Gallery: Measuring Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand's Tallest Mountain

Aoraki/Mount Cook stunner

Aoraki/Mount Cook

(Image credit: Pascal Sirguey)

New Zealand's tallest peak is the stunning Aoraki/Mount Cook, which towers above the country's South Island. Capped by snow and ice, a 1991 avalanche undercut the mountain's brilliant crown by 33 feet (10 meters). The avalanche left an overhang that later crumbled and collapsed, scientists recently discovered. A 2013 climbing expedition by the University of Otago revealed that Aoraki/Mount Cook is actually only 12,217 feet (3,724 m) high, cutting another 98 feet (30 meters) off the mountain's height.


Mount Cook avalanche

(Image credit: Lloyd Homer)

Aoraki/Mount Cook was 12,349 feet (3,764 meters) tall before a massive rock and ice avalanche in 1991.

Aoraki/Mount Cook

(Image credit: Ian Owens)

Since the 1991 avalanche, the ice cap has continued to collapse, University of Otago scientists recently discovered.

Reaching a new height

Aoraki/Mount Cook

(Image credit: Geoff Wayatt)

The Otago-led team double-checked their measurements by climbing the mountain on Nov. 23, 2013, and measuring its height with GPS receivers, though they didn't ascend to the very top. The indigenous Maori people consider the mountain to be an ancestor and sacred. Stepping on the peak's highest point violates this sacred status.

Respecting the mountain

Aoraki/Mount Cook

(Image credit: Nicolas Cullen)

The indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, and the Ngãi Tahu tribe in particular, consider the mountain to be an ancestor and sacred. Stepping on the peak's highest point violates the mountain's sacred status (a status which is also protected by New Zealand's Department of Conservation).

Route up a glacier

Aoraki/Mount Cook

(Image credit: Pascal Sirguey)

The researchers' climbing route, depicted on a digital model of Aoraki/Mount Cook.

Confirming the new low

Aoraki/Mount Cook

(Image credit: Tyler Hager)

A trigonometric survey — similar to the map-making done in the 1800s — also confirmed the height from lower elevations on Aoraki/Mount Cook.

Becky Oskin
Contributing Writer
Becky Oskin covers Earth science, climate change and space, as well as general science topics. Becky was a science reporter at Live Science and The Pasadena Star-News; she has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics. She earned a master's degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor's degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.