New Zealand

South Island Road Trip: Oamaru, Tekapo, Lake Pukaki & Mount Cook

After leaving Dunedin in rather more vulnerable states than we had first arrived, we were looking for something a little bit more peaceful for our next stop. We were heading for Oamaru, where Shannon (the friend that I had traveled around New Zealand with already) had set up camp for the previous five months, and we were intrigued by the town that we had heard so little about. We trundled our cars along Shannon’s long and dimpled driveway before parking up outside the house and reuniting with my long lost pal.

Oamaru

The evening was spent at Shannon’s friend Alun’s house – a house that he lives in alone, and so it’s perfect for entertaining. We were so excited to have a real kitchen to cook our meals in, and so opted for a more technical and tasty option – pasta – and we marveled at being able to do all of the washing up in a sink, with as much water as we needed (!). We sat around the living room, telling stories of our travels and hearing about Shannon and Alun’s lives in Oamaru, before our eyelids began to droop and our beds were calling.

The following morning my cousin was meeting us in town after getting an early bus over from Dunedin. We scooped her up and drove over to a place called Elephant Rock, which is a lot of rocks set in a field, that bizarrely look like elephants (if you use your imagination), before driving back into town for lunch.  The afternoon was spent admiring the Steampunk art work, meandering along the coastline and scouring the beaches for the well known yellow eyed Penguin. Of which we found none. Oamaru is cute, peaceful. It’s the kind of town that I could imagine living in after retiring.

We had planned to stay in Oamaru for another night but after a quick team meeting we decided that it would be a good idea to hit the road and make our way over to the next destination.

Tekapo

We arrived in Tekapo quite late, but it was the night that there was supposed to be a lot of clearly visible meteor’s and Tekapo was renowned for it’s night sky, so really we had timed things well. We parked up at the iconic church, the Church of the Good Shepherd, and found ourselves engulfed by a huge crowd of people all looking up at the sky with their tripods poised. But with the cameras flashing and the large crowd murmuring, we grew frustrated, especially as the camera flashes ruined the darkness that we needed to see all of the stars. So we headed off to find somewhere to park up for the night. The problem was, there wasn’t really anywhere to go. If you’ve been to Tekapo then you’ll know that the town is pretty much made up of two roads, with no where to camp, so we had to keep driving, and driving, until we finally found somewhere. It was pretty much just the side of a road, a little lay by, which is illegal but we were tired and it’s also strongly advised that you shouldn’t be tired whilst behind the wheel… We stood outside, waiting to see hundreds of little meteor’s fall through the sky. The stars were impressive in themselves, but we were waiting for that little bit more. Before long we all grew tired, and cold, and headed into our cars to keep an eye out. 3

Nothing. We all fell asleep and awoke the next morning to compare notes. Karen’s Betsy has a little sunroof, and she thinks she might have seen one…

After a quick peanut butter and banana sandwich (breakfast) we went back down to the church to discover that it is actually situated right on the lake that overlooks the mountains in the distance. The sun was shining, the church was much quieter, and we sat on the rocks surrounding the lake to take it all in. It was so enchanting, with the most gorgeous clear waters and snow-capped mountains, and speedboats jetted through the water. We met up with Alan before going for a walk around the lake, along the beaches, and we took in its tranquility. There was hardly anyone around, it almost felt like the lake was our own.

After a little bit of Google-ing we learnt that one of the main things to do in Tekapo was to go up to the Observatory (sat on a big hill) and look at the stars. Given that it was midday we thought that that probably wasn’t going to be a good plan for us, so we grabbed a few beers, drove up there anyway and prepared for yet another gorgeous view. At the top of the Observatory we could see everything – the mountains, the incredible blue of the glacial water, the tiny town and then the vast lands that surround it.  The observatory has a quaint little restaurant, and some indoor star-gazing area, but we weren’t remotely interested in either. We just sat back on the grass and took it all in.

Another ‘must do’ on the Tekapo visitor’s guide was to visit the hot pools, but we were all starting to worry about funds (given that we hadn’t had a paycheck in a while and seemed to be spending a fortune on petrol…and beer) so we decided against this and went on to our next destination to park up for the night.

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki – I say this with complete confidence –  was my favourite place on our road trip (and so far in the whole of New Zealand). About a 30 minute drive from Tekapo, we managed to find a free camping ground that was right on the lake front, and had plenty of space, so we all parked our cars up next to one another and got our camping chairs out to sit, eat and overlook the lake. Rocks lined the water’s edges, and the water itself mirrored all of the mountains that sat around it perfectly, before highlighting Mt Cook at the very back. The sun was setting, after boldly pronouncing itself in the bluest of skies, and we huddled together as a group to take it all in. We all felt so at peace. So relaxed. And as Dave (King of the Fire) started up our evening’s entertainment (a campfire), we sat together and laughed and ate dinner and waited for the stars to come out and show us even more of what we had seen the night before. And they were right. Stars everywhere…some so bright and scattered and filling every nook and cranny of the night sky. We tried our best to spot some constellations, but if I’m honest no one really knew what they were talking about.

The next morning we opened the boot of our car and laid in bed to watch the sun rise over the lake with a breakfast of another peanut butter and banana sandwich (spot the theme). We were in heaven. We felt so lucky to be waking up to one of the most incredible views. We finally peel ourselves out of the car before gathering around the extinguished campfire for our second breakfast – two eggs, which we placed in the hot ash of the fire – and we were pretty uncertain that they would cook.  After 15 minutes or so, silence filled the camp as Karen reached down and gave the first egg a little shake. She cracked it open and had a look inside, expecting raw-clear goo. It had cooked! Woo hoo! We passed the little eggs around our group of seven and savored the smoky taste of our first (and only) campfire breakfast.5
Mount Cook

We reluctantly packed up our cars and stuck to the schedule – we were heading for Mt Cook and the Hooker Valley Track, something that we had heard so much about.

The drive around the lake itself was stunning, and as the valley closed in on us we watched us the clouds teased us above. The weather seemed to be holding off, thankfully, and so we pulled into the DOC campsite to park up our cars for the night. It was very busy, and we could already spot the sand flies in the air. Oh, boy.

But we pressed on with our walking boots and snacks and started off on the four hour walk through the valley. The mountains were huge and covered in snow, with glaciers shared between them all. Karen was delighted that there would be swing bridges (her favourite) and Sarah was enjoyed the geographical variations (her favourite) and so we all plodded along with big smiles on our faces. We stopped halfway as Karen has inspired us all (or at least some of us) to take part in ‘earth-ing’ – the process in which your body re-establishes its connection with the earth, i.e putting your feet in a lake – and so we all sat on rocks in the river and dipped our toes in the glacial water. We asked a passer by to take a picture of us and you can see in said photo that our smiles are actually smiles through pain, as the water was so cold it made your bones ache. 1

The walk continued until we finally made it to the great Mt Cook.Unfortunately the weather by this point was pretty naff, so I don’t have any great pictures of it. But we took this moment, sat on rocks in front of the impressive Mountain, to take up a spot of meditating (thank you Alan). So the seven of us perched on our own rock, and closed our eyes, and listened to Alan’s voice as he led us into a peaceful state of mind.
We walked back to the campsite, and cooked our meals (salmon!!! We had bought some at this quaint little Salmon shop on the edge of Lake Pukaki) trying our best to ignore the sand flies. It was getting cold, and we were getting itchy. Alan had returned from his drive to find more booze, but he had come bearing news.

Given that we were in the middle of nowhere, and being the typical Irish man that he is, Alan had found a pub. Another sand fly bite to the ankles and we were all in our cars and following Alan down the road. Who in their right mind would choose a cold bench vs a warm building… We ended up having a wonderful evening, playing darts until what felt like the early hours of the morning. Our day had been wonderful, and, as always, we were ready to see what the next day would have in store.

To be continued…

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