Thursday came with the rain. Until now the rain has been annoying but it's generally been pretty warm, but here in the mountains it's cold, and when things get wet they don't dry out. The drive to Mt Cook village was pleasant enough, but when I arrived the clouds had gathered en masse, spilling over the mountains and dribbling constant rain on the village. I'd been planning to pop up a couple of the mountains and staying in some of the DOC huts, but the weather rained on that idea, so I did a quick walk up to the Red Tarns (a tarn being a mountain lake) and then hit the public shelter.
Public shelters are great in the wet, because everyone who isn't living in an expensive hotel hangs out there for shelter. For some reason the shelter was full of Australians, most of whom were staying at the campsite and had taken refuge from their leaky tents in the cold but dry shelter. There were three mad men from Melbourne who were planning an assault on the Copland Pass, one of the toughest walks in the area; Ben and Mira, a lovely couple from Perth who were cycling round New Zealand; Grenville, a mountaineer from another planet who seemed to want to die before he got old; and a Swede who'd decided to join the Copland Pass team, despite his lack of gear and training. It was all good entertainment as the rain drove down; by all accounts the weather in New Zealand is particularly miserable this year, with spring arriving very late (if at all). If I hear the word 'unseasonable' once more, I'll probably break down.
So I spent a couple of days just hanging round the shelters, sticking it out and sleeping in an increasingly condensed car, and enjoying the camaraderie of huddling together with others while the elements did their worst. The snow poured down on the mountains while the rain poured down on us, and the NZ$1.60 pies we got from the pub tasted like heaven after all those camping rice dishes.
And then there were the keas. Keas are New Zealand's mountain parrots, and they're a highly intelligent and endangered species. It's easy to understand why they're so endangered, because they're the ornithological equivalent of juvenile delinquents. Leave any food around, and the keas will steal it; leave the seats on your bicycle overnight, and the keas will have torn them to shreds by the morning; stay in the public shelter overnight, and the keas will wake you up in the middle of the night by dropping stones on the tin roof and letting them clatter down the corrugations. There are even stories of keas locking trampers in their huts, having watched how humans push the bolts shut. One wonders if the kea is endangered because no matter how much you like birds, you end up wanting to kill the little buggers every time they fly in for a squawk. Still, they're pretty good fun, as long as it's not your kit that's being ravaged.