Drive from Christchurch
Having 350km planned for the day, meant we have to leave Christchurch early in the morning. I was actually glad to go somewhere else. So we refueled our car, refueled ourselves with coffee and we were on the road shortly after 8am.
At some point I spotted alpacas by the road, so we stopped, said our hellos and… I fell in love. Come on, how can you not fall in love with those creatures. Highlight of my trip!
First part of the trip, 1.5h along road number 1, was terribly boring. Straight, flat road, 3 meter-high hedges and almost no traffic. It started to be more interesting when we finally turned to 79, and really REALLY interesting when we were on 8. Every turn meant stopping the car, getting out and taking photos. And the part of the trip by the lakes – Tekapo and Pukaki, took us the longest. We had to park the car a few times, and stand by the water for a while to soak up the views.
Lunch by Lake Tekapo had to happen. Any excuse to stay there for longer was good. There is a quite long strip of shops & restaurants and the choice seemed to be broad. Our pick was Mackenzie’s Bar and Grill. The place is big and only tables at the end of the restaurant provide lake views.
It wasn’t busy at lunch time, so there was no problem with getting the best table. 2 coffees, burger (with so many layers of goodness I lost the count) and pasta of the day (spaghetti with mushrooms, bacon and creamy sauce) costed us NZ43.70. It was worth every cent.
Old Mountaineers Cafe
One of a very few places available in the Mt Cook Village. Just a 5 minutes walk up the road from where we were staying for 2 nights so we decided to check it out on our first evening there. We were aiming for late dinner, as we were still quite full after the great lunch at Mackenzie’s. I was surprised when we came in and were asked if we have reservation, I didn’t expect crowds in the mountains. They found a small table for us. Service was a bit slow, but very friendly. Soup, pizza (half eat in, half for take away) and a beer came up to NZ$45.90.
We tried to go back there the next day for some coffee and a soup, but it was closed without any info why.
A big hotel with an interesting history, small market, souvenir shop and a couple of dining options. We ventured there twice:
– The Sir Edmund Hillary Café & Bar – upstairs, with lots of small tables around and a big window overlooking the mountains. Self service. We both had a great, hearty late lunch of braised lamb with mashed potatoes. Not sure if it tasted great or we were tired and very hungry after hiking. NZ$39.98 for 2 coffees and 2 lamb dishes + 0.78 credit card surcharge.
– Panorama Room – the fine dining option, where they recommend to book a table, so that’s what we did (it was our wedding anniversary), but when we arrived there were maybe only two other tables occupied. Pretty plating, but food priced too high for the quality they offer, and the service on the night was terrible, definitely not the fine-dining standard. NZ$119.10 for glass of wine, coffee, bread, 2 mains and dessert.
Opened just one year ago, offers comfortable, generously sized and tastefully decorated rooms. Our big glassed terrace doors overlooked the mountains, so we moved the sofa to face the views instead of TV and that’s where we sent most of the evenings – just looking at the changing light on the mountains and listening to the wind.
Very comfortable bed, spa bath, small heater on the wall and kitchenette with coffee/tea provided kept us warm and comfy after hikes. Internet is a bit of a let down, limited to 200MB/day and working only at one device at a time.
The price doesn’t include any meals, be prepared to bring your own food or go to one of the restaurants in the area.
Overall we were very happy with the choice.
Price: Executive Studio with Spa Bath NZ$410/2 nights
The area is very picturesque, so no matter where you decide to go, you don’t have to look too hard to find something beautiful to admire. There are short and easy walks, and some longer, requiring better condition and equipment. If you’re not sure where to go, ask at the Mt Cook Visitor Centre.
We did two walks:
– Hooker Valley Track – there are 3 swing bridges to cross, and you have to do it twice. We had to turn back before the second bridge, my fear of bridges won with me and gusty winds + rain didn’t help either. There is no shame in turning back in the mountains. I really wanted to see the Hooker Glacier, but the half way that we did was also a great hike. Not too steep, some large rocks on the way.
– Tasman Glacier/Lake – most of the way to the view point you can do by a car. Then there is a short hike up, where you can see the lake, the glacier and read some info. Very easy trek, but be prepared for strong winds when you climb up.
– Do your grocery/snacks shopping before going to Mt Cook Village. The nearest market is in Twizel, 65km/45min drive.
– Tank your car, same as above, the nearest gas station is in Twizel.
– Be ready for higher prices of food and drinks.
– Bring good trekking shoes and water/wind-proof jacket. Even if the start of the trek looks easy/sunny it can change quickly.
– If you have a waterproof camera it may be a good idea to bring it with you. I was glad we took our GoPro to the rainy day trekking instead of my big DSLR, felt much safer to take it out and use.
– Go to the Visitor Centre in the Mt Cook Village. Lots of useful informations, interesting videos and exhibitions – and all this for free. You can also buy maps, raincoats, souvenirs and some warm clothes there.