We spent our first night at a wonderful little travel lodge, having figured we earned a long shower and a soft bed after 36 hours in airports. After a leisurely morning of hot tea and breakfast, we got on the road to Mt. Cook.
Did we mention that the kiwis drive on the left? And that the stick shift is on the left? And that the directional and windshield washer levers are reversed? That’s a lot to remember while trying to navigate. I did well staying on my side of the road, but I couldn’t get the hang of the blinkers for the life of me. Jenn finally started laughing hysterically after the dozenth time I went to turn left and the wipers started flying. Just when I thought I had it cured, a light rain started to fall and as I activated the wipers, I heard the “tick-tock” of the blinker and Jenn’s laughter. Sigh.
Directional troubles aside, we made the long drive from Christchurch all the way inland towards Aoraki/Mt. Cook. Despite being nearly on the west coast of the island, Mt. Cook is only accessible via a highway that traverses the entire interior of the island from the east. Its traditional Maori name is Aoraki, and it stands 12,218′ tall – the tallest peak in the Southern Alps.
About half the ride wasn’t much to see, primarily going through small industrial and agricultural towns. Not long after hitting the mountains, though, Lake Tekapo appears, seemingly out of nowhere, sparkling blue-green in the light. We got out to stretch our legs and wander along the rocky shoreline. It was really a beautiful lake, and shockingly warm for a body of water that sits in a mountain range, with snow-capped peaks rising dramatically in the background.
After some exploring, we got back in the car and headed to Lake Pukaki. A much larger lake, it was not nearly so warm and the wind whipped viciously across the water. Here, we were afforded a spectacular view of Mt. Cook in the distance. Jenn spotted a gaggle of geese getting into the water, so we jumped out to find that even here in New Zealand, 10,000 miles away, Canada Geese are still everywhere.
At this point we were eager to get there, so we jumped back into the van and enjoyed a beautiful mountain drive the rest of the way. The end of the drive brings you though an incredible mountain valley, with peaks towering dramatically on either side. We had been warned that Mt. Cook was often invisible behind a dense shroud of clouds, but we had a clear view the whole way. Inside the national park we also stopped at an overlook of Tasman Lake and Tasman Glacier. The lake was a shade of slate gray and had a number of small icebergs floating in it.