New Zealand > South Island > Christchurch to Aoraki Mt Cook

Wednesday, 6th Aug 2008

A cold morning finds us walking the streets of Christchurch in search of our car rental depot, and yes there it is, the yellow one.

Soon we are on our way along Route 1 heading southwest, enjoying the sights of the Canterbury Plains. It’s winter and we are having great luck, weather-wise.

To our right the snow-cladded Southern Alps seem to be following us. Later in the day we are going to cross those mountains.

An alpaca farm attracts us and we make a quick stop in our Nissan March.

Cute things, these alpacas, look like huge maggots though. Much prized for their fibres.

Entering Route 79 heading inland, we come to a major junction – right to Mt Hutt, a famous skiing mecca and back to Christchurch, and left to the rest of South Island. The horse is not impressed, but we take a left towards Aoraki.

Passing through Geraldine along Route 8, and heading west into the mountains.

Soon we enter Mackenzie Country for a fantastic view of the valley.

A truck with a trailer roars past, and this combo is a common feature on NZ roads, especially the busy ones.

Mountains snowed over is a common sight. Beautiful.

As we enter the mountainous area, the earth becomes more barren. This is Burke’s Pass, and the main inhabitants are sheep, of the Merino type.

On high ground past the mountains, there’s a huge plateau with expansive grazing pastures, ringed by white mountain ranges.

Our road, Route 8, is straight and lonesome, and we see our first roadside snow! The occasional vehicles zoom past at high speed. Hopefully not more than the state speed limit of 100km/h.

In a snowstorm this pass would normally be impassable. Now the weather is great, but it’s still freezing cold.

Then we go downhill and round a bend … to come to our first ever NZ lake. This is Lake Tekapo, at 700m above sea level, gouged out by a huge glacier many thousands of years ago.

Lake Tekapo is still fed by glaciers, and it has a unique turquoise colour caused by rocky sendiments in glacial water. On its bank stands the Church of Good Shepherd, built 1935.

We press on, and find ourselves cruising through another desolate plain.

Then a bend in the road, and more spectacular mountains, …

… and I present to you … Lake Pukaki.

Another glacial lake with turquoise water like Lake Tekapo, and we can spot distinguished Aoraki Mt Cook far, far away.

I am getting ‘scenery-overload’ already. πŸ™‚

Just after Lake Pukaki, there’s a junction northwards to Mt Cook, so we decide to see the famous mountain up close. We are not disappointed as Mt Cook dominates the whole 60km of Route 80 which ends at Mt Cook Village, with Lake Pukaki to our right more than half of the way.

The road is very drive-able and with little traffic, we find ourselves entering the national park soon after. Another World Heritage Site under our belt. πŸ˜€

We are in a huge glacial valley surrounded by fantastic mountains.

A few minutes later we arrive at Mt Cook Village. We decide to check The Hermitage out.

To the right, huge mountains loom. We drive uphill all the way.

This is The Hermitage, and we are keen on the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.

There’s a life-size statue of Sir Edmund …

… gazing at Aoraki Mt Cook, only 16km away. Aoraki (Maori for ‘cloud-piercer’) is NZ’s tallest at 3754m, just 341m shorter than Mt Kinabalu.

Plaque at the feet of the statue.

We enter the Alpine Centre to flee from the freezing cold weather outside.

Sadly, the centre was opened soon after Sir Edmund died earlier this year.

Hung from the high ceiling, a retired plane. Probably used for sightseeing, glacier landing and search & rescue.

And in one portion of the centre, I bump into Sir Edmund himself.

It is filled with his memorabilia, including this odd-looking tractor he used for his 1956 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. To the left, a pic of him and Tenzing Norgay back at Everest Advance Base Camp recounting their successful summitting on 29th May, 1953.

Incidentally, on our way back to Malaysia from NZ, during a stop-over in Coolangatta on Queensland’s Gold Coast, I found this classic National Geographic issue. πŸ˜€

Before attempting Mt Everest, Sir Edmund trained at Mt Cook.

As we exit the Alpine Centre, it’s getting dark, and we have to leave to make it to our lodging at Twizel before it gets too late. There’s the peak of Mt Cook in the setting sun.

We drive slowly down the hill while admiring the amazing backdrop.

But one last stop – a peek at the Mt Cook Airport. Yes, there is one here, to take visitors for sight-seeing and glacier landing, and maybe all the way to Milford Sound on the other side of the tall mountains.

I’m too late to see any planes in action, just a couple of aviators stowing their magnificent flying machines to end the day. Ah well, better than nothing.

There’s the fuel pump to fill up the planes and beyond it, the ramp and the north-south runway.

In the car-park, some joyous folks, probably happy to be back on the ground after a scary flight.

As the sun moves lower, we decide to leave and take a last look at Mt Cook.

Ahead of us, more driving to do before we can call it a day. Not that we mind, it is a fantastic road Route 80.

As we reach the head of Lake Pukaki, we stop to say hi to some sheep. They look so intelligent eyeballing us.

As the sun sets and the temperature dips to freezing point, Lake Pukaki again accompanies us, this time on our left. Half an hour later we arrive at our warm comfy lodge in Twizel. It has been a fantastic day, and yes, I’m suffering from scenery-overload!


For orientation of the above spots, please CLICK HERE.



  1. Jan 29 August 2008
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