We continued our road trip in the South Island heading first to Lake Tekapo, a 3 hour drive from Christchurch. One of the main things to do in Lake Tekapo is stargazing. Unfortunately however, the weather was incredibly overcast; and given you could hardly see the moon, we decided against forking out for the very expensive tour. We settled for a short walk around the lake towards the town itself and warmed up in the cafes. We did have a crazy small-world-moment when we looked up in the kitchen of our hostel to see a guy that we had shared a dorm with in Agra, India 5 months ago!
Our next destination was Mount Cook national park which was a short 1 hour, scenic drive along Lake Pukaki. Mount Cook is well renowned for it’s unpredictable weather, and it certainly held true for us as it chucked it down the day we arrived. Given the weather, and the fact I had the flu, we decided to have a lazy day and managed to find The Hobbit on DVD. All hostels in New Zealand seem to have at least one of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films – no complaints! The following day the weather had cleared up and it was really sunny so we decided to attempt the Tasman glacier lake walk. Mount Cook national park is without a doubt, one of the most picturesque landscapes we’ve seen so far. The walk was a short, but steep, half hour ascent to the viewpoint overlooking the Tasman glacier lake. The blue glacial lake was partially frozen over and there were huge shards of ice cracked on the surface. You could also see the actual Tasman glacier at the other end of the lake. Unfortunately, due to cloudy conditions we still hadn’t seen Mount Cook. After lunch we decided to attempt the Hooker Valley walk and take advantage of the good weather. This was a longer, 10km return walk and shortly after setting off, the weather took a turn for the worse with high winds, rain and foggy conditions. After much deliberation we decided to turn back and perhaps attempt it the following morning.
The following day, sadly the weather conditions hadn’t dramatically improved, so we opted for the shorter Kea Point track where we hoped to get our first sighting of Mount Cook. This walk gently winds through subalpine grasslands until you reach the viewpoint overlooking the stunning Mueller Glacier lake and Mount Cook. We only have running shoes rather than hiking boots and there was a fair bit of snow and ice on the track so it we took it very slowly. Thankfully, the cloud had finally cleared when we got to the viewpoint and we were able to see Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in the park at 3,724 metres.
After lunch we set off 2.5 hours south for Wanaka, a small picturesque town situated next to the stunning Lake Wanaka popular with hikers. We decided to spend a cloudy morning at Puzzling World. It’s full of optical illusions and things to trick your mind, they even have an outdoor maze where we had fun competing against each other to find the 4 corner towers. There are two mountain ranges overlooking Wanaka and we decided to attempt the smaller of the two, Mount Iron. As we began to walk up, a dense fog began descending over the mountain but we were determined to head for the top and hope by then it had lifted. Unfortunately, it appeared the opposite happened and you could probably only see a short distance ahead, maybe 10 metres at best. Luckily, by the time we’d had a little sit down and break, the fog had partially disappeared and we got to see what all the hype was about, the view over Lake Wanaka with the snowy mountain tops surrounding it, was beautiful.
Dave was really set on attempting Roy’s Peak, a much longer and steeper 16km hike which is suppose to take between 6-7 hours. I was still poorly with the flu and thought it would be too much for me so Dave went on his own. He said the views at the top were stunning and provided a different angle to Mount Iron, overlooking Lake Hawea and the national park beyond and he would highly recommend this hike for anyone visiting, but make sure it is a clear day because its a long one!
From Lake Wanaka, we headed further south to the neighbouring town, Queenstown. Queenstown is the number one location in NZ to attempt adrenaline seeking activities like bungee jumping, para-gliding etc. As we had already blown our budget for New Zealand, and didn’t want to tempt fate before South America, we compromised on heading up to the Skyline and having a go at Luging. At the top of the Gondola you had amazing views across the valley and overlooking Lake Wakatipu. We opted for 5 luge rides as there wasn’t much difference in price between the packages. You have to go on the ‘scenic’ track first while you master the art of luging before they let you loose on the main track, so we were glad we had 5 goes. You also get a chairlift back up to the top of the track, so it was double the fun. We had a couple of near misses of hitting the barriers but overall, I beat Dave around the track and somehow managed to get some awesome GoPro footage despite only having it loosely resting in the inside of my jacket pocket. It was something very different to our usual travel exploits but great fun!
Our next stop was Dunedin, probably one of the larger towns we visited in New Zealand. Dunedin’s claim to fame is that it is home to the steepest residential road in the world. The first day we arrived, Dave finally plucked up the courage to get his haircut after 4 months of growth (which if you know Dave at all, is a very long time!). We also went to the arts museum, although the work on display wasn’t to either of our tastes so it was a rather brief visit. We were there over the weekend and decided to venture down to the local farmers market which is hosted every Saturday.
We then began making our way back along the coastline to Christchurch, where we were due to catch a flight back to Auckland before heading onwards for South America. We had a fleeting visit to Moeraki, a small fisherman village, famous for its unusually large, spherical boulders lying along the beach (see photo below). A couple we met in Fiji had also highly recommended a local seafood restaurant called Fleur’s Place, so we decided to stop there for lunch. We tried potted eels for starters and a trio of fish and mussels for main and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was definitely one of the best meals we’ve had since we left, so be sure to visit if you are passing through!
Our final destination before Christchurch was Oamaru, a seaside town which is home to two species of Penguins. In order to see the Blue penguin’s, the smallest species of Penguins in the world, you have to pay a hefty admission fee of $30 or $45 for premium seats. We decided to head over the headland to Bushy beach where, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of the endangered yellow eyed penguin for free. We were told they are incredibly weary of other mammals and won’t come onto the beach if they catch sight of you. As a result, the local council has constructed viewing huts high up on the cliff line and visiting the beach is prohibited after 3pm. After a short wait, one came waddling up the beach but it was so far away you were unable to see it with your naked eye. Thankfully, we managed to see him through the zoom of our video camera. By this point, the high winds and freezing temperature had got the better of us and we decided to call it a night, happy with the fact we had seen just one!
We had an evening flight before heading back to Auckland and were so impressed with Bacon Brothers, a restaurant in Christchurch, we decided to head back for round 2 (don’t judge). As we had already visited Auckland, we opted to stay close to the airport and rest ahead of our 11 hour flight to Santiago, Chile.
Catch us next time where we begin our South American adventure.
Thanks for reading,
Sophie and Dave