Aoraki/Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It lies in the Southern Alps, the mountain range which runs the length of the South Island. A popular tourist destination, 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 settlement of Mount Cook Village (also known as The Hermitage) is a tourist centre and base camp for the mountain. It is 7 km from the end of the Tasman Glacier, 12 km south of Aoraki/Mount Cook's summit.
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 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.
Following the settlement between Ngāi Tahu and the Crown in 1998, the name of the mountain was officially changed from Mount Cook to Aoraki/Mount Cook to incorporate its historic Māori name, Aoraki. As part of the settlement, a number of South Island placenames were amended to incorporate their original Māori name. Signifying the importance of Aoraki/Mount Cook, it is the only one of these names where the Māori name precedes the English. Under the settlement the Crown agreed to return title to Aoraki/Mount Cook to Ngāi Tahu, who then formally gifted it back to the nation.
The Southern Alps on the South Island are formed by tectonic uplifting and pressure as the Pacific and Australia-Indian plates collide along the island's western coast. The uplifting continues, raising Aoraki/Mount Cook an average of 7 mm (just over a quarter of an inch) each year. However, erosive forces are also powerful shapers of the mountains. The severe weather is due to the mountain's jutting into a trade wind pattern known as the Roaring Forties, which is characterized by powerful winds that run roughly around 45°S latitude, south of both Africa and Australia, so that the Southern Alps are the first obstacle the winds encounter after South America as they blow easterly across the Southern Ocean.
Aoraki/Mount Cook was 10 m (33 ft) higher until approximately 10 million cubic metres of rock and ice fell off the northern peak on 14 December 1991.
It remains a challenging ascent, with frequent storms and very steep snow and ice climbing to reach the peak. Strictly speaking, it is a triple peak, with the north peak being the highest. A traverse of the three peaks was first accomplished in 1913 by Freda du Faur and guides Peter and Alex Graham. Three years earlier du Faur was the first woman to ascend Aoraki/Mount Cook.
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