Mount Cook, within Mt Cook National Park, Mackenzie County, in South Canterbury, is NZ's highest mountain. The highest of three peaks on the main ridge of the mountain is 3,753 m high. On 14 December 1991 10.5 m was lost off the top of this peak due to the failure of the underlying bedrock of the mountain causing a rock slide with an accompanying avalanche of snow and ice.
The mountain ridge runs from the Hooker Glacier on the west side to the Tasman Glacier on the east and forms a section of the South Island's Main Divide. The peaks are seen more clearly from the western side, but a tourist service provided by the Mount Cook Group of companies lands ski planes on the Tasman Glacier to provide a dramatic view of the bulk of the mountain.
Mt Cook was first climbed on Christmas Day, 1894, by George Graham of Waimate, and Thomas C Fyfe and Jack M Clarke, Hermitage guides, approaching from the Hooker Glacier. There are a number of climbing routes but the most popular is up the north-east face; a route from the south gives climbers a chance to traverse the three peaks.
The mountain was named after James Cook by Captain J L Stokes, commander of the survey ship, Acheron. The Maori call Mt Cook 'Aorangi', meaning 'sky cloud' but usually translated as 'cloud piercer'. The name is probably more correctly spelt and pronounced 'Aoraki' in accordance with the South Island Maori dialect.
In Maori mythology, the mountain is the greatest of the sky children who arrived on earth when their sky-father, Rangi, descended in a love embrace on the earth mother, Papa. The Maori passed close to this massive peak on their alpine pass routes to the West Coast sources of pounamu (greenstone).