Mt. Cook National Park to Arrowtown

St. John Observatory near Lake Tekapo in New ZealandAfter our aerial tour of the mountains and glaciers around Mt. Cook, we took a drive to the top of a small mountain near the town of Lake Tekapo with St. John’s Observatory on top. A very nicely situated in a huge valley surrounded by the tall peaks nearby, you normally have a fantastic view. Unfortunately, it was already clouded over by the time we got up there. I took a few panoramic shots (not 360s) anyway which I’ll put up later. We didn’t stay long as we intended to go to Mt. Cook National Park.

You have to drive southwest to get around Lake Pukaki before you can take the road back north to the park. But, you are treated to a beautiful view of Mt. Cook across the lake and up the glacier-carved valley below it. And the view keeps getting better as you continue up the road.

Mt Sefton and glacier view from Hermitage Hotel in New ZealandOur destination was the Hermitage Hotel – which has been in existence in one form or another for over 100 years – at the base of Mt. Sefton with a spectacular view of the glacier hanging on that mountain. There are several such hotels and holiday homes that you can check if you view the site. Always remember to book a place to stay before heading out for the journey. We visited the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Museum there, which was built in honor of New Zealand’s most famous adventurer (Hillary was the first to climb Mt. Everest).

Fish eye view of Lake TasmanAfter the museum, we took a dirt road up the Tasman Glacier valley and headed to the Tasman Lake (which we had seen earlier from the air was filled with icebergs broken off during the Christchurch earthquake). Their is a 200 meter tall hill blocking the view of the lake at the end of the road. You have to either hike up or around it to see the lake. We first walked up the trail and had a spectacular view of the lake, the icebergs, Mt. Cook, the Minarets, and the Tasman Glacier. I took a 360 pano from there. After enjoying that view, we took the other trail around the hill to the shore of the lake and got a closer look at the icebergs.

We headed back towards the hotel, but took a turn to the Hooker Valley campground. This campground just has basic services – water, a shelter for cooking, and toilets. We had a pleasant evening sleeping there. Although, I was surprised that there was cell phone service and I was able to check E-mail.

The next morning, we awoke to a lot of low-hanging clouds blocking the views of the mountain. So, we skipped on taking a walk we had planned closer to Mt. Sefton. Instead we drove out planning to make it to Arrowtown. Our friends Steve and Helen from s/v Dignity said it was a pleasant place outside of Queenstown.

Clay Cliffs near Omarama in New ZealandAlong the way, we stopped in several places to see some sights. We diverted off the highway to see the Clay Cliffs. Unfortunately, the private dirt road to this sight needs some serious maintenance. Lots of potholes and irregular surfaces. But, we saw the cliffs and got a few pictures. We then stopped in the nearby town of Omarama and visited a nice shop and restaurant on a sheep farm. They show tourists how they do sheep shearing. Unfortunately, we just missed seeing one, and didn’t want to wait for the next demonstration. So, we went into town and found another tourist cafe for lunch. The price of fuel had shot up by 10 cents per liter with the unrest in Libya (that’s about 40 cents/gallon). Ouch!

We continued our drive over the Lindis Pass and down to the incredibly long, and very blue, Lake Dunstan. It is surrounded by a very nice valley with nice-looking lake communities dotted around it. We stopped at Cromwell at their fruit store, which apparently is their main claim to fame as they have a giant fruit sign in town.

We took a turn off the main highway to head towards Queenstown through the Kawarau Gorge. This is a spectacular drive and the gorge, and the river that caused it, is amazing. It’s difficult to see from the road, which is probably why there is a thriving adventure business with rafting, kayaking, jet boats, and bungy jumping. It was my plan to go bungy jumping at the Kawarau bridge which is home to the first modern bungy jumping in the world.  Also along the way are a number of very nice looking wineries with beautiful crops of grapevines nestled in the valley between the mountains and deeply gouged river.

Once out of the gorge, we took a right turn to Arrowtown just a short 5 km drive away. Arrowtown is situated between several tall mountains with fantastic views. There is a ski slope not far away. The town area has beautiful trees and apparently new houses are encouraged to leave trees up. A good policy! We went to the Arrowtown Top 10 Holiday Park to camp. Wow, this is a very nice campground. It has all new facilities – with very nice and clean bathrooms, a a nice kitchen (although a bit small for the size of the campground). Not only that, but the Internet was very reliable and fast here (although not free). We elected to spend two nights here.  The main town is a a short walk away with lots of tourist shops, delightful cafes and restaurants, and a nice museum.  They even have a horse-drawn carriage for rides through the town.

We saw some amazing sights in two days!  Check out a selection of the best photos from our visit to Lake Tekapo, the observatory, Mt. Cook National Park and Lake Tasman, and the sights we saw on our way to Arrowtown and the campground.

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