January 31, February 1 and 2
I left Christchurch later than I would’ve preferred for Lake Tekapo. But I really wanted my $20 key deposit back. That’s lunch money, on a splurge. I was headed for the McKenzie District. Lake Pukaki to be exact. I had a little cottage booked for the next three nights and after my initial trepidation, I was actually looking forward to this part of my adventure. This first day was just a drive and relaxing day. I was returning to a place that I had already visited with Red Carpet Tours. But I didn’t mind. I really liked this place. I’m talking about Lake Tekapo. I re-visited the Church of the Good Shepherd and like any smart tourist with time, I hung around the church until all the large tour groups disappeared from the church and took my perfect photos. Then I wandered the village shops and the grocery store. Since I was going to be up at the cottage for the next few days, I figured I could eat well for few days up there. Who was I kidding? First of all, it’s Chinese New Year. I needed my Chinese food fix. And funny enough there was a Chinese restaurant right in the village. I ended up getting Chicken Chow Mein and King Prawns with Vegetables. Tasty! And Sisters, if any of you remember what the Canton Cafe chow mein tasted like back when we were little, it was exactly like that. Talk about going down memory lane. I didn’t think any Chinese restaurant still made noodles like this. But I guess if you’ve never eaten authentic Chinese food, you’d never know the difference. Not that it was bad food, it was just unexpected. But then again, this was at the first time I had tasted Chinese food in New Zealand…in Tekapo…in a village…In a village smaller than our home town. So I guess it’s typical. The King Prawns dish did have my favourite ‘vegetable’ which was lots of baby corn. And celery and broccoli and cauliflower. So like I said, a trip down memory lane. After visiting every single shop, my lost stop was the information centre. Which was also a souvenir shop and postal outlet. Laurence had mentioned I take a trip down the Tekapo Canal Road and Wayne had said to take the Haymen Road to get to my cottage. But I also knew there was a Braemar Road as well. The lady I spoke to knew all about Braemar station and she said that the fastest way to get there was to take Braemar Road. She also said the Tekapo Canal Road was closed for maintenance. She said that Haymen Road would take me to Braemar station and she also mentioned that both roads were unsealed. So Wayne, took the Braemar Road to Braemar Station. Since then, I have driven on both Haymen and Braemar Road and let me just tell you that Braemar road, though more direct, is 24 km of unsealed, unsurfaced, gravel road. It is also hilly and curvy and almost seems to have larger pieces of gravel. I don’t know if larger pieces of gravel is a good thing, but I kid you not, the pieces were larger. And as I drove along at a nice pace of 60 km per hour, I could see the dust plume in my rear view mirror and then I could see the dust plume up ahead so I knew there was a vehicle head in my direction. Thank goodness for dust plumes. There is no other way to know if there is a vehicle coming your way on these hilly stretches. On a flat stretch, that’s easy. You can see them coming a mile away, again with the dust plume, but with the curvy, hilly sections, not so much, until they are right around the corner from you. And New Zealanders like to go fast here. On a surfaced road, no problem. I can drive fast. The speed limit on the highways are 100 km/hr unless otherwise signed for the curves or for road work. And the speed limit for these unsurfaced roads are also 100 km. Really? How is that even possible? Perhaps they are talking about 4WD? I’ve managed to get up as high as 70 km/hr and that’s after several days of driving on the same stretch of road, but I would never even consider going higher than that.
Well, after braving Braemar Road, I arrived at my cottage. And instantly fell in love with this place. It is the cutest little thing ever and dressed up so nicely. It was a perfect little home away from home. And it was nice to be able to have a kitchen all to myself. Actually to have a place all to myself. It was just me, the sheep and two cows for the next three days. After getting myself all settled in, I met Julia McKenzie, She and her husband run Braemar Station and she suggested a nice walk around the farm and then down to the lake. The views of Mt. Cook and Lake Pukaki were spectacular. There are so many beautiful places here in New Zealand. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with Doubtful Sound, this little spot at Pine Cottage certainly would’ve made it to the top of my list. However Pine Cottage certainly comes a close second.
After my Chinese New Year dinner sitting outside on the picnic table, I relaxed inside while I waited for the sun to set.
This was the cherry on top. I was going to see the night sky and do my best to get a good photo. Well, this was the best I could get with my fancy camera. And I am so pleased. I even managed go get a shot of a shooting star. It was a fluke of course. I just pointed the camera in the general direction and started clicking away. My tiny little gorilla pod was the closest thing to a tripod so I wasn’t able to actually see what I was shooting. Afterwards, I ran back inside. I wasn’t prepared for how cold and windy it was and every time I turned on my flashlight, I was surrounded by night time flying bugs. And the sound of the animals kind of spooked me a bit, even though I know that they are on the other side of the fence.
The next morning, I woke up to cloud and decided to head out to Omarama to see the Clay Cliffs. And with all New Zealand weather, it changed as soon as I was on the road. It is not hilly at all, and barely even curvy. And what was even better, on Braemar Road, there is ‘No Service’ on my cell phone whereas on Hayman Road, I get one dot on my cell phone. And that was more important than time, because driving along Hayman Road to get back to Christchurch adds an extra 20 km to the trip. AND instead of 24 km of gravel road, I only have to drive 18 km of gravel road. And it is small gravel rocks. SMALL is good! And while I was driving down this road, I also chased down some sheep. Not on purpose. And I was even going slow. But for whatever reason, the little guy wouldn’t veer off the road and onto the shoulder. He only wanted to run in the middle of the road. So I followed him, slowly. Eventually I think it came to realize that he could run on the shoulder and smartly made the right decision.
So, the weather. I was dressed for cold and possible rainy weather and by the time I reached the Clay Cliffs, the weather was beautiful and sunny and hot. No complaints though. The road to the Clay Cliffs? Unsealed of course. I think if you want to see any of the amazing places around here, especially up close and personal, you have to drive the unsealed roads. And as long as you are driving a safe pace, in a safe manner, you will be fine. And follow instructions, if there are any to follow. I drove through the first gate and went along just fine. And when I reached the second gate, my gut said to walk the rest. So I parked the car and headed onwards passed the second gate. I probably could’ve driven the next section, but as I was walking it, the road was getting worse. As I continued walking along, I could already see the Clay Cliffs. And they were quite interesting to see. As was the road. Eventually there was a section where a sign was posted indicating that only 4WD was required for access but the few sections that I walked prior to that pretty much re-affirmed that it was a smart thing to walk the last section. It was really only a 20 minute walk at most from the second gate. Make sure you wear a hat and good hiking shoes. Hat because there is no shade and hiking shoes if you want to do some scrambling. I strongly discourage anyone from come here when it rains. When you get right up to the cliffs, you can see where all the water would flow down from if there was rain. And it is the same sections that you would scrambling up for your spectacular views. The main stop is where everyone goes, but if you do like me and park at the second gate and walk the last section, you’ll see that there are other places that you hike up to the cliffs. Just make sure that you have long pants to protect your legs from the spiky bushes or the long tall scratchy grasses.
Since the weather was now so beautiful, I decided to head over to the Mt. John Observatory. Laurence had also suggested I go there as well to partake of the Astro Cafe. Nice suggestion Laurence. Thanks. The drive up to the observatory was amazing. The views along the road were to die for. And if you take your eye off the road for too long, you will literally die because you will drive off the road. There is room for barely two cars and again it is curvy and ridiculously steep. Thank goodness it is a paved road. But even then you have to hope that you don’t come across oncoming traffic. I came across one car only on my way up. When you get to the top, you could go straight for the cafe but I decided to do one of their short walks out to the Southern Lookout. A very good way to work up an appetite and to see the amazing views. When you are at the Southern Lookout, see if you can spot the Church of the Good Shepherd from up top. I had to look for the parking lot first before I could spot the Church. You will see almost all of Lake Tekapo and all of Lake Alexandrina. And at a certain point just behind the cafe, facing away from Tekapo village, you will see the two lakes and the difference between the two different colours of their waters. It is quite dramatic. And if it’s not behind cloud, you can see Mt. Cook as well, over by Lake Alexandrina. After soaking in the view, and the sun, it was time to hit up the Astro Cafe. I indulged in a Creamy Ice Chocolate. Basically chocolate syrup, milk and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped with cream. Yes, a truly decadent indulgence. I am going to be in such trouble when I get back home. Kickboxing is going to kick my butt! But it was so worth it. Back at the cottage, via the Hayman road, I had leftover Chinese food of course and managed to have some salad as well. And as I sat outside looking over the lake, I could see a lot more cloud cover so no night sky viewing for me. That’s alright. I got to see it last night.
However when I woke up the next morning, the weather was spectacular. A perfect day to visit Mt. Cook. Along the way I stopped off at the Mt. Cook Salmon Farm shop and picked up some farmed salmon sashimi for the road. Unfortunately I packed away my chopsticks and I didn’t want to pay for a ‘Gold coin” for disposable chopsticks. Thank goodness evolution gave us fingers! So tasty and so fresh. A very nice way to start the day, in addition to my “Sultana Bran” cereal. Also by Kelloggs. You say sultana, I say raison. Regardless it all tastes the same. After my morning fish snack, I turned on to SH 80 to get up to Mt. Cook. I had to stop off at Peter’s Lookout, only to see the peak of Mt. Cook under cloud cover. I hope that changes as I get closer. And it did. The closer I got to Mt. Cook, the more amazing it became to see. It was hard not to stop along the road to keep on taking pictures. But it did, which would explain why it took me all day to get there. Because really, without any stops, you can get to Mt. Cook from Pine Cottage in just under 90 minutes. But it was just too beautiful not to stop and look and admire. The problem is deciding which photos to post.
Anyway, after getting myself to within 10 minutes of Mt. Cook Village, I took the first turn off for the Tasman Glacier viewpoint. Holy crap that’s a lot of unsurfaced roads! But again, well worth the effort. The view of the Tasman Glacier and of the mountains behind it, specifically Mt. Cook was just amazing. All the snow covered mountains were an amazing backdrop to the glacier. But wait! Where was the glacier? If you thought the Franz Josef and the Fox Glacier were dirty…well, they are clean in comparison to the Tasman Glacier. It’s so brown it actually blends into the mountains but if you take a really good look at the end of the Tasman lake, you’ll see a white band along the edge and you’ll realize that the band belongs to the glacier. It is the largest glacier in New Zealand and it is also the fastest disappearing glacier. Sadly the Tasman Lake is making the glacier disappear. Apparently the lake is fairly new. Several decades new and it is all due to the melting from the Tasman Glacier. From up top, you can see tiny spots on the lake and those are the boats that take you out to the glacier. I only know of this because I watched the nature episodes on the plane on my way over. The boats take you near the icebergs that are in the lake and it’s supposed to be quite an experience, one that I’ll have to experience at a later date. In the meantime, what better place to have a picnic lunch than at the top of the viewpoint with Tasman Lake below and Mt. Cook and all of it’s mountain neighbours right in front. And even better, no bugs! Oh such a beautiful place. Such a beautiful country.
Onwards now to Mt. Cook Village. By now, Mt. Cook just towers over you, as well as the glaciers on the mountain. It is magnificent. Awe-inspiring. Jaw-dropping amazing. I really wish you were all here. The village is a ski-town village. There is one road that just circles the village. Park at the DOC Visitor centre and if you plan on going on a hike, make sure you put in your intentions at the visitor centre. I spent so much time stopping and snapping photos it was too late for a hike but not a problem. I had all these intentions to go on hikes every chance I could get, but I didn’t realize the views would stop me from getting far and I’m not talking about just Mt. Cook but all of my ‘intended’ hikes. But I honestly don’t mind. I have seen so much already and that’s just on all the stops on the way to these hikes that I keep missing, well I’ll just have to do them the next time I’m here. And trust me, there will be a next time. Now that I’ve been here for a month now, I see this trip as my sampler. I know where I want to return and where I can pass. So next time, I’ll plan it even better. In the meantime, I wandered the Visitor centre and looked at their exhibits before heading over to the Hermitage hotel. Make sure you see both upstairs and downstairs and wander the garden outside the visitor centre. The other exhibit you should look at, in a smallish room, there are several books that lists all the people that died on the mountain or near the mountain. It tells the story of these people and is quite sobering for people like me who prefer to hike alone. It is not a good idea to hike alone. Though I don’t think it’ll stop me from doing it, but it does make sure to remind you to be prepared for anything and everything. And while that may mean you are carrying a boat load of stuff, it’s better than being stuck somewhere with supplies dwindling. I just read the exhibit on these two people who were trapped on Mt. Cook and it took over two weeks to rescue them. Of course I will never be hiking or climbing on snow capped mountains, but the point is to be prepared and to be careful. While there, you should go to the Edmond Hilary Exhibition and Theatre at the Hermitage Hotel. Try to time it for the Edmond Hilary Himalayan film within the theatre. If you miss it, there is a nice film also with Edmond Hilary, still within the museum but not actually in the theatre. That film is also very good and its more to do with people who climbed Mt. Cook. I liked this one better. There is commentary on what Mt. Cook was like before a chunk of it fell off due to a landslide/avalanche. After wandering the exhibit, I headed out looking for a snack. Choices are limited. You could snack at the cafe at the hotel, or you could wander back to the visitor centre and snack at the Old Mountaineer Cafe. I chose the later. And it was an excellent choice I think. The view of the snow covered mountains? Superb. The food, I had Hoki Bites. They are like fish nuggets. Not bad.
The drive back to the cottage, you would think would be quick again, I had to make some stops, but this time, my main reason was to see if I could spot Braemar station from across the lake. I’m pretty sure I found it.
Once back at the cottage, it was time to pack up. This would be my last night here at Lake Pukaki. And then I’d be returning to Christchurch for two more nights before heading up to the North Island. And the minute I get into Christchurch, I would have to dump off the rental and be car free for two days. I also had to figure out how to lug all my stuff so I don’t have to pay overweight fees on the plane. After that ordeal, it was time for dinner. As I sat outside looking out across the lake, I noticed that there was barely a cloud in the sky. It would be a good night to see the stars. After soaking in the sun, I wandered around the farm a bit and then returned to my picnic table. I had been out there so long the sun was beginning to set behind the mountains. It was the end of my little piece of heaven here at the cottage. But I couldn’t let it end just yet. The sun was setting, but I had to go and see Mt. Cook one last time. What would it look like with the sun going down? Beautiful! There was pink on the snow. There was pink on the clouds. There was pink and gold on Lake Pukaki. It was so amazing.
I am so going to miss this place. After admiring the pink and gold on the lake and mountain, it was time to head back my little cottage. And though the day was over, the night was just beginning. After my final packing job, I had one last thing to do. Armed with warm layers, two blankets and a pillow, I headed outside. No camera this time. I just wanted to enjoy the experience. I set everything up on top of the picnic table and lay down, all bundled up and warm and watched the stars appear in the night sky. It was the perfect way to end my stay. It was just after 10pm when I was all set up and the stars were still coming out. I could see Orion’s belt and as I continued to stare, I saw my first of many shooting star for the night. Oh My God! That was so amazing! The streak across the sky was so noticeable. As I continued to watch, more stars appeared in the sky. And then I saw it, the Southern Cross. And then I saw the Magellanic Clouds. It was absolutely breathtaking. The most amazing experience, so different from my love for Doubtful Sound. I have never seen a night sky like this, ever and I don’t think I will ever see this again, anywhere else. I saw so many shooting stars and then I as I continued to look I saw the satellites moving across the sky. At least three satellites. But it was the Southern Cross and Orion’s belt that just had me so captivated. And it was moving. The stars were circling. And what added to this amazing experience? It was so quiet, I could hear the lapping of the waters from the lake. It was such a wonderful way to end my stay here. It was after 11pm when I headed back to my warm cottage. It only felt like minutes. I couldn’t believe I had been out there for so long. But I guess that’s what heaven is like. Time has no meaning in heaven.
I am so going to miss this place. I really wish you were all here! Luv, Aunty!