The road to Mount Cook

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I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t get there sooner.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t had the opportunity. Countless times in the past I had driven through Tekapo, heading south towards Queenstown or north to Christchurch. Every single time the sign beckoned, pointing the way towards Mount Cook … and every time I ignored it.  I was always too busy, in too much of a hurry to reach my destination. New Zealand’s highest mountain could wait for another day, I thought.

The day had finally come.

The drive from Akaroa to Tekapo seemed to drag on forever, although it was at least broken up by a home-cooked meal at my parent’s place on the way through. We didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon, stopping only long enough to unload our bags before carrying on out of town.

Maybe the weather had always been terrible when I’d driven through here in the past, but I didn’t remember Lake Pukaki ever looking this good.

Lake Pukaki

Finally rounding the bottom of the late, I hit the indicators and turned onto the Mount Cook Road for the first time. Bright sunshine and blue skies isn’t really the norm around this part of the country, but things were very different today.

Road to Mount Cook

If you don’t stop, it’s little over an hour from Tekapo to where the road runs out in the carpark of the Hermitage Hotel. Of course, doing this drive for the first time without stopping would also be rather missing the point, so we spent almost as much time on the side of the road as we did in the middle of it.

Luckily, with so little other traffic around, suddenly pulling over for a photo opportunity wasn’t ever a problem.

Road to Mount Cook

The road wound along the southern shore of the turquoise lake, its brilliant colour due to a fine silt washed down from the nearby glaciers. Many of the lakes, valleys and fjords in this part of the South Island were formed by ancient glaciers leaving their dramatic scars on the landscape.


Eventually the lake came to an end in a swampy grassland fed by several small rivers. Hills grew into mountains all around us, New Zealand’s dramatic landscape at its beautiful best.

Centre line, Mount Cook road

Quiet alpine meadows were an unexpected find.

Fields and mountains, Mount Cook

Finally reaching Mount Cook Village itself, and knowing we didn’t have too much time, I asked a friendly local where the best short walk was. You could spend weeks hiking in this region – and one day I intend to – but for now, a quick stroll along the first part of the Hooker Valley Track would have to suffice.

Let’s just say it was worth it.

Hooker Valley Track view

With the windows down, music playing and evening sun streaming into the car, we headed back towards Tekapo. This was pretty much my idea of perfection, and I wondered aloud for the 43rd time that hour why I hadn’t made the trip up there before.

Had I known how stunning the scenery was – and what the weather was going to be like – I would have booked a few days in the hostel at Mount Cook village. With our recent experience on Tongariro and the Queen Charlotte Track, we might have even been able to handle some of the longer hikes in the national park.


Since that day, everybody I’ve mentioned this drive to has told me how it was cloudy / raining / foggy / snowing when they did it. I can only feel blessed that we had such an incredible afternoon. New Zealand seemed determined to put on its best face during our two months in the country, and that day was no exception.

So, I can only say: if you happen to be driving through Tekapo on a sunny day, don’t do what I had done for all those years. Find a few extra hours in your schedule to follow that sign off the highway.

Just be sure to take your camera.

Where we stayed:

Tekapo YHA

We spent a night at YHA Tekapo for us, one of the nicest YHA’s we encountered during our time in the country. From the minute we arrived and started joking around with the guy on reception, we knew it was going to be a fun stay. Our four-bed dorm was small but tidy and functional, and the large kitchen was kept remarkably clean. It gets cold quickly at night in Tekapo, even in summer, so the hot showers were very much appreciated. The wifi was the standard Global Gossip system that is the best of a bad lot when it comes to Kiwi internet companies.

Best of all, though, was the view. Sitting right on the edge of Lake Tekapo, it’s gorgeous during the day – and even more so at night, when millions of stars appear in the inky darkness above. It’s certainly not hard to see why an observatory has been built on a nearby hill. We went for a walk beside the lake and just stood, transfixed, for what felt like hours.

Simply stunning.

3 Responses to “The road to Mount Cook

  • We had a similar drive to Mt Cook when I brought my English boyfriend home to NZ for his first visit three years ago. So lucky! I’d spent months warning him about the rain and the weather and we got three weeks of glorious sun and blue skies.

    Mt Cook is magic on days like that, so beautiful it’s almost looks fake! We stayed a night in the hostel and did some hiking and a trip on the glacier lake. All very beautiful and worth doing. Good times!

    • Very good times indeed … I so need to get back there for several nights. And not just because I don’t trust the weather to be any good if I just went for one or two… 😉

  • This brings back good memories.

    On the ice rink at Lake Tekapo was where I met my eventual housemates during my 3 years in London.

    Loving the vivid colours in your photos.

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