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Aoraki/Mt. Cook & around

From Dunedin we headed to our next base in Twizel (what a name!). Our voyage included a rainy stop in the small city of Oamaru, the self-described steampunk capital of NZ. It’s on the coast and most famous for its well preserved Victorian-era street. This is now filled with shops, some steampunk themed (including their owners wardrobes!), galleries, and the delightful adventure books which was a unique used book store boasting an incredible collection of expedition, Arctic, maritime, and travel books. Books were from all over and the manager said they had a warehouse with a new shipment from Boston! They have an online shop, too.

Oamaru – steampunk capital and best preserved Victorian street in area
Long, high zip line at their public park on the ocean

After lunch at a local brewery, our drive to Twizel was a bit gray, though still nice; very rural. The road followed a river, dotted with dams along the way. In fact, Twizel was designed as a temporary town and purpose-built for dam builders. However workers and their families liked it and many stayed put even after the dams were finished! So, the town was never demolished. It’s still rather small, but a seemingly thriving (at least normally) base fr exploring Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park and the nearby Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo. We were excited to get going, despite dropping temperatures.

One of the many teddy bears made of hay bales we’ve seen around the country
Entering the Mackenzie district

We headed out to the national park as a day trip. The driving to/from was glorious, with the turquoise Lake Pukaki on the right and mountains in the distance.

Road to Mt Cook, many an instagrammer stops about here and takes a photo in the middle of the road….
More road to Mt Cook

We arrived with a plan to hike the Hooker Valley Track, which at 3 hours sounded very annoying to certain children. However, by all accounts it would be stunning so off we went. We were very surprised to arrive and see a parking lot that was far from empty, a new experience for us!

Whoa! Parking lots are actually busy here

The hike had no significant elevation gain and was incredibly well maintained. But most important it was STUNNING in all directions – glacier blue streams and glacier capped mountains surround trampers (hikers). It ended with a stunning view of Mt Cook with a glacier fed lake including icebergs in the foreground! Amazing. It really has to be one of the most scenic short hikes in the world. We had plenty of snacks and had lunch midway, so the grumbling wasn’t quite as bad as I feared. (Though there was plenty of grumbling).

The track includes boardwalks and 3 suspension bridges
Mt Cook, and in the foreground what must be the world’s most scenic porta-potties

The next day our plan was to head to Christchurch via a very scenic (and the most direct) route past Lake Tekapo, another famous turquoise lake. We’d been monitoring the weather for a few days since this is one of the few areas in NZ that gets snow and ice and roads sometimes close. The forecast had been for some snow, but then changed to a warmer, rainy forecast. However by our 10am checkout, flakes appeared. A few blocks away it was really coming down. We carried on a bit thinking it was going to warm up, plus we’d checked out of our lodging and had a new place waiting. About 25 minutes into our slow drive a cop passed us, and we quickly caught back up to him as he’d stopped to help push a car out of the depressed siding. Steve and Jack offered to help as well, an offer gratefully accepted. The stranded driver was soon on his way with the 3 of them pushing. The officer told us we could carry on to Tekapo slowly, which seemed fine to us. However now cars were slipping all around us, driving in various lanes and making u-turns. We decided to turn around too. Our nearly bald tires and a slightly inclined road kept our wheels spinning. Steve is an excellent driver but he couldn’t get us going. Then some helpful kiwis stopped and tried to help Jack and I push. When that failed, they tied our car to their SUV and got us back moving the appropriate lane. Steve expertly and carefully followed along. Luckily we got to a flatter less slippery section and we were back off on our own; all the while I’m emailing our previous night’s rental to see if we could return (we could). Good thing, as by this point rest of the road to Christchurch was closed!

The helpful kiwis that helped tow us back to where we started, really not much snow but without pretreated roads and terrible tires it was a enough to get us stuck

So now we had an unexpected extra day in Twizel and decided to do some school work and get some salmon from one of the two cafes at the salmons farms here. The real attraction is the glacial water! Check it out.

Water color – really

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