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Tekapo to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
We began the second day with yet another cloudy day. It began to drizzle when we checked out from the hostel. Undeterred, we took a small drive uphill to Mount John, located just about 10 minutes drive from Tekapo.
Mount John University Observatory (MJUO), is New Zealand’s premier astronomical research observatory. It is situated at 1,029 metres (3,376 ft) ASL atop Mount John at the northern end of the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island, and was established in 1965.
While it is famous for observatory, we were there actually to visit the beautiful cafe and also to get panoramic view of Lake Tekapo and its surrounding.
The cafe is strategically built atop Mount John, with plenty of outdoor seating for visitors to enjoy the breathtaking scenery while sipping a cuppa. I could sit there for hours if time permits.
We spent close to an hour enjoying at the cafe before heading out to capture a few photos. The rain has stopped for a while and we wasted no time in getting our photos taken.
We left the beautiful place with a heavy heart, however I was getting anticipated about our next stop, which is just 30 minutes drive from Mount John Observatory.
The cloudy skies wouldn’t budge, and it started to drizzle again when we reached our next destination, the Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon Farm.
Mt. Cook Alpine salmon are eco-sustainably farmed and raised in near perfect growing conditions, high in the Alps in the South Island of New Zealand, with plenty of space, clean fast flowing water and as little human intervention as possible.
Yes, a salmon farm! Who would have thought NZ is famous for its salmon too? Naivety in me thinks that salmon comes from cold northern countries like Norway. Anyway, the farm was closed for maintenance so we wouldn’t able to see live salmon swimming freely in the fresh, alpine water.
We “cured” our disappointment by buying and eating fresh sashimi cuts on the spot. They were sweet, however the cuts were not up to par. Nevertheless, it’s the freshest sashimi we could eat. What is there to complain anyway? 😀
We bought some smoked salmons as well for dinner later that day. Moving on, we hit the road again inching towards our next stop, Lake Pukaki.
Lake Pukaki is the largest of three roughly parallel alpine lakes running north-south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin on New Zealand’s South Island. The glacial feed to the lakes gives them a distinctive blue colour, created by glacial flour, the extremely finely ground rock particles from the glaciers.
The turquoise color lake is what makes Lake Pukaki a must-visit place for every visitor. We did not manage to get the perfect view of the lake as it was raining at the north end of the lake but still the views are to die for! Stopping at the Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre, we quickly took some photos and had a brief visit at the visitor centre before rain cut short our visit.
We continued our journey, heading towards our stop of the day, the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. On the way, we still managed to squeeze a tight 5 minutes stop at Peter’s Lookout, which overlooks the gorgeous Lake Pukaki from the west.
The drive to the national park was one of the best drives in NZ. It was stunning with jagged, rocky mountains soared to the skies on the left with Lake Pukaki stretches up north on the right.
45 minutes later and still feeling awestruck with the surroundings, we arrived at YHA Mount Cook. The sky cleared up a bit but still looked patchy with rain clouds gathering up again.
After checking in, we took our late lunch at nearby cafe, The Old Mountaineers Cafe, Bar and Restaurant. The food aren’t exactly cheap but they were good though. Food aside, you can enjoy a good view of Mount Cook from the cafe itself on a perfect day.
There is a visitor centre next to the cafe, which we visited. Since we were running tight on schedule due to unexpected long stops earlier, we had hard time deciding our next activity; either a visit to Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre or take a stroll at one of many walking tracks at the national park. In the end, we decided to burn some carbs by taking a walk at what we called, the “cheating 1-hour return” walk.
We drove to the starting point of Hooker Valley track, and it started to drizzle again. We were in dilemma whether to continue the walk but since we already came here this far, we unanimously agreed to take the risk. Plus, based on an official brochure provided by the Department of Conservation (DOC), the walk is relatively easy and takes about 1-hour return.
We reached the first swing bridge in 20 minutes time. It was quite a leisurely walk on the gravel path. Underneath the swing bridge is the Hooker river where the source of water comes from Mueller Lake and flows towards south adjoining Tasman river. Thinking the second swing bridge would take about 10 minutes walk, we continued the walk. However, we were wrong as it took us a further 20 minutes before reaching it. By the time we got to the second swing bridge, we were completely drenched as the rain got heavier. We could have turn back but we were so determined that nothing could stop us.
There were few small climbs before reaching the second swing bridge. It wasn’t tough but the cold weather, the wet condition and our inadequate gears made the walk harder than what I have imagined. As for the second swing bridge, the river underneath gets its supply of water from Hooker Lake which flows into Mueller Lake. So you get the idea of where the original source of water comes from.
We immediately returned to where we started. The entire walk took us 2-hours, way off the mark described in the brochure, hence the moniker “cheating 1-hour return walk”.
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park never cease to amaze people like me. I’m glad to have made this as one of the places to visit in South Island. If you are a hiking or a nature aficionado, this place offers more than that and you will definitely love every single moment of it.