The drive to Wanaka from Christchurch is incredibly breath-taking. The first couple of hours are a build-up of anticipation, passing through charming Geraldine for a coffee, then inland towards the southern alps through the Mackenzie Region. The first moment of true amazement for me is when we reach Lake Tekapo. The powdery blue water, reflecting the old-stone Church of the Good Shepherd and towering snow-capped peaks renders me speechless. Even after seeing this sight dozens of times, I beg the driver to stop for a restroom break so I can get a longer look at the scene.
Lake Tekapo has less than 500 residents, yet has a huge offering of resort stays, restaurants and nightly observatory tours which I am told they are once-in-a-lifetime moments. The observatory staff will even hook up your DSLR camera to the telescope for free, as long as you let them know before the tour you will be bringing it, giving you your own digital photos of the galaxy. It is definitely on my bucket list, so watch this space! Even if you have to skip the observatory tour, the regulations in the Mackenzie region limiting light pollution make this one of the best regions for stargazing. Temperatures can get a bit cold at night, so grab a thermos and a mohair throw before heading out by the lake to watch the night sky.
Continuing on South State Highway 8 for about another 40 minutes, I then beg the driver to stop again, for the most picturesque view of Mount Cook, from across Lake Pukaki. The Māori name for Mount Cook is Aoraki, meaning “Cloud Piercer” and was a climbing location used by Sir Edmund Hillary in training for his successful summit of Mount Everest in 1953. The powdery blue colour of the lake is caused by glacial flour which creates a foggy effect within the lake, producing an almost fictional colour, making the scene even more magnificent.
Heading South on State Highway 8, we pass through the township of Twizel, a quaint alpine settlement that boasts home to a more subdued outdoor getaway. The access to cycle hires, kayak safaris, salmon fishing, & bi-plane scenic flights makes this a perfect getaway for someone wanting to experience the best of the Southern Alps without the crowded tourist dynamic. The town gets occasional snow in the wintertime making it a gorgeous winter getaway. Just make sure to check the traffic for any potential road closures, as weather patterns in the area occasionally cause closures due to heavy snow fall. Once I was re-routed through Dunedin on the way to Queenstown due to an avalanche, so it pays to double-check. Also, when driving in the country-side in New Zealand, keep your eyes peeled for herd crossing at any point.
Arriving into Wanaka feels like coming home. The lakeside restaurants and cafes are privy to a stunning view across Lake Wanaka towards Treble Cone, Mount Alta and the surrounding craggy peaks. The beauty surrounding this township is a gorgeous backdrop to all the activities in the area, such as hiking, cycling, paragliding, paddle-boarding, skiing & snowboarding. Among all this adventure, the true wonder is waking up the next morning to gorgeous views that feed the soul.