Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook
Saturday Nov 10 a group of 8 from Abbey traveled to Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook for the weekend.
We started from Dunedin around 11 am on Saturday. The other car had departed earlier. Our plan was to drive to Lake Tekapo. We first traveled north on State Highway 1 through Oamaru and Timaru.
Oamaru: largest town in North Otago region, third largest in Otago (Dunedin #1, Queenstown #2). 13,950 people. Twin town, Devizes England!! Known for the local Little Blue penguin colonies, Steampunk HQ, and oldest public garden in NZ.
Timaru: port city, second largest in Canterbury region (Christchurch #1). Closer to Chistchurch than Dunedin. 29,100 people. Land created from lava flows. Seaside getaway with popular Caroline Bay, botanic garden, and several museums.
We did not stay too long but took quick food breaks. We then followed State Highway 8 at Timaru all the way to Lake Tekapo. On the way we were graced with scenery from ocean views, rolling pastures, steeper hills, and then mountains! The contrast was remarkable. In total, our 3.5 – 4 hour drive was really neat. I was happy to be out of Dunedin and Otago, seeing the different sights on NZ. As we arrived at the lake, you turn a corner and suddenly see it in the distance. You drive directly into the little town on the banks of the south side of the lake. A line of shops, catering to the tourists, is at its center. We stayed at Lake Tekapo Budget Accommodation, a hostel part of a motel/hotel at the back of these shops. It was very central, clean, and overall a very great place to stay! Especially for the cost!
Lake Tekapo is a popular tourist resort destination and one of the three almost parallel north-south lakes in the Mackenzie Basin. It is 32 square miles and 2,330 feet above sea level. It is fed by the braided Godley River and Glacier. Lake Tekapo is situated in the Dark Sky Reserve, so is a prime location for stargazing because of the lack of artificial light polluting the sky (it is far from any major cities or towns). Most visitors will take one of the many,many trail hikes (tramps) around the area, take an Air Safari helicopter ride to Mount Cook, ski, take a bike tour, jetski, kayake, fish, or visit the Mt. John Night Observatory with an Earth & Sky Tour. The area is also known for its purple/blue/pink lupins that bloom in the basin from November until February. Although invasive and a huge problem for native plants, these are iconic at Lake Tekapo and for a good reason. They are stunning.
We were all on a budget so opted for general sightseeing around the lake. While there, we walked along a part of the rocky shore with mountains looming in the distance. We visited the Church of the Good Shepard on the shores of the lake. Built in 1935, it was the first church built in the Mackenzie Basin and is one of the most photographed in NZ due to the views. We also saw the famous bronze sheepdog statue recognizing the importance of collie sheepdogs in the livelihoods of the herders in the area, the common profession.
Some of us cooked pasta at our hostel for dinner while me and one of my friends Thomas got fish and chips. We ate outside, surrounded by the lake and hungry ducks/chaffinches/gulls. We then took a walk at dark to see the skies light up with the stars. It was pretty brilliant, minus all of the other people there seeing the stars as well. It would have been nice to drive a bit out of the area but cloud cover prevented a clear sky, so we thought better of it. Next time!
We left Lake Tekapo around 8 the following morning. We drove along State Highway 8 towards Mount Cook. This drive was incredible as we drove towards the mountain range and past Lake Pukaki (funniest name in the world), one of those 3 lakes in the area. This lake was used as Lake Town in the Hobbit. Lake Pukaki is fed mostly by the Tasman River. All of these lakes are amazing not only for the location but also because of how BLUE they are. Any pictures I post are not edited at all. The blue water comes from the minerals from the mountains that are ground up into sand and dispersed in the water. The sun reflects and makes the water… indescribably blue. We stopped off for a picture shoot…
We then finally arrived at the base camp and tourist center called Aoraki/Mount Cook (after the mountain of course), where most tourist activities depart from.
And there is was. At 3,724 meters high, Aoraki/Mount Cook is the highest mountain in NZ. Nearby is Mount Tasman, second highest mountain. It is surrounded by the Hooker Valley to the southwest and the Tasman Valley to the east and within the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. This area was used for aerial shots in Lord of the Rings… and you can really see why. I could even picture Helms Deep and Gondor, with Rohan plopped in the valleys of rolling hills. Within this park are 72 named glaciers. The most well known is the Tasman glacier, NZ’s largest, holding about 1/3 of all glacier ice in NZ. It is 23 km long! More about that later.
We parked at the Visitor Center, already quite full of cars and tents from people camping overnight. Surrounding the car park were… the mountains! We departed soon thereafter on the Hooker Valley Track, a 3 hour return hike/walk to Hooker Lake and one of the closest view points of Mount Cook without being a serious tramper/mountaineers. The track was pretty well worn as it is a VERY popular one. It was not too difficult, I just brought a bit too much stuff including a jacket I never wore. Better to be prepared I suppose. Along the way, we had stunning views of the moraine fields (looks like gravel), waterfalls on the sides of the mountains, and incredible alpine vegetation. We also saw earlier bloomers of the Mount Cook buttercup, the largest buttercup in the world. There are three swing/suspension bridges that you cross along the way. These were not my favorite, to put it lightly. The movement and the height were enough to make me quite uncomfortable and a bit panicky. But I made it, although I was the butt of a few jokes.
The end of the track opened up into a picnic area (already being used by many people!) and… the Hooker Glacier. At 11 km long, this glacier is fed by other glaciers, terminating at Hooker Lake. Hooker Lake feeds the Tasman River and thus Lake Pukaki. From the picnic area, you overlook the lake and can walk right up the its shores. We ate lunch on these river shores, surrounded by the mountains and glacier ice. As the glaciers are always moving, this lake only started to form in the 70’s and is still retreating and rapidly melting. It is projected that the lake will grow until it reaches the glacier bed 4 km upstream.
After the hike, we took our time driving back to Dunedin, a 3.5 hour trip along more stunning rivers, lakes, and mountains ultimately changing into the ocean before our eyes. It was an amazing weekend with views I will never forget!