Stunning Lakes, Glaciers, & Snow Capped Mountains

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, December 19, 2011

The focus of our next drive is a search for penguins as we head down the west coast. We are assured that there is a colony at a beach just off the main road – luckily it was a nice walk through the rainforest to a very pretty beach as we didn't find any penguins.  But we did find several other tourists crawling about the rocks trying to find them.  Apparently the penguins come on shore to nest in the evening and so the best chance to see them is at dusk.  So given its 10am, the chances of seeing penguins is pretty slim.  We continue the drive down south, another impressive coastline to drive along.  We extend our journey to visit a fishing hamlet call Port Jackson as we were told it’s quite picturesque (it just happens it’s meant to have penguins as well).  The hamlet is pretty remote with very few people or life to it but does have lovely views of the sea with snow capped mountains in the background – unfortunately it was a bit cloudy to see these but I can believe the views are good. We walk around to Ocean Bay to stretch our legs (and look for penguins) and get to a rocky beach where we stop for lunch.  Afterwards I went to explore the beach a bit more by jumping from rock to rock.  At one point the rock which I was going to jump onto growled at me.  I thought that was a bit strange and then the rock started to move, it slowly dawned on me that it was a seal and not a rock.  At this point I screamed and darted back until there was a safe distance between me and the seal as he was not happy about being woken up.  So that was my first hand encounter with the local wildlife.  Jonny was at the other end of the beach when this happened and when he heard me scream could only wonder what on earth I had managed to do only metres away (given there isn’t much to be afraid of in New Zealand).  Fearing that I had found a dead body (the only thing he could think of) I think he was relieved that I had only woken up a seal. 

The rest of our drive wasn’t as eventful but pleasant all the same.  We cross the mountains to go inland to Wanaka where there are several waterfalls, lakes and stunning scenery all around us.  We arrive at our hostel in Wanaka called Wanaka Backpaka – a really nice hostel overlooking the lake.  We can even see the snow capped mountains in the background.    

The next day we are up early for a walk.  When coming here we wanted to do the Rob Roy track which is meant to have some really spectacular scenery and glaciers.  However we encountered a slight problem – to get to the start of the walk we would have to drive our hire car down an unsealed road for 30k and cross about 5 fiords.  Given that the national park information couldn’t tell us how deep the fiords would be at this time of year and gave us a range of a couple of feet we opted for a different walk.  Not all the roads are in great shape in New Zealand and as most the locals drive 4x4s they don’t consider it a problem.  The walk we did took us up a lookout over the lake and surrounding area – the views from here were amazing and we spent a lot of time just taking in the scene. 

We spent the rest of the time relaxing by the lake and it’s beginning to feel like summer holidays as people enjoy a drink in the sun, sunbathe by the lake and some are even brave enough to swim – not us, it’s still a little chilly.  So we’re struggling to come to terms with the fact that it’s less than a week to Christmas.  However we like Wanaka so much (something to do with the hostel bbq overlooking the lake looking like the perfect spot for a Kiwi Christmas) we decide to come back here in a couple days to spend Christmas here.

First we have Mount Cook to conquer – or at least see.  The drive to Mount Cook village was pretty standard until we start to see the mountain ranges – many, many snow-capped mountains in the distance and the unbelievable turquoise blue colour of the lakes and canals.  The colour of the water is caused by 'rock flour’ left in the water.  Rock flour was created when the glaciers were moving across the land and so rocks were grinding together and left sediment that mixes with the water that runs from the glacier.  All this creates a view that I don’t think I would ever get tired of looking at.

To add to this we also drive past the clay cliffs that were used in the filming of Narnia so all this makes quite bizarre scenery.  We pick up our supplies from the last town before Mt Cook as there are no shops or petrol and head up towards the national park.  We’re staying at a YHA hostel up in the mountains and from the hostel garden we look up into snowy mountains.  A very surreal location.  We get straight on to the walks and first head for the Tasman Glacier.  The Tasman Glacier drops into a lake and so there are icebergs floating about in the lake.  The glacier itself isn’t as impressive as a layer of stones and dirt lies on top of the ice due to the way it is melting.  But Jonny and I are always happy to take the time to sit and take in the scenery.  Later on we took a walk through the village which contains a pretty hideous hotel building (the Hermitage Hotel – it’s quite a historic hotel but this rebuild doesn’t say much), a tourist office and a few other buildings.  We’re already a fan of the tourist offices as they will book pretty much anything for you and are generally very helpful but this one had an added bonus, it was well constructed with a very large window especially to view Mt Cook – a snow-capped peak of 3,700 metres.    

The next day we’re up early for another walk to see Hooker Glacier and more views of Mt Cook.  First we walk to Kea Point which was a relatively easy walk to a Mt Cook viewpoint.  We didn’t see any Kea which is a type of New Zealand alpine parrot that apparently like to eat the rubber off cars.  The views are pretty good and you can see where the Mueller Glacier has melted away.  We also learn that the beautiful purple and pink flowers that we have seen by the roadside all over New Zealand are classed as weeds here and they are spraying to destroy them – so even the weeds are pretty!  The highlight was definitely the walk to the Hooker Glacier as the views of Mt Cook are spectacular and we had good weather so that we even got to see the top without cloud coverage.  Mt Cook is a bit off the main travel trail but was definitely worth seeing as we think it may be the best scenery we have seen yet in New Zealand.

Tonight we stay at Lake Tekapo but are a bit tired from our earlier walk so don’t get up to much apart from a walk along the bright blue lakefront.  The next day we are ultra lazy and drive up to the viewpoint over the lake and enjoy some coffee and cake with a great view.  Jonny thinks he has found his perfect location for a coffee, scone and paper! Then finally we are back on the road south back to Wanaka for Christmas time!!!
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