Mackenzie Country

by Johnny

After a great couple of days in Kaikoura we packed up Big Red for our longest driving day of our South Island tour.  One thing we’ve quickly realized, though, is that travel days in New Zealand are kinda awesome.  The scenery everywhere is just stunning.  It’s definitely one of those “the journey is the destination” type places.  After driving south for about an hour we cut inland via the Inland Scenic Route 72, a beautiful drive through the region where the Canterbury Plains meet the Southern Alps.  We passed friendly farming town after friendly farming town, stopped for a great lunch in Oxford, and finally arrived at our next home base at Lake Tekapo in the heart of Mackenzie Country.

The town of Lake Tekapo is basically a gas station, a tourist information office and a couple cafes…in fact, we brought the town’s population up from 315 to a whopping 319 during our three nights there.  But whatever Lake Tekapo lacked on the cultural front it made up for tenfold with its natural beauty (are you noticing a theme, here?).  We rented an awesome cabin located a couple steps from the lake and just around the corner from the town’s famed Church of the Good Shepard and collie dog statue.

The sediment left behind by the stony-bottomed glacier that formed Lake Tekapo causes it and other lakes in the region to display an incredible icy-blue, turquoise color.  It’s like no lake I’ve ever seen before.  We spent our first afternoon admiring our new surroundings and BBQing some burgers in our cabin.  On our second day we hiked up to Mt. John for some lunch at the Astro Café, where we took in views of the entire Mackenzie Basin before coming back to our cabin and running into some serious New Zealand “traffic” on the one-lane bridge.  Later that night the clouds parted, and we were treated to some of the clearest skies and brightest stars we’d ever seen.  The entire Milky Way was visible…pretty awesome.  I’ll run out of adjectives if I keep talking about how beautiful the area is, so here are some pics.

On our last day in the area we drove an hour to Mt. Cook National Park.  At 3,755 meters Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s tallest peak, and it’s where local legend Sir Edmund Hillary would prepare for his summits of Everest.  We hiked into the nearby Hooker Valley, which took us across a couple swing bridges and up to the end of the Hooker Glacier.  Unfortunately it was a little cloudy that day, and we weren’t able to see Mt. Cook in all its glory, but it was cool to see it jutting up into the sky and living up to its Maori name, Aoraki, meaning “Cloud Piercer”.

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