Alana and I had driven through this area quite a few times, going from Christchurch out to Queenstown and beyond, and then back again. We had never spent any time exploring the area though. Fortunately, we had two days to enjoy in Twizel towards the end of our time in New Zealand. It ended up being one of our favorite spots we visited and we were glad we got to more fully experience this part of New Zealand.
The first day we drove up to Lake Tekapo. We had a nice lunch at one of the cafes just off the highway. There was a nice seating area out back with great views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. After lunch we walked down to the lake and then over to the Church of the Good Shepherd. Being so easily accessible it was pretty crowded, but there was enough sky and mountains to go around.
Afterwards we drove up to the Mt. John Observatory and took a leisurely walk around the circuit track at the summit. It wasn’t particularly high, but the 360 degree views of the mountains, lakes, and flats in the area were really breathtaking. This trail really offered a lot of bang for your buck in terms of the views relative to the difficulty of the trail. Even my mother didn’t have any trouble on this 1.5 hour excursion.
The second day we had a slightly more challenging hike on the itinerary. We drove up to Mt. Cook and spent the day walking the Hooker Valley Track. This was a bit longer, taking about 4 hours to complete, but it was totally worth it. Alana and I both agreed that it was our favorite day hike during our year in New Zealand. The track wound through the valley along the Hooker River. There were three large swing bridges (a favorite feature of Alana’s).
It was pretty crowded, as we were hiking right in the middle of the day. The DOC site recommends hiking in the early morning in order to catch the sunrise and avoid the crowds. I can only imagine how incredible the scenery would be then. We’ll have to save that for next time!
I suppose it’s getting redundant talking about the amazing mountain views in each and every post. I feel like I’m running out of ways to write “beautiful mountain scenery.” But seriously, this is one of New Zealand’s biggest draws, and each hike, similar though they may sound thanks to my lack of imaginative descriptions, is a uniquely incredible experience that I can’t imagine having passed up.
The trail ended at the iceberg filled Hooker Lake (there were seriously huge chunks of ice in the lake and washed up on the shore). I put my hand in and within a few seconds it was feeling tingly and numb. There was a harsh, frigid wind gusting down from the mountains on the other side of the lake. My mom and sister rested in the sun while Alana and I explored some boulders down by the water’s edge.
The walk back was just as astounding thanks to the sun beginning to set over the mountains, illuminating the snow covered peaks flanking the trail. An endless series of clouds churned behind the peaks to the west, rolling over one at a time only to dissipate as soon as they dropped into the valley. The scenic views, gently illuminated by the setting sun, continued the entire return journey as we drove alongside Lake Pukaki back to Twizel.