After several weeks of almost perfect weather, we finally encountered some rain as we arrived at our campsite just outside of Mount Cook National Park. This continued all night, before luckily stopping just in time for us to start exploring the park.
We decided to begin our visit with the popular 10km Hooker Valley Track. Despite arriving early, there was already plenty of other hikers beginning the walk.
The winding track took us through the valley and over several swing bridges, with the crashing water of the Hooker River just below.
One of the reasons the track is so popular is due to the amazing views of Mount Cook and the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately for us there still was lots of low cloud around, and we had no idea which direction the summit was in.
We reached the halfway point of the walk at the stunning Hooker Lake. Formed by the retreat of its namesake glacier, the lake freezes over during the winter months. Despite it being the end of summer there was still evidence of this, with several large icebergs floating in the grey glacial water.
As we started the return journey, it gradually began to brighten up, and we managed to get a slightly better look at the surrounding valley.
Upon completing the walk, we drove to the nearby Mount Cook Village. After a brief look around the visitor centre we found the Old Mountaineer’s Cafe, the perfect place to warm up with a hot chocolate.
By the time we emerged from the cosy cafe, much of the cloud had been displaced by clear blue sky, giving us our first proper glimpse of the surrounding mountains including the snow-covered Mount Sefton.
For our next walk, we decided on the shorter Kea Point Track. This easy walk took us through bushland before arriving at a wooden platform lookout point. We timed this perfectly, with the imposing summit of Mount Cook finally emerging from the clouds.
After leaving the park behind, the highway took us along the banks of the turquoise Lake Pukaki. As we drove we found ourselves stopping frequently to admire the stunning views back towards the mountains
After a long day of hiking, we decided to recover with a soak in a wood fired hot tub in the nearby town of Omarama. With more great mountain views, and a bottle of red wine to enjoy, it was the perfect way to end the day. We might not wash often when living in the van, but we definitely do it in style!
The following day began with a short drive to the popular Lake Tekapo. After parking in the small town at the southern end of the lake, we began a walk along the edge of the beautiful turquoise water.
The trail took us across a short footbridge before arriving at the Church of the Good Shepherd. The small stone church dates back to 1935, and it’s lakeside location makes it very popular with tourists. We managed to time our visit with a coach tour, and had to fight our way through the crowds to take a closer look.
To get a better view of the lake, we decided to drive to the 1,031m summit of Mount John which towers over the surroundings. The private road to the summit costs $8 per vehicle, but it was well worth it for the amazing views as we struggled along the winding road to the top.
The area around Mount John is designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve, and the summit is home to an observatory, which is ran by the University of Canterbury.
We were more excited by the adjoining Astro-cafe, which must have one of the best views of any cafe in the world. Having arrived at lunchtime, we found a spot on one of the outdoor tables, before enjoying some locally sourced smoked salmon bagels while admiring the stunning views over the lake.
We spent the rest of the afternoon travelling through the Mackenzie basin, before finding a campsite nearby to the lovely little town of Geraldine.