colorado, and here.  Next year?  Beach!!

Pennies aren’t lucky in New Zealand.  In fact, so ill-fated is the New Zealand one cent piece that it’s been extinct for over 20 years.  So, too, is the New Zeland nickel a numismatic dinosaur.  The smallest coin is a dime (worth about 8 U.S. cents).  How refreshing it is not to fill one’s pockets with coins that buy nothing.   And to see prices (except gas)* almost always rounded to the nearest dime or dollar.  How many collective seconds, minutes and hours do American waste shuffling copper coins, making change, and accounting ‘down to the penny’?  We could learn some things from the Kiwi.

And sales tax (actually a “goods and services tax”) is built in to the retail prices — not calculated anew on each transaction and awkwardly added on after the fact like we do in the States.  So if something is priced $1.00, that’s actually what you pay.  Coincidentally — but further contributing to Kiwi transactional simplicity  — ‘tipping’ is not part of the traditional custom or culture here.  Of course in tourist areas it’s not unheard of, but it’s not an expectation and your credit card slip won’t even have a place to add the tip.  No pennies, no tax, and no tip unless you want to.  Thus when the cafe menu at Mt. Cook Village said my fish and chips would be $18, that’s what they meant:  $18.  I got a $2 coin back from my $20 bill.

The nearby mountain — the tallest in the country — is over 12,000 feet, which means Mt. Cook rises about 10,000 feet above the surrounding terrain.  I did a 3+ hour hike to get sort of close and to see the 7-mile-long Hooker Glacier dumping icebergs into muddy Hooker Lake, but the clouds never really parted enough to see the whole of Mt. Cook all at once.  That picture at the top of the post — showing at least most of the mountain without cloud cover — was taken from the highway about 20 miles from the mountain as I drove away in the late afternoon.  I took this in the first 30 seconds after hopping out of the car, then stood around nearly an hour waiting for the clouds to part again and give me another chance once I got into a better spot.  That didn’t happen.


The picture (below) with the crazy-blue lake and the mountain (still covered mostly by clouds) in the distance is from Lake Pukaki — about 40 miles south of Mt. Cook.  It gets the turquoise color from the silt that comes out of the glaciers.  The glowing blue of the lake even made the clouds above it look a strange bright blue.

*Gas is around $2.30.  Per LITER.  So over $9 a gallon.