Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo

The mountains are calling and I must go.

John Muir

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lindis Pass

We enjoyed our last Wanaka sunrise of the trip. We called our parents on Viber again, while we ate our breakfast in the campervan. We were all pretty sore from our hike the day before. The parents had done their own hike for Labor Day at Rosy Mound in Grand Haven. They even wore their Zeeland shirts, too! We have such cute parents. It was nice to hear their voice, and we had to take advantage of the free reliable Wi-Fi before continuing on our trip, since we didn’t know what the next place would be that we would get it.

We set off toward Mt. Cook National Park, but that meant first a morning’s drive through Lindis Pass, just outside the Wanaka area. The weather was turning out to be very similar to the day before, which was a good thing: mostly sunny skies with a few white, wispy clouds.

The fuel injector light on the campervan came on right before we entered Lindis Pass, which made us a bit concerned that something was going seriously wrong with the campervan. According to the manual that came with the campervan, it had could have possibly meant some sort of contamination or condensation had entered the fuel line, which could be bad. It had been cold in a few spots on our drive out of Wanaka, so we wondered if the weather or humidity had set it off in some way, but we never did find out. We didn’t know how to fix it ourselves, and we prayed that we wouldn’t have to find a mechanic to fix it. We worried it would cause us problems down the road, literally. Britz did have contact numbers for emergencies, but we hoped that we could wait on it till the end of our journey. Philip did find the engine under the passenger and middle seats (which, remember, is the left side in New Zealand vehicles), but it was too difficult to access the components to even begin to address the problem on our own.

In all other regards, the drive was fine, and the views were spectacular—usual fare for New Zealand by this point—as every turn showed us a new and different face of the landscape. We had stopped at Lindis Pass for a while to take a look at the manual about the fuel injector, but also because there was a nice view over the pass. The landscape here is a bit desert-like with scrub brush and tussock. Much of the land on the immediate eastern side of the Southern Alps, and it makes sense, as the rain gets caught on the west coast before the mountains, and that’s where the rainforests are plentiful. New Zealand is really the world in miniature—it has every kind of landscape.

After Lindis Pass, we came through a valley near Omarama. We got a glimpse of the Omarama Clay Cliffs from from the highway, but we did not take the time to see them closer. They were a good 10 kilometers off our route, and we wanted to make sure we had enough time for Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapo later.

Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

Not long after Omarama, we came through Twizel and bright blue canals began appearing. Lake Pukaki popped into view, the same bright blue, which sat at the foot of Mt. Cook. Here we turn onto State Highway 80, the Aoraki/Mt. Cook Road. Mt. Cook was immediately visible through the crystal clear skies, looming over the valley, the biggest mountain in sight.

We stopped at Peter’s Lookout, where you can see the Mt. Cook Road winding along the edge of Lake Pukaki into the mountains and valley. We got our siblings, panoramic, and Roaming Gnome pictures in, before continuing on to Mt. Cook Village. Mt. Cook Village was not too far further down the road. The entire road takes about an hour in and an hour out (about 50-60 kilometers total).

We stopped at the visitor’s center when we arrived in the village. The visitor center is among the coolest visitor’s centers we stopped at in the whole country, as far as visitor centers go. A large diamond-shaped window at the far end of the center framed the famed mountain of Aoraki/Mt. Cook. Though we did not take the time to read absolutely everything, we could tell all the displays were really well done. We bought some souvenirs since we didn’t think we would return to the visitor center after exiting the park.

We briefly walked the Bowen Bush Walk before lunch. It gave nice views of the largeness of the valley. Back at the campervan we ate sandwiches, chips, and juice boxes to fuel up for our Hooker Valley Track walk, then drove further into the valley toward the Hooker Valley Track.

Since we had done a big hike the day before and were still pretty sore, we decided we were only going to do part of the hike. It wasn’t a difficult path at all, only some occasional stairs, and it was a beautiful sunny day, but the wind was strong in some parts, especially by the Alpine Memorial, a monument in memory of those who lost their lives on the mountain, when made it a little to keep upright at times on the rocky. And the rocks were a bit wet, most likely from snowmelt. We went as far as the Mueller Lake lookout and a suspension bridge that crosses the Tasman River. The river is almost white, since there is a a lot of glacial silt that is pulverized in the water. (In retrospect, we probably could have pushed ourselves further, even though we were all in some pain, but we also wanted to make sure we make it to Tekapo before nightfall, a common motivation for most of our NZ activities.)

We’re sure it’s a trick of the eye, but Aoraki/Mt. Cook almost seems bigger further down the Lake Pukaki, where we had entered the park, as opposed to being right below it in the Hooker Valley. In the valley itself, it becomes sort of confusing which peak you are looking at, since the surrounding peaks aren’t as obvious when you’re right below them. We had had the same experience with Mt. Aspiring/Tititea in Wanaka the days previous. (Part of it must be us Michiganders not used to mountains and perspectives like that!)

The skies remained mostly clear, but there was one funny-looking white cloud that hung over the mountain that nearly seemed fake. It appeared as a white splotch in our photos, so at first, we thought it was something wrong with our lenses. But the clouds were being stretched extra long with super soft edges that it was like they were being smeared across the blue sky. Being no mountain meteorologists, we guessed the effect had to do with the extra high winds at high altitudes near the peaks. (Some of our research later called these type of clouds lenticular clouds.) We thought the cloud formed an exclamation point above the peak of the mountain, like it was saying “Mt. Cook!”

Lake Tekapo & Church of the Good Shepherd

Around 3 o’clock we left Mt. Cook National Park. Lake Tekapo was only an hour’s drive north. The road brought us on the opposite side of Lake Pukaki, where we could view the long clouds over Mt. Cook and the surrounding peaks in the late afternoon light of the day. moments like these really proved the Maori name of New Zealand, Aotearoa, or “Land of the Long White Cloud,” true, again.

The town of Tekapo sort of sprung up out of the landscape suddenly. The town is situated on a glacial lake, much like all of our previous main stops of Te Anau, Queenstown, and Wanaka—Lake Tekapo is the northernmost “big” glacial lake in this chain of glacial lakes in the South Island. Like Pukaki, Tekapo too has bright blue-green waters and stony beaches. Though Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes are glacial lakes like these lakes, these seem more recent.

After checking in at the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park, where we got spot #30, we decided to head to the Church of the Good Shepherd, down the road before sunset. The church turned out to be a bit more touristy than we were anticipating, and it seemed like the flocks of people and tour buses didn’t end, but it is a very nice location. The little stone church is famous in photographs online, and admittedly, looks much more isolated in most photographs than it actually is (it’s not actually that far from a parking lot and the town, to be honest). It has a great location and view of the lake, so it must be a great place to worship (apparently it is still has a small, active congregation). But we were also very annoyed at a couple who hogged all the time in front of the church, in some sort of photoshoot with a wedding dress. It didn’t even seem like it was a real photoshoot, only for themselves. And every other tourist like us wanted their one lonely church shot like we did, too. So, in a way, the church was spoiled for us a bit. Tekapo the town has a bit more of ramshackle feel, like it’s been a remote outpost for a long time and is only recently getting more business, probably all the new tourism from people like us who were inspired by the Lord of the Rings movies.

But the area is neat. There is a nice monument of a collie dog to commemorate the shepherding industry in New Zealand. There are millions of sheep and cattle in the country, brought originally from Europe (especially in McKenzie country, where a lot of Scottish immigrants settled).

The lake itself is very reflective. It may the most reflective of all the lakes we saw. It was a peaceful place.

We had beef ramen, apples, peas, ham sandwiches, and cookies for dinner, and watched the last pink light of the day fade over the peaks as we cooked it in the holiday park common room.

We stayed up to try more star photos. Tekapo is supposed to be one of the darkest spots in the world. In fact, a peak not far from our campsite, Mt. John (we never actually went up there, because we weren’t sure the campervan could make it up), had an observatory on it. We probably got some of the clearest pictures of the Milky Way and stars of the entire trip—and we were getting better at the camera settings.

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