The Tallest Mountain & the Clearest Skies in New Zealand

After departing Dunedin, our travels led us back through Queenstown and then up through the center of the South Island of New Zealand to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo.

We had a few good Paleo eats along the way as well. In Dunedin, we had breakfast at this great spot called Good Oil Cafe. They had delicious coffee and food with tons of healthy options. I had the kumara (sweet potato) hash with poached eggs and smoke salmon…however it appears I was too hungry to consider a picture at the time!

For lunch, we ate in Cromwell, a city outside of Queenstown with a cute little historic part of town.

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The Grain & Seed Cafe, despite its name, had healthy paleo options as well. Everything was made from scratch, delicious, and the place is adorable! I had a tasty salad with a mint and honey vinaigrette.

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Cromwell’s Old Town is a fun little stop, especially for families. Cromwell was full of good food, wine, a bit of history and beautiful scenery.

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Following wine tasting at Chard Farm, we stayed in Queenstown for the afternoon/night to explore it a bit further and to eat more chocolate ice cream from Patagonia of course!

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A relaxing picnic along the lake for dinner with a bottle of Hunky Dory Pinot Noir from Huia was a perfect relaxing evening for us before hitting the road for the next few days.

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In the morning, we enjoyed a delicious mocha-chino from Patagonia, and then ventured to Mt. Cook National Park.

(side note: we need more mocha-chinos in the U.S…so much better than a standard mocha!)

Before the turn off to Mt. Cook, there is a stop for a lookout over Lake Pukaki, one of the bluest lakes I have ever seen. Absolutely stunning views with Mt. Cook looming in the background.

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The remainder of the drive to Mt. Cook National Park is all along this beautiful glacial lake.

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Once we arrived into the little town, we stopped in the visitor center for some information about the hiking trails and weather conditions. This visitor center is massive and actually pretty awesome. It has a ton of exhibits and information about Mt. Cook, so I highly recommend a stop here to at least chat with the rangers before setting out, as they are an incredible source of information for hikes, trails, climbing,  weather conditions, etc. Mt. Cook can have some challenging weather conditions, to put it mildly, so it definitely pays off to be prepared!

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It was raining on and off when we arrived to Mt. Cook, so we were debating if we should hike any of the trails or if we should just continue on. Believe it or not, we left our fate to a coin. Obviously, the coin knew best. Heads was go hiking, tails was continue on. The coin landed heads up, and our fate was decided. We decided to “man up” and put our good rain gear to use.

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We chose to hike the Hooker Valley Trail, which is pretty easy (pretty flat terrain and a well groomed trail), but beautiful and fun nonetheless.

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The scenery was amazing, even with the clouds and rain we had, so I could imagine it to be stunning on a sunny day.

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The trail culminates where the Hooker Glacier meets a lake with little icebergs floating in it.

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(yes, the glacier was very dirty!)

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Definitely glad we didn’t let this opportunity pass!

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(monument to the climbers who have lost their lives attempting to summit Mt. Cook)

Mt. Cook National Park is gorgeous, and certainly deserving of more time to explore other parts of the park.

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You can camp or stay in a few of the lodges at the base of the mountain, but after our hike, we continued on to our final destination for the night: Lake Tekapo. We needed to get closer to Christchurch for our flight the next day and wanted to see the beautiful night skies in the area, so we decided to stay further north.

Once we arrived in the area, we checked into our hostel at Lakefront Lodge Backpackers. The hostel is in a fantastic location next to a lake, but the accommodation was just okay. Good enough for the very few hours we were actually there.

We headed over to the main town/lake for dinner at a delicious Japanese restaurant called Kohan. We were fortunate enough to watch the sun set over the beautiful glacially blue colored lake during dinner.

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Surprisingly, there were also a few fun bars with live music and other good food options in the town, so we stopped by one with a band after dinner to enjoy a drink and the live music.

The main attraction for this area is the Church of the Good Shepherd Mt. John’s Observatory.

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(Church of the Good Shepherd – cute Church worth a visit)

Although I can’t prove it, supposedly Lake Tekapo has one of the clearest skies in the world and is one of the best spots for star gazing. We opted to check out the stars from the lake by our lodge rather than do a tour of the observatory to save a bit of money, as they are fairly expensive.

I can’t say what the observatory is like, but I can say that it is probably worth the cost because the amount of stars in the sky at night there is out of this world (all pun intended). The skies were clear enough that you could actually track the entire trajectory of satellites as they moved across the sky. No picture can truly do this sky or the experience justice, but I figured I would share the best picture I was able to take with the limited equipment and camera features I had available:

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Both Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapo were truly amazing experiences and a perfect way to end our last full day in New Zealand!

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: New Zealand: North & South Island Itineraries | Fit To Wander

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