After our petite French excursion on the Banks Peninsula, we headed back West past Christchurch. Leaving the Canterbury district and onto Mackenzie country for two days and three nights. This might be my favorite region of New Zealand because it boasts some of the most strikingly beautiful vistas. Not an easy claim to make for a country so well known for its natural beauty.
The drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo takes about 3 hours on the main highway, SH1. I think the hardest part about self-driving New Zealand is the constant inner debate of whether or not to pull over and take in the views. This might have something to do with why Kiwis seem so frustrated with tourist drivers. We can’t help that every slightly exaggerated shoulder morphs before our eyes into a personalized parking space complete with neon sign pointing and saying “Take this photo!” The subject matter is so inherently breathtaking, it feels as though this is as close to capturing an Ansel Adams-esque landscape as we’ll ever get. I’m surprised more New Zealanders don’t pull over. I mean, how could you ever get used to such sublime terrain?
Obviously, we ended up pulling off at a (designated) lookout spot over the lake with Mount Cook peaking through the clouds in the distance. Some artistic traveler before us had painstakingly transformed a tree stump looking out over the water into an impromptu piece of art. So, thank you pine cone collector for leaving behind the fruits of your obsessive compulsive labor. It was beautiful to shoot against the backdrop and Jason, Gina and myself all took some snaps.
We spent one night on the banks of the lake at the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park, which is conveniently just a couple of minutes down the road from the hot pools. It is a great place to take a beat before heading onward to Mount Cook. Had we more time, I would have loved to do some of the beautiful hikes around the lake, but we did stop by Tekapo Springs. Not the best hot pool experience in New Zealand, as the pools didn’t seem to be naturally heated. They are in a beautiful setting, although its nearly impossible to see the lake when sitting in the pools. It was relaxing and enjoyable, but altogether a missable experience, especially if visiting the many geo-thermal hot springs around the country.
Mount Cook Village.
It’s another hour and twenty minutes on to Mount Cook Village from Lake Tekapo. You’ll pass along the western shore of Lake Pukaki, and with it the closest fully-stocked holiday park to Mount Cook, Glentanner. We opted to spend our second night there, as we’d need to pass this way again on our way South. The DOC has a $13pp per night campsite just 2km from Mount Cook village where we stayed the first night. It has basic facilities. Just an ablution block and bare bones kitchen – sinks and ranges for cooking as well as some picnic tables. If you’re stopping here, plan on taking in all your own cookware. The best aspect of this campground, aside from the low-cost, is its location. The campsite doubles as the trailhead for numerous walks around the area.
Mount Cook Village is comprised of a collection of houses, a smattering of hotels, a handful of restaurants and a self-service fuel pump. Every single resident works in the hospitality industry in the immediate area. The hotels, the tour companies, and the restaurants… you can imagine that everybody knows everybody. And pretty well.
After stopping off at the campsite, we piled into a single van and headed to the crown of Mount Cook village, the historic Hermitage Hotel. As it was one of only two places open during the Winter season, it was absolutely overrun with tourists, and made for a bit of a frenetic dining experience. Made all the better by the iPad toting toddler at the table next to us, sans headphones. The cherry on top was the indifferent parents.
The food was overpriced and portions minimal, even for a 3-course prix fixe menu. I would recommend grabbing drinks at the bar and doing dinner elsewhere during the high season. The bartenders were above average and coupled with the view of Mount Cook (weather permitting), definitely worth a round or two.
The next morning we awoke to a fluffle of rabbits and the sky threatening rain. Eventually, the four of us ended up taking a stroll down one of the trailheads leaving from our campsite. Although we staggered our departure times and distances, we all managed our final return about the same time. The Hooker Track leads to a suspension bridge with a beautiful view out over the milky teal waters we’ve seen in other glacial areas around NZ.
After a quick bite from Cafe Maui… aka Jason’s parents van kitchenette, we headed back to the Hermitage to check in for our next big outing – visiting the Tasman Glacier. We had a bit of time to kill, so J and I took a look around the Edmond Hillary Alpine Center. Its an interesting collection of climbing artefacts, if a bit haphazardly thrown together. They show screenings of several educational films throughout the day, and the tickets are good on the day of purchase as well as the following day. That way if you miss the showing of a particular film, you are able to see it the next day, at no extra cost. Jason definitely found it more interesting than myself.
After our glacier tour we grabbed dinner at the Chamois, the other currently open restaurant. We were treated to decent pub fare and rugby on the tele. They also had a slew of bar games including a few dart boards and a pool table. After we ate, we quickly departed and headed back towards Lake Pukaki to spend the night. The following morning we’d be off to Queenstown.
Next up I’ll be covering our Tasman Glacier experience – subscribe below to get new post notifications sent to your inbox.