Something that is the most fun whilst on a vacation is driving! Well, if you are me, you are more of the passenger, chief snack/ music/ navigation coordinator. It is such a pleasant and simple way to see the place that you’re in- through the windscreen and behind the wheel of the car, in control- like the locals do!
We picked up Trax Teller (don’t ask. We were in the midst of a Sons binge) at around 8:30am from the airport after a crisp and clear drive through town with a lovely taxi driver. It was so cold that we had to scrape the ice off the car to actually drive it! Some of you from cooler climates are probably thinking “so what?!” but in Perth, it barely gets to below zero degrees centigrade, and snow and ice simply do not exist in our sunny patch of paradise! After a windscreen scrape, James set up his makeshift GPS (google maps open on his phone with roaming off- downloaded from Wi-Fi) and we were armed with beverages and set off away from the quirky Christchurch and towards the Aoraki/Mount Cook region. This part of the trip was planned by James in its entirety. He loves the outdoors (I do too, but differently. Through the lens of a camera) and this road trip was his “thing”. As a self-confessed motion sickness sufferer (namely carsickness) I can safely say that highways 72 and 77 are very winding, contain many hairpin bends and steep descents. Also it is legal to overtake around corners in New Zealand. We never witnessed this but I feel like it is highly dangerous! Although a bit curly, the drive was magnificent. Marvellous. Majestic. Mountainous! So many adjectives! But really, all of the above. So stunning!
To break up the drive a bit, we stopped to get some more snacks and some coffee with farm fresh cream-on-top milk. As we drove out, I said to James “Oh look, these beautiful jersey cows must be the ones the yummy milk came from- look how fluffy!” In actual fact, they were deer. Very large, very fluffy, very blonde, deer. Oops.
On the top of our To Do List was stop at Lake Tekapo, to see the lake itself and visit the Mount John Observatory. It is home to some very large stargazing equipment and one very warm café and the world’s highest post box in the Southern Hemisphere! We sat outside; in the blazing sun (we actually got burned despite being rugged up to our eyeballs) and drank in the views, and a Chai Latte as well. The winding road to/from the observatory was very narrow, and it took a while because we always had to give way to the other cars, but it was a very picturesque piece of road to say the least!
A few hours and 57 repeats of Despacito (I still haven’t quite mastered the Spanish bit) later, we passed Lake Pukaki and then entered the Mount Cook region. I don’t know how many times I was a “woo girl”. Road trip! Woo! Mountains! Woo! Sheep! Woo! Water! Woo! Poor James. The roads were vacant and thankfully ice-less. We found our hotel (seemingly the only one) The Hermitage Mount Cook, and checked into our room with a splendid view of the surrounding mountains. Not ones to laze around while the sun is out and we were on holidays, we quickly put even MORE layers on and braved the chill to explore and find some blue cheese at my request. Surely there was a general store around the place? Sadly not. Our hotel happened to be a hotel/bar/ alpine centre/museum/buffet and gift store. That sold blue cheese! We had the most expensive yet scant impromptu cheese board in our room, and then had a buffet dinner. Followed by a buffet breakfast, and then worked off all of that food with some 25km hike around the Hooker Valley Trail and Kea Point Trail in the Mount Cook region.
It was an “easy” trail level, apparently. That, I do believe, when the weather is not sunny yet cold. The whole week before we arrived it had been snowing nonstop and the result was a stunning blanket of snow covering some landmarks, and slippery, dangerous ice covering the majority of the pathways on the trail! This made for lots of fun, giggles and a few near misses with tripping over. The Hooker Valley trail spans over three swinging suspension bridges, and leads to a lake shrouded by mountains and a glacier. The most amazing part was that the lake was frozen right up to the shoreline, and had started to recede. You could actually hear the ice cracking over the lake as it melted. It was so weird and kind of phenomenal! It sounded like glass shattering when I stepped on a little bit.
We then hiked all the way back to the start to embark on the Kea Point trail because I was dying to see the world’s only Alpine parrot, the Kea. The trail was icy, long and highly uneventful. No Kea! We then called it a day and journeyed back to the sanctuary of our alpine retreat and had a scrumptious two course meal and a bottle of wine. Bliss!
The next day was our last on the South Island. The weather finally turned grisly, obviously due to our impending departure! We had checked out, and Trax was doing his thing, the rain was pouring and the wipers where whirring…and James decided to take the scenic route down the road leading to Abel Tasman Glacier. We got to the end of the road and the rain picked up, and I decided that when travelling, one should leave no stone unturned. We hiked up the path and were rewarded with an outstanding view of the largest glacier in the whole area! I had all of my hair tucked up under my beanie because it was pouring and I looked like an egg. It was cold, our noses were runny and I fell over. But look at the views!! WORTH IT!
My top tips for conquering the Mount Cook/Aoraki area:
- Stock up on snacks in Lake Tekapo on your way. THERE ARE NO SHOPS SELLING BLUE CHEESE WORTH THE PRICE IN MOUNT COOK!
- Pack lots of sun cream and lip balm, even in winter. Sunburn/windburn are gross and make you peel-y
- THERMALS ARE LIFE!!!! Also make sure your go pro is on the correct setting, and turned on! And on its stick so that you footage doesn’t look like it was recorded by an inebriated person/child.
The rest of our Sunday was spent in the car, in the Lake Tekapo hot springs and walking around the Christchurch Airport district in search of petrol stations and burgers. The night ended with us packing our bags and me watching my other boyfriend (David Attenborough) on TV. We had an early flight the next day, and after a full day travel it was so lovely to be able to come home together (not go back to our parents houses after the airport) and relax, and have an early night. That was actually one of nicest parts of our trip! We had a great time, and are looking forward to planning a Japan trip in the near future!
For me now, it’s back to work, back to exercise and cuddling up on the couch until the rain goes away and some more trips come my way!