Mount Cook & the Mackenzie Region | New Zealand

Our little trekking adventure across New Zealand continued as we wound down the road in our tiny home minivan. If you haven’t been keeping up & have no idea what I’m talking about, pop over & read our last post detailing our adorable camper van.

I’m sure you are asking yourself how we entertained ourselves in our little van when we weren’t out conquering the mountains. The answer is lots & lots of reading, cards games & chess. Admittedly, the travel sized chess board had been a late addition to our backpacks, picking one up in the Chiang Mai night market. After nearly 11-months, we were growing tired of card games, which I typically won, so I think Ben wanted another option. Lucky for him, he usually won the chess games - guess we were even now.

Geraldine

Driving through the Canterbury region of New Zealand afforded us an opportunity to poke around the little towns that dotted our route. Geraldine was just about as cute as it could be. Perhaps 30 minutes outside the small town, we spotted signs for a local farmers market & decided we couldn’t pass it up.

Geraldine’s Farmers Market was about 10 stalls long with a live local band & a coffee & pastry food truck. If we’d had anything bigger than our van, I would have filled it with all the knick-knacks I found, but as it was, we settled for some little baby booties for a gift, local sweets as a thank you for our upcoming hosts & a couple types of the amazing cheese we were enjoying all around New Zealand.

In another life, I think I would have just pulled up my own lawn chair, sat out at the farmers market & just retired right there at the age of 31.

Lake Tekapo

A slightly more touristic stop along our way to Mount Cook was Lake Tekapo. It was one of the few places we’d come across other small rental vans with tourists packed in, snapping away at the scenery.

The basin is stunning, one of the more picturesque places we’ve been. The Church of the Good Shepherd rests nestled on the lake shore; a quaint little church, it has, literally, the picture perfect view from a wide window behind the altar out across the lake & up to the mountains. People are lucky we didn't know about this place when we got married, we would have packed everybody up & schlepped them out to New Zealand for the ceremony!

A few steps away stands the “Sheepdog” monument, the bronze statue commemorating the local sheepdogs “without the help of which the grazing of the mountainous country would be impossible.” Love a good puppy story 😊!

  Sheepdog monument

Sheepdog monument

The Mackenzie region, which encompasses Lake Tekapo, was formerly named a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve in 2012. I must confess, we’d come across many UNESCO sites during our trip, but I had no idea what a Dark Sky Reserve was until we arrived. I know now to make it my mission to visit as many spots as possible to star gaze.

  Night sky

Night sky

 A population of barely 300+, the town around Lake Tekapo is filled with rental homes, backpacker havens & little resorts to accommodate the growing number of tourists & tranquility seekers. Run76 is a perfect cafe deli to stop & have a tasty scone or cup of coffee, or work on a blog post 😉.

Mount Cook

Eventually, we slowly rolled our way into the White Horse Hill campsite at Mount Cook. It felt like an entirely different world than Mt. Sunday the previous night. Rather than having the place to ourselves, we were packed in with dozens of other hikers.

  Our friendly neighbor campers

Our friendly neighbor campers

I could never describe the vibe of the place as well as this; during my evening yoga session in a field, another camper sat to the side strumming her guitar to the cords of Lorde’s “Royals”. Slowly, I realized she had replaced the lyrics with “we don’t need no oil…” & so forth. We had truly gone granola.

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There are a variety of hikes to do up & around Mount Cook, which I learned while named for the famous Captain Cook he didn’t discover the mountain - Captain John Lort Stokes did. Aoraki, believed to be “cloud piercer” is the traditional Māori name for the mountain & you could see where they got that description.

Learning from our previous hiking mistakes, our evening adventure was a short stroll out the Kea Point Track, leading visitors to the Mueller Glacier moraine wall before sunset. The trail opens to a wide view of Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake & Mount Cook.

We saved the longer trek for the next day. Rising early (not a difficult task with the sun & frigid temperatures), we set out along the Hooker Valley Track with various lookouts. When we arrived at the lake at the base of Mt Cook, It was amazing to see the glaciers floating about with the gentle sounds of the river roaring in the background. When we arrived, the clouds had unfortunately settled in blocking much of our view of the mountain, but as the morning progressed they slowly cleared. Crowds of people sat almost theater-like staring in amazement as the beautiful peaks appeared through the clouds.

One of the more popular day walks, I’d suggest getting up & out as early as possible to avoid getting stuck in bridge congestion. Our walk out was nearly perfect; few people, we could take our time, quiet & serene. On our trek back out, we began to pass more & more day-trippers from the village making their way to the picnic area. In high season, you’d could be easily overwhelmed with the crowds.

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After several days of (mostly) peace & solitude in the mountains, it was time to pause our trekking adventures & return to the “city life” for a few days. Though so far it had been amazing, we were excited to be making it out to the much-hyped Queenstown & check out the adventure capital of the world for ourselves!