Van Day 1+ 2: Christchurch - Tekapo - Mt Cook
Picking up a van and packing up a van and shopping for a van trip takes longer than you would think and it was 5pm before we got on the road. Luckily it doesn't get dark until after 9pm and there are no kangaroos on the roads in New Zealand so leaving at 5pm didn't really matter…
We left Christchurch and drove through the Cantebury plains heading South towards Lake Tekapo. The pastures were a tapestry of green and gold and rust fenced in rich healthy hedges. As the land began to steepen and slope the weather came in and we wove through the hills shrouded in mist and delicate rain. The rain cleared as the sun began to set lighting the clouds in a soft violet.
Lake Tekapo was postcard perfect - a turquoise lake edged in rose and lavender hued lupins.
Tekapo is famed for its sky - the stars and the southern lights, Aurora Australis. Unfortunately we didn't see the lights, but the sky was big and amazing and we opened the sunroof in the van and fell asleep looking at the stars.
The first order of the day was to check out weather information to see if a glacial helicopter ride over mount cook would be a possibility. It seemed that the wind and cloud would not be conducive to such ventures so we decided to carry on to Wanaka instead.
Before getting on the road we headed to the Mount John observatory for a coffee with a view. And what a view it was. The lake looked particularly grand from such a vantage point, the turquoise waters disappearing into impressive snowy peaks. Sheltered from the wind the sun was warm. We weren't sorry to have passed up the evening stargazing tour (which started at $95 per head) but it was definitely worth the drive up in daylight hours.
Back on the road the scenery was so incredible that I decided I could easy drive around New Zealand for weeks doing nothing but staring out the window. I needed no more to fill my heart. I was already overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded me, but when Lake Pukaki came into view the aqua marine waters took my breath away. The colour was simply indescribable. We pulled over to take in the lakes majesty, snapping photo after photo in an attempt to capture it and, or course, failing. There are some things that can only be seen with the heart.
Back in the van we stopped down the road at Twizel to arrange fishing licenses for the weekend and Nath thought to check back up on the weather at Mt Cook. It seemed that the mornings weather had cleared and that glacier flights were going so we decided to make the most of the good weather window and book in for that afternoon.
We canceled our booking at Wanaka and back tracked to head to Glentanner - another gorgeous drive with Lake Pukaki to one side and the Southern Alps, in all their glory, ahead.
We confirmed out flight over Mt Cook at the Glentanner airfield and then headed into Mt Cook to kill time.
Mt Cook village is a gorgeous little settlement nestled at the foot of the mountain. Architecturally sleek and simple, the town is warm and welcoming in the way that all mountain towns seem to be. It made me instantly nostalgic for my childhood winter holidays - drinking hot milo after a morning skiing, waiting for Mum and Dad to come in off the slopes and pick us up. There's just something cosy, comfortable and familiar about being snug and warm when it's cold outside, and despite my conviction that I'm a mermaid I fell in love with the mountains and could easily imagine myself in that environment for an extended period of time.
Lunch and wine overlooking the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps led nicely into our scenic flight.
When we arrived back at the airfield the wind had picked up and the pilot suggested a different route, cutting 5 minutes off our original planned flight. We were disappointed but it didn't matter in the end - everything was spectacular.
We lifted off at the mouth of Lake Pukaki, floating over the braided creek systems that fed glacial melt into the aquamarine waters. The mountains rose in craggy peaks and the crystal blue ice of the glaciers shone through the snow. I was so overwhelmed by it all that I cried. My heart was full.
Our pilot landed us in the snow and it was back to talking photo after photo after photo, trying to process the grandeur that surrounded us and the fact that we were there at all…
By the end of our flight we still had hours of daylight so we decided to take a walk to see the glacial lake and the fallen ice from the ground. The experience of seeing the glacier from this vantage point, and the chunks that had fallen and were floating in the lake, was incomparable to the flight, but stunning and utterly majestic in its own right. From the foot of the range the mountains towered over us, rocky and steep and covered in snow. The water in the lake was not clear but milky with silt and coloured the same shade of aquamarine we had been seeing through the south island in the lakes and the river systems that fed them.
The pieces of glacier were blackened but icy blue - the quintessential alpine colour that cannot be described in any other way. We saw boats at the waters edge and I imagined what it would be like to paddle in the water with the ice rising sheer and steep above us. We walked in whipping wind along the ridge line then found a place to nestle ourselves in the rocks, sheltered from the weather, and have a been with a view.
We camped the night in a department of Conservation campsite at the foot of Mt Cook. It was nothing short of impressive and as we cooked dinner we kept taking pause to look up at the glacier and marvel that we were there.
As the sky darkened a light dusting of snow began to fall so we crawled into the van and fell asleep warm and content at the foot of this beautiful mountain that in the space of a few hours changed how I saw myself and the world.