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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (14) – Mount Cook

Another “Paul” day

The map below will no doubt show you who planned the route for this day, much of which would be spent in the car!

We had consciously made the decision to make a morning visit to Dunedin (B), as many people had said it was definitely worth visiting – and it would be a chance to see a two-storey building or two (rural New Zealand is very single-storey heavy!). I had hoped to be able to take a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway, but we just didn’t have time, so i plotted a route that followed some of its route through Middlemarch, and we’d then rejoin the more direct road further on. Our Farm stay was near the East Shore of Lake Pukaki (E), but we also had plans to get up to Mt Cook village (D) in the mountains – so all in all a lot of miles. It’s a good job the roads are so quiet.

Dunedin a brief stop then a long drive

We really didn’t have very long to spend in Dunedin, as we needed to be carrying on our journey. However, having experienced the “thrill” of a section of dual-carriageway as we entered the City, we parked up in the central area, and had a brief explore of the “First Church of Otago“, a rather superb 19th Century Church building in the European style. To be honest, that was all we had time for, with my “scenic route” planned out ahead, so we headed back to the car, and then onwards towards Central Otago following bits of the route of the railway.

I don’t know whether we’d just seen too many wondrous sights over the previous week or so, but neither of us was that impressed by the scenery over the three hours of driving it took us to reach what seemed to be the only place serving food within 50 miles, the unprepossessing Muddy Creek Cafe and Takaway in Omakau. The weather had also taken a bit of a turn for the hotter, being about 34 degrees by the time we stopped for lunch, and quite muggy, so we really didn’t want to venture far from the air-conditioned comfort of the car. I think it’s probably telling that the picture of the cafe is the only picture we took in 6 hours between Dunedin and arriving near Mount Cook 500km later. We didn’t even manage a picture of the food!

To Mount Cook

Aoraki / Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, covered in ice and snow, and surrounded by glaciers and lakes. There is a ski/outdoor activity resort called Mount Cook Village only 15km away from the summit of the mountain (but rather lower down at 750m above sea level). The Village has almost no facilities for the passer by, being set within the national park, but allows access to scenic walks and other activities in the area. The area is reached following a lovely drive alongside the bright blue Lake Pukaki.

  • Overlooking Mt Cook Village
  • A Yellowhammer
  • The yellowhammer takes in the view
  • Lake Tasman and the end of Tasman Glacier
  • One of the Summits of Aoraki

Having reached the mountains, we decided that we’d like to take a walk to see Tasman Lake and what is left of the retreating Tasman Glacier. The walk from where we parked was not particularly long (at least to reach the glacial lake), but did have the odd steep moment. The landscape here is dramatic, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, but the lake and glacier themselves are not particularly beautiful. The glacier has retreated markedly over the last decades (creating the lack), leaving dumps of moraine rock on all sides. The glacier itself is also covered with the grey rock, and hence has a rather dirty appearance. The water, whilst rich in glacial flour, is not the vivid blue of Lake Pukaki, but rather more grey in appearance too. Having said that, the walk was an enjoyable one in very dramatic surroundings, and we continued to be struck by how green and vivid the plant life in New Zealand is.

Tasman Downs

Our penultimate night in New Zealand was to be spent at the lovely Tasman Downs farmstay, which is down a long stretch of gravel road on the far side of Lake Pukaki from the main road to Mount Cook village. We thus retraced our steps in the car back to the main road, in order to find the junction and head up to the Farm. One of the reasons we’d chosen this property to stay in was the remote location and the promise of superb views. Whilst it was a bit cloudy as we arrived, the next morning dawned as beautifully as you could wish.

One real highlight (this being December 21st) was that the house had a piano, and our lovely host joined us in singing some traditional carols whilst I played. Being from the Northern hemisphere it seemed so weird singing carols on a warm light evening, but it was a lovely reminder of the season.

One amusing thing we discovered when organising the farm stay was proof of the fact that it seems everyone in NZ knows everyone else. When we were going through the hire car paperwork (pre-booking) we were concerned about various exclusions of insurance in relation to unsealed roads. Knowing that Tasman Downs involved about 20km of such roads I checked with the company whether this would be ok – they then asked the specifics of where we needed to get to, and on explaining the destination it turned out that the hire company manager was a cousin (or similar) of the owners of the Farm Stay and knew exactly where we had to go!!

Next day would be our last full day in New Zealand.