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Stunning Mount Cook & Lake Tekapo

Article Stunning Mount Cook & Lake Tekapo

The Mount Cook area was one of the stops during our trip that we were especially looking forward to. Since we haven’t had the best weather on the West Coast, and had not been able to do a helicopter flight, we hoped for better weather around Mount Cook so we could do it there. After we left Milford Sounds, we drove straight to Dunedin, where we planned on staying for 2 or 3 nights. Right after we arrived in Dunedin, we checked the weather report and realised that we need to drive further the next morning to catch the last sunny days around Mount Cook before there was a week of heavy rain forecasted.

We had a brief few hours looking around Dunedin before we jumped into our Campervan and headed towards Mount Cook. Mount Cook, or Aoraki as the Maori call it, with a total height of 3,754 meters, is the highest mountain in New Zealand. The 70,000 hectare Mount Cook National Park includes 22 mountain peaks with ice and snow that each exceed 3,000 meters and are located on the opposite side of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers (which are accessed from the West Coast). Mount Cook Village is located north of Lake Pukaki and is the tourism centre of Mount Cook National Park. The light blue colour of Lake Pukaki is an absolute highlight especially in sunshine. Combined with the panoramic mountains in the background, it makes the drive towards Mount Cook incredibly beautiful.

The Glentanner Holiday Park Mount Cook is located at the northern end of Lake Pukaki and a further 20 minute drive away from Mount Cook Village. There are not many campgrounds with powered sites in this area, which probably explains why the Holiday Park was quite pricey even though the facilities were similar to those at campgrounds where we paid almost half the price, but … that’s what you get if you want to camp so close to a touristy, but remote, area. Nevertheless, the facilities were still good and we had a nice time staying there.

On our first day, the sun was out and we had a clear view on the mountain summits that were covered in snow. The view might look different if you visit this area, for example, during summer time, where you will not find as much snow on the peaks. We were especially looking forwards towards the Hooker Valley Track, that leads you on a 3 hour return walk along the Hooker River to the iceberg-speckled Hooker Lake with an amazing view of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. The path includes three swing bridges and is a very easy and rewarding walk that we highly recommend. After the track, we rewarded ourselves with a nice coffee and a great view at the Old Mountaineer’s Cafe in Mount Cook Village. Refreshed, we drove about 20 minutes to the Tasman Glacier. From the car park, it is only a 10 minute walk up to the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint from where you have an amazing view over the Tasman Lake towards the glacier. On your way to the viewpoint you can visit the Blue Lakes, which are actually green, since they do not consist of glacier water anymore, but are filled with rain water. If you like to, you can do different loop walks around the Blue Lakes or along the Tasman Lake and back to the car park. We spent the rest of the day at Lake Pukaki and then back to our campground.

A big advantage of our holiday park was that the Helicopter Line was located right next to the reception and we could walk from the campground to the helicopter flight. We had a look at all the different options for helicopter flights online and found a great offer on Bookme for a flight to Mount Cook, including a snow landing. Note that the helicopter flights are more expensive at Mount Cook compared to the West Coast, but you can save a lot of money when you are lucky to find an offer on deal pages like Bookme. Our helicopter flight started at 10:30 am and we checked out of the campground and left the car right at the reception. It was the first helicopter flight for both of us and we were extremely excited. The staff took our weight and decided from that where you will sit in the helicopter. We shared a flight with 4 other people and were lucky enough that Lotta was seated in the front and Torben behind the pilot next to the window. There were strong winds that day and the flight was quite bumpy, but the view was just spectacular. We flew next towards the mountain peaks of Mount Cook and made a snow landing on a snow field right on the opposite site of Mount Cook. The view up there was absolutely breathtaking and while we were taking thousands of photos, three Kea birds were curious enough to land right in front of us. They are probably used to being fed by tourists and tried their luck with us. When we left Milford Sound, we had been a little bit disappointed not to see a single Kea bird (given that every guide book mentioned them),, which is why we were even more excited to see them in the snow, where we didn’t expect them at all. The helicopter flight was an overall great experience and even though it was pricey, it was definitely worth it. Compared to the pictures that we have seen from helicopter flights around the West Coast, the view we had, so close to Mount Cook, is definitely as good as the flights around the West Coast.

After our helicopter flight, we got back to the campervan and drove about 1 hour to Lake Tekapo. We chose to stay at the Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park, which had great facilities, many powered and unpowered sites available and a beautiful view on the light blue water of Lake Tekapo. Lake Tekapo is the name for the lake itself and the town, which are both located in the Mackenzie Basin. James Mackenzie was a famous sheep thief who was the first European who discovered this area in 1855. In 1857, the first sheep farm was established around Lake Tekapo. Some years later, in 1935, the first church in the Mackenzie Basin was built at Lake Tekapo. The Church of the Good Shepherd is one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand. In 2012, the area around Lake Tekapo was declared as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association. In 2019, there were only 12 reserves in the world that were officially declared as Dark-Sky Reserves. The relative freedom from light pollution in that area, allows incredible stargazing views and attracts many tourists to the local Dark Sky Project and the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory. You can book different stargazing experiences that take you around the lake or even up to Mount John Summit.

Unfortunately, during the 3 days that we spent at Lake Tekapo, the weather was constantly cloudy or rainy and we didn’t have a clear sky to look for stargazing. Most of the stargazing experiences that you can book are relatively expensive and we planned on driving around Mt Johns Summit at night, in case the sky cleared up. Unfortunately, it stayed cloudy and we only walked up the Mount John Summit Circuit Track during the day to enjoy the view at the Astro Cafe. You can start the track from the Holiday Park and it took us about an hour to reach the Cafe and climb up the approx 300 meters to the summit. Another advertised tourist attraction are the Tekapo Springs, that offer snow and ice skating attractions as well as hot pools, massage and saunas. As in many different places, good weather conditions will make your stay at Lake Tekapo much better. The main highlights of Lake Tekapo are the amazing views on the lake and the light blue water that is best during sunshine and the stargazing views that are only possible with a clear sky at night.

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