We both ended sleeping quite well for the first night of the trip. We had a very nice dinner at the restaurant near the hotel that had a great view. It solidified the decision to not take the water taxi into Queenstown. We both were a bit tired so we ended up crashing at 9. I slept until 5:30 and Susanne until about 6:30. Yeah!!
The dumb coffee shop didn’t open until 8 am. Really? I googled around us to see when the other coffee shops opened. The earliest is 7:30 am. Sheesh. I guess it is a comment on the slower, more relaxed pace of life the Kiwis have. We chilled until we could get our coffee — as almost always, it was wonderful. Susanne had a long black (=Americano) and I had a flat white (=foamless latte).
We packed up our stuff and headed out toward Twizel, which is a town about 3 hours north of Queenstown. The drive out of Queenstown is pretty windy and narrow and Susanne was glad I was driving. She commented that if we move to New Zealand, she doesn’t want to drive alone for the first month or so. I think she would get the hang of it right away.
It was a very nice day and the drive went smoothly.
We got to Twizel around 11:30 and went to the office to get the house key. She had told me the house might not be ready when we showed up. Fortunately it was! Yeah! That made our lives simpler. We went to the 4 Square market, picked up some supplies and headed to the house.
Twizel is a small town in the heart of the McKenzie country. It is quite agricultural (but that could apply to most of New Zealand) and dry. It sits in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps and gets very little rain. There are tons of sheep — but that also applies to most of New Zealand.
The house sits on the outskirts of town on about an acre. Overall it is pretty nice and I think we will be quite comfortable there. We dropped off our stuff and headed out to go do a hike in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. We stopped at the Lake Pukaki visitor center and salmon shop. We thought we could get some lunch there. It was a big disappointment both for the visitor center and the possibility of lunch. No worries.
We pushed on to the main hotel area in the national park where we thought we could find a good place to eat. It was a madhouse. A billion little mini vans and tourists. But we found a place to park and made our way to the bar and grill. We ordered salmon salad and found a seat with an amazing view. To both of our surprises, the salad was super yummy.
The write-up on the trail said it was pretty easy — mostly a easy climb up a glacial valley to Hooker Lake with a fantastic view of the mountain. They also warned “do not expect to have this trail to yourself.” As we pulled into the trailhead parking lot, you could definitely see that the latter was true. There were a lot of cars. I wanted to go a bit later so the photography would be better and that was looking like a good choice, because a lot of people were finishing up their hike.
The first kilometer of the trail was super busy with a bunch of confused Americans not sure which side of the trail to walk on inevitably causing a lot veering back and forth and near collisions. These same people are driving the roads. No wonder there is a sticker on the rear view mirror in the rental car that says “Stay Left!”
There are three suspensions bridges you have to cross to get to Hooker lake. They are always fun to cross and give you great views. All the suspension bridges tell you what the maximum load is on the bridge. The first one was 20. On the second bridge, some joker had removed the zero, and it looked like the max load was 2 (and on the other side they had removed the 2). A confused-looking Japanese couple was stalled at one end of the bridge, wondering why everyone just kept going across the bridge when there were clearly at least 5 people on it already. Not sure if they figured it out eventually. Once we got past the first lookout, the traffic “thinned” out a bit. Basically, we dropped the people with little babies. After the second lookout, it got more tolerable and the later hour was definitely helping to create a more peaceful journey up the valley. Traffic aside, the first view of Aoraki is incredible. And we had a nearly cloudless day.
We had packed a bunch of cold weather gear because people told us it could get pretty cold up by Hooker lake. It was not cold. We were sweating like crazy. In total it is about 6 or 7 km up to the lake. The views were incredible and I was really glad we had such great weather to see it.
We were a little too early to wait for the sun to set and get the fading light on the mountain, which is supposed to be incredible, so we headed back down the trail. The views looking back down the valley were also amazing.
We drove back along Lake Pukaki enjoying the amazing green/blue color of the water. The super fine ground up rock suspended in the water (glacial milk) being brought down the river and into the lake creates this unique color. It is definitely something to see.
We got back to the house, showered, opened up a nice bottle of 2013 Otagan Pinot Noir, had some snacks and enjoyed the view from the deck. Clouds started to roll in and we were treated to a rather nice sunset.
It was a great day and we were both pretty happy to be here in this wonderful and beautiful country.