If you are visiting the South Island of New Zealand, Aoraki – Mount Cook National Park is THE essential site to discover on this island. Between its mountains and its lakes, it is impossible to remain unmoved by the spectacle of Mother Nature.
Located right in the middle of the land, Aoraki – Mount Cook National Park is accessible from the Central Island Road, connecting Christchurch to Wanaka and Queenstown. Which can be practical to visit these two superb corners easily, but which then imposes to ignore all the magnificent region of Dunedin on the east coast as well as that of the Catlins in the south … Not wanting to deprive me of discovering these other two regions, it took a bit of brainstorming to create the perfect tour, allowing us to discover both Mount Cook, Dunedin, the Catlins, Milford Sound and the entire area between Queenstown and Wanaka without coming back in our footsteps.
So that’s how from Christchurch where we had collected our rental car, we started by making the detour in the center to discover Mount Cook and its lakes, then we cut by the small roads to reach the east coast before going along the southern coast and up via Te Anau then Queenstown and Wanaka. A big detour yes, but it’s seriously worth it if you have time in front of you!
Tekapo and Pukaki lakes
At the beginning of January, while summer is in full swing in New Zealand, I am very happy to have my fleece and my woolen socks when I wake up! The 10 ° C when you woke up contrasted sharply with those of the day before in Brisbane in Australia where we were approaching more than 30 ° C… I admit that this temperature delights me because the heat was beginning to weigh on my morale. In short, all this to say that even in summer, in New Zealand it can be cold, especially in the alpine region of the South Island, and that if, like us, you opt for accommodation in a tent, it is necessary to plan for warmth !
Barely on the road, I am under the spell of the landscapes. It’s green, it’s hilly… it reminds me of my home and it feels good to be at home after 6 weeks of road trip.
After a hundred kilometers of winding roads dotted with photo stops, we arrive at our first stage of the day, lake Tekapo. This lake is very photogenic because of its incredible blue color which, when the sky is clear, wonderfully reflects the snow-capped peaks overlooking the lake. Add to that the purplish contrast of the lupines surrounding the banks of the lake and the small chapel on its rocks you have a perfect postcard of New Zealand!
We did not have the chance to contemplate this lake under a great blue sky, but the morning light which pierced through the clouds offered an equally beautiful panorama. It’s hard not to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the site in these conditions.
If you are looking for a hike with a nice viewpoint, then do not miss the loop to the top of Mt John. About 8km and 300 meters of vertical drop to enjoy a magnificent view!
And if you have a little time, you can even continue on the small road (or track) which leads to two other lakes, lakes McGregor and Alexandrina.
Instead we preferred to reach the second large lake in the area, the lake pukaki. In addition to the fact that this lake is just as beautiful as the previous one, we appreciate all the more its magnificent panoramic road which runs along its entire length to reach the borders
from middle earth from the center of the south island of New Zealand. It is this same road, without exit, which allows to reach the national park of Mount Cook, starting point of many hikes, our objective of the day.
Aoraki Park – Mount Cook
After a quick tour of the visitor center to identify interesting hikes, we decide to do the same hike as 99% of the tourists present. The same one that leads to the foot of Hooker Lake, a glacial lake where a few ice cubes float on the surface but above all with a breathtaking view of Mount Cook.
In our defense, although New Zealand is famous for its hikes, during our stay we unfortunately noticed the lack of choice in terms of day hikes. There are either treks over several days or small hikes accessible to everyone but very little intermediate offer, aka long (and sporting) day hikes. This means that whatever the chosen path and even by combining several routes, you generally end up with all the other tourists. This is where we realize how lucky we are in France with all the marked trails in our mountains!
Even if the landscapes encountered during these 10 kilometers are magnificent, I admit that I was disturbed by the crowd, the selfie poles and the queue at the level of the instagram spots… It’s not at all the calm that I hoped to find in New Zealand. Not to mention the fact that the announced durations are very overestimated.
Arrived at the foot of the lake, I took my few photos and then we returned to the parking lot without further delay. I was frustrated because if I had known, I would surely have spent a little more time enjoying lakes Tekapo and Pukaki…
As it was still early, we decided to do another hike in the area and, to avoid the crowds, we opted for a small loop of 4km away from the main parking lot, which leads to the Tasman Glacier lookout. And yet, we did not meet a cat!
The landscapes between these two hikes being relatively different, the first evolving in a green setting in the middle of rivers while the second is much more mineral when approaching the moraine, I find that these two trails are ultimately very complementary to appreciate Mount Cook National Park.
If you have more time, in two days, you also have the possibility of doing a big loop of 40km around these 2 lakes. Surely a great experience to better appreciate this site away from the crowds.
As we took the road back to our campsite, the surprise of the day was to stumble upon lavender fields in the middle of New Zealand! Yes, yes, you read that right! And you know what ? There was hardly anyone
to sack to take a picture in the middle of the fields! Just a small handful of surprised tourists like us to find these fields here.
In summary, if you want to visit this region and the Aoraki – Mount Cook National Park, it is possible to do it in one day with a few photo stops and several hikes according to your walking pace, or in two days taking a little more your time.
Anyway, it’s really a beautiful region not to be missed in your program!