2 Nights Around Mount Cook

After the horrible experience in Dunedin we were really looking forward to heading back towards the mountains. We were hoping to be able to get a good look at Mount Cook. We walked the Hooker Valley Track and indeed, we got lucky with the weather….again.
Heidornmännchen on a hanging bridge at the Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track was an easy but enjoyable walk around Mount Cook. Especially since the weather conditions were absolutely ideal.

So there we were, on the road again. We were glad to be leaving Dunedin. Of course it meant that we had another long day of driving ahead of us. But it also meant we were getting away from the weirdness negativity we had encountered there. And it also meant that we were heading back towards the mountains.

You see, another reason we chose to leave early was the fact that the weather forecast for Mount Cook was very good the next 2 days and was supposed to get worse as the week progressed. We knew we wanted to walk the Hooker Valley Track and we also knew that we’d have to camp the night before, in order to capture the early hours of the day with sunshine.

So maybe our experience in Dunedin was just a positive turn of fate? I guess we’ll never know.

But First – The Moeraki Boulders

It was another loooong drive all the way up the coast and then back inland towards the mountains. We really weren’t quite sure what the day would look like and what the landscape would be like on the way. But one thing we knew for sure. We were going to stop at the Moeraki Boulders.

Now, let’s be honest here. I’m not really sure what made these boulders famous. Of course they are of significance to the local Maori but you can say that about a lot of things throughout New Zealand which you wouldn’t necessarily bother to mention as a famous “must do” sight.

My theory is that the boulders came to prominence mostly via social media. Instagram to be exact. You see, there are a lot of oddly shaped things and rocks (case in point: Split Apple Rock) which are really nice to look at if you take pretty pictures of them. Very often they will even look much nicer on photos than in reality.

Moeraki Boulders Beach Sign
Moeraki Boulders Beach Sign
Curious what it sounds like here?

That has two main reasons. The most popular pictures tend be when the photographer managed to capture absolutely ideal conditions, with not a single tourist to be seen. Getting that perfect shot is usually not just a matter of rocking up at the sight and taking a random photo. No, usually it’s because they’ve been staying at that location for a longer period of time, trying to figure out what the exact best moment for the photo is. Tourists travelling around the country usually don’t do that. I mean, nobody does that unless it’s their job or hobby.

The other reason is photo editing. And I don’t mean Photoshop – that’s something entirely different and a common misconception. You use Photoshop to manipulate photos beyond the data that the image already contains. Adobe Lightroom, however, is a tool that basically every professional photographer uses to enhance their photos. The objective is to emphasise certain colours or light conditions, eliminate artefacts produced by the lens or create a certain mood. Of course you can also manipulate photos to a certain extent, but it’s not all just about creating something that is fake. No, sometimes you actually need to edit the photo in order to ensure it actually looks like the real thing. Yes…that happens too, wether you believe it or not.

Anyway, I digress. The Boulders are fun to look at. Actually, they’re so much fun that people (and their kids) climb on top of them all the time. I honestly think that being a true travel photography must be one of the most frustrating jobs on the planet. People are constantly walking through your scene, with complete utter disregard for the fact that you’re trying to capture something WITHOUT humans. Some get it. But the vast majority either doesn’t understand or simply doesn’t care. I’ve come to think that the latter applies to most people.

But hey, the boulders are fun. They’re still just a bunch of rocks on a beach, but if you get the right conditions with the tide, they make for some really pretty photos. Nevertheless, this is not something I’d do for a day trip. Passing through, sure, and that’s what we were doing, but that’s it.

360° Photosphere of the Moeraki Boulders

Heading Inland

So after the Moeraki Boulders it was time to head back inland. We had booked a night on a camp site in Twizel. It’s not a big town. It was originally a city for workers who were working various power-related projects (dams, power lines etc). Today most of the employment seems to be related to tourism around Mount Cook.

Anyway, if you want to stay overnight before you walk the Hooker Valley Track, you can either camp at the White Horse Hill Camp Site which is right at the start of the track. But facilities there are very limited. The other option are various expensive lodges at the Aoraki Mt Cook Village only 5 minutes down the road.

Both weren’t really options for us. So we decided to stay in Twizel at the southern end of Lake Pukaki. It was close enough to drive up to the Hooker Valley Track in about 45 minutes and the forecast for the night was also much warmer than at White Horse Hill. If you’re only in a tent, then that matters! It can still get quite cold here at night.

Let’s Go Hike!

So the next morning we woke up early, had breakfast and proceeded to drive past Lake Pukaki all the way up to White Horse Hill, the start of the track. We obviously weren’t the first there, but we managed to avoid the brunt of the tourist crowd. You see, the more accessible a track is, the more people you’ll obviously encounter along the way. The problem is that the tracks aren’t always very wide, which often makes it difficult to pass the slower groups along the way.

Information sign at the start of the Hooker Valley Track
Information sign at the start of the Hooker Valley Track

And I’ll be honest here. Once again this wasn’t really something that I’d categorise as a proper hike. It was more like a longer walk of 3 hours return….if you take your time. This was a walk that literally anyone could do, if they wanted to. I mean, it’s still great because it’s very scenic and doesn’t require tons of effort other than putting on sunscreen and walking up the occasional (small) ascent. But that’s it, it’s a longer walk.

But it’s also very pretty walk. I’m sure it looks very different in the various seasons of the year. Mainly because you’re walking through a valley enclosed by snow-capped mountains and glaciers. You actually get a much better look at glaciers here than you do at Franz Josef Glacier. The blue ice is very visible here. Quite ironic.

Curious what it sounds like here?

Anyway, walking this in winter is probably quite spectacular because you got so much more snow on the mountain. Unfortunately the bush fires in Australia had sent a massive cloud of smoke towards New Zealand and believe it or not, it managed to settle on top of the glaciers here. So the once bright white snow was no longer white. It had a caramelised look to it. It also meant that the water flowing down the mountain into Hooker Lake was anything but clear. Normally this lake has a distinct turquoise color to it. At the moment it’s a lot more mirky.

This is what it sounds like when Japanese tourists are around 😉

Too bad, but hey, we still got to see Mount Cook in its full glory. Something that apparently isn’t a necessarily a given.

360° Photosphere of the Valley

360° Photosphere of Hooker Lake

Off to the Next Lake

On our way back from the walk it was clear to us that we did not want to stay in Twizel another night. There just wasn’t too much to do there and the camp site we had stayed on was ok, but not great. However, driving all the way to Christchurch the same day also wasn’t really an option.

Luckily on the way towards Christchurch you pass by Lake Tekapo and it’s not too far off from Mount Cook. Tekapo is another one of the “alpine” villages or town that you encounter out here a lot. Reading the word “alpine” obviously feels very strange to a European, especially when you’re driving through this landscape, which other than the mountain range is actually quite flat. Furthermore, it was blistering hot.

Tekapo, however, it right on the lake and so was the camp site we booked for the 2nd night. Now, when you hear lake you’re probably thinking: Oh great, you can go for a swim there. Well, in principle that’s true and since it was so extremely hot, that’s indeed what we ended up doing. But holy sh*t, was it cold! It wasn’t just the normal type of cold, that we’re used to. It was freezing cold. Which is obvious since the water comes straight from the mountains. But still, you just didn’t expect it. Going into the water was tough, but we did it anyway and so it some others. When it’s 33°C outside, the water ends up being the lesser of two evils.

Staying 2 Nights is a Good Idea

Anyway, that was pretty much it for our little trip to the Hooker Valley Track. I know it might seem like a waste to stay 2 nights just for that longer walk. But if you’ve got the time, I can only recommend it. It just adds an additional nice stop to your trip.

Of course, a lot of people travelling throughout New Zealand don’t really have all that time. They’ve got 3 weeks and that’s it. But in that case it’s probably a better idea to skip this section altogether. It’s just too much driving for “relatively” little to see, other than the mountains of course.

That’s it for today. The next day we finally headed to Christchurch, where we had already booked 4 nights at a really nice Airbnb. Finally some downtime. Finally time to catch up on work. Finally a proper bed. But Christchurch itself….well, I’ll let Tina cover that.

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  1. Pingback: Recap for Week 5 — One-Way to Somewhere
  2. Pingback: Recap for Week 4 — One-Way to Somewhere
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