When we last left off in the previous article, I was gazing up at Mount Cook in amazement. From there, our next stops were the two glorious glacial lakes – Tekapo and Pukaki. Lake Tekapo is situated in yet another small New Zealand town of the same name. Tekapo means ‘sleeping mat” in te reo Maori. It is a major tourist attraction in the country and the little town holds many resorts and hotels. The history of the town is very interesting – Lake Tekapo and several other rivers lie within the Mackenzie Basin in the region which is called Mackenzie Country. The region was named after a shepherd and sheep thief James Mackenzie in the mid-1800s. The drive into Tekapo is over a slightly hilly road and at one point along the drive, all you see if this lake if shinning turquoise water that is like nothing else you’ve ever seen – especially the first time you see it. Mackenzie Country is known mostly for sheep farming. The famous ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’ build in 1935 is situated overlooking Lake Tekapo and is another popular tourist attraction. The Dog statue next to the church was specially made in 1968 in remembrance of all the working collies of Mackenzie Country.
Next stop Lake Pukaki. Lake Pukaki also has that mesmerizing turquoise hue. The first time I ever saw these turquoise waters I just couldn’t understand what made it so. So obviously I did some research. The colour is created by “glacial flour” a fine powder-like substance made of ground glacial rock particles. This happens with the grinding of the bedrock; either naturally (glacial erosion) or artificial grinding (for whatever reason). Anyway, Lake Pukaki is the largest of three alpine lakes (the other lakes being Tekapo and Ohau – which we didn’t visit, unfortunately) within the Mackenzie Basin. The sight was just so amazing that we had a picnic on the banks of Lake Pukaki to drink it in a little more. After which we did a two-hour drive to our campsite and next destination – the township of Wanaka.
Wanaka is a resort town and sits at the southern end of Lake Wanaka. It is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, which are visible even in summer. The minute we entered into this town, the first thought we had was, ‘what a lovely place to live in’ (so we dreamed of someday retire here… who knows if it will become a reality, but at least we are free to dream). The town of Wanaka was set up during the 19th-century gold-rush. Statistics show that the town is growing rapidly, with almost a 50% growth within the span of just 10 years. This could be due to the many retirees we saw down there. I guess many other people had our dream and have made it a reality, haha… Anyway, luckily for us, we had planned two days in Wanaka, which gave us a chance to walk around the town, do some kayaking on Lake Wanaka and even have a little barbeque while lying on the banks of the lake looking at the snow-capped mountains on the horizon. Ahhh this is life…
Two days later on to Queenstown; yet another resort town, full of tourists and visitors at any time of year. We had two days in Queenstown as well. Which once again gave us time to walk around the touristy little town, enjoy an ice-cold drink while sitting in the town square, watching the hustle and bustle of the town; and since we visited close to Christmas the place was decked out with lovely fairy lights and décor that added something to the air. We did the gondola ride to the top of Bob’s peak. The ride up, while encased in a steel and glass box strung on a wire cable, affords views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. At the top of Bob’s peak, there are panoramic views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkable, Walter and Cecil Peak and, of course, Queenstown. Queenstown is situated in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island and is world-famous for adventure sports from bungee jumping to skydiving and much more. While in Queenstown we camped at the Moke Lake camping grounds. Moke Lake is a small lake situated in a valley. Driving through the valley to the camping grounds you just feel so small and insignificant, as you are just surrounded by these great mountains. It was a surreal moment for me. Our stay at Moke Lake can only be described as ‘out of this world’;m the mountains, the lake, the sunshine, the wind, the peacefulness of the whole place has an eery feeling but in a nice way (if that makes sense). Everything combines to just take you to another place.
Moke Lake Camping Grounds
Next stop – Milford Sound. Now I know this is on every traveler’s bucket list. It was on ours too, for a long time. Milford Sound is a fiord (a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier) and is one of 12 fiords that make up the Fiordland National Park of New Zealand – the country’s largest national park. Of the 12 fiords or Sounds, Milford Sound is the most famous. So famous that it has been dubbed internationally as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination and was also once called an 8th world wonder. The drive to Milford Sound takes you through the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2km tunnel leading only to Milford Sound. Wikipedia gives the following information on the etymology of Milford Sound
“Milford Sound is named after Milford Haven in Wales, while the Cleddau River which flows into the sound is also named for its Welsh namesake. The Māori named the sound Piopiotahi after the thrush-like piopio bird, now extinct. Piopiotahi means “a single piopio”, harking back to the legend of Māui trying to win immortality for mankind—when Maui died in the attempt, a piopio was said to have flown here in mourning.”Wikipedia
We took one of the cruises available through the Sound. It rained the whole time. But that was not to keep us from making the most of this once in a lifetime experience. Milford Sound is a 15km stretch of glacial erosion that opens out to the Tasman Sea at Dale Point. The Sound is surrounded by a sheer rock face that rises 1200 meters above sea level. Words fail me to describe the feeling of sailing through the rock face, along the 15km to Dale Point and back. There were many tourists trying to get that perfect shot while standing on the deck of the boat, while also trying not to get blown over into the water (due to the strong winds and rain). But all I could do was hold onto the railing as hard as I could while looking up and out in wonder. Back from the cruise, we had a nice warm lunch at the little café and bar situated right there on the wharf at the visitor centre. After which we did a small walk around the area taking photos.
As far as I was concerned, at this point, we had already experienced the highlights of the trip. But that is not to take away from the loveliness of the rest of the south island. Though we felt somewhat deflated that it was over, from Milford Sound we made our way to Bluff – the southernmost point of New Zealand. Bluff is just 30km away from Invercargill, the southernmost town of New Zealand.
From Bluff, it was back to Christchurch, as it was now almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful south island and head back home. However, the drive from Invercargill to Christchurch is 597km or 8 hours. We didn’t do this trip in one stretch we stopped over in the lovely town of Timaru for a day, where we visited the Sacred Heart church (as it was the 1st of January), and then onto Christchurch to return our home on wheels (oh, it was so sad to return it to the camper van company), and catch our plane back to good old Palmy.
What a trip that was. I just hope I’ve managed to put into words the beauty of it all and give you, dear reader, just an inkling of what we experienced. If you ever have the time and the money to take just one trip anywhere in the world, make New Zealand (more so the south island of New Zealand) a top contender. The travel magazines are right, dear reader, New Zealand is a must-see.