The Occasion: Otago Anniversary Long Weekend
The Destination: Mount Cook, South Island, New Zealand
The Crew: Myself, my cousin, his girlfriend.
The Wheels: A rental Toyota Vitz hatchback, a.k.a “Superlame” the glorified golf cart. Within 15 minutes of driving this vehicle, we determined the car must be made of plastic and powered by a lawnmower engine, because the absolute maximum speed going downhill was 95 km/hr. And that was flooring the gas in D2, at which point we felt the car shaking to pieces around us. Maximum speed on flat land was 85 km/hr. Uphill, we were lucky to squeeze 78 km/hr out of this puppy. Other dismaying features included a ten minute maximum on the ventilation system being operational and a ten track maximum for any given CD we wanted to play.
I have to say, South Island has some super fun names of places and is blessed with an abundance of fabulous scenery. We departed on a cloudy, drizzling morning (i.e. usual for Dunedin) and drove through Oamaru, Omarama, and Twizel on our way to Mount Cook, accidentally ending up at the slam-on-the-brakes-beautiful Lake Pukaki before arriving at our intended destination. Happily the sun came along for our trip and the drive was so beautiful that we found ourselves stopping every 20 minutes to take pictures. Being spoiled scenery snobs, we only stopped at one in every ten photo-worthy views. Our key stops were at the Moeraki boulders on the east coast (15 million year old bowling ball shaped rocks on the beach), the dam at the Waitaki River and of course, Lake Pukaki, because how could anyone pass this up??
The Visitors Centre in Mount Cook Village recommended we spend the afternoon on the Hooker Valley trail, as it offered some of the best scenery of the mountains. So we did. It’s about 1.5-2 hours each way. The path winds through the pass between the mountain ranges along the river between Mueller and Hooker Lake and includes three bridges.
The skies over the Mount Cook area are renown for their lack of clouds and generally awesome potential for stargazing. Since we were cheap travellers, instead of driving an hour and paying $35-60 to go to the observatory, we drove ten minutes and spent $2 of gas money to go back to the Hooker Valley trail parking lot to check out the night skies. And let me tell you, no observatory was needed – the sky was phenomenal. We were entranced for hours, despite the cold night temperatures.
On the way back we traveled via Wanaka to see more scenery. Mostly to go to Puzzling World, a tourist attraction of mazes and illusions.
Wanaka was lovely. The lakeshore looks across to Mount Aspiring National Park. We enjoyed a leisurely picnic bench patio lunch and then were off again for the 4 hour drive back to Dunedin. We also ducked off the main motorway to the Southern Scenic Route for the last half hour of the drive, and though its monstrous hills taxed our SuperLame car, it was worth it for some of the views of the coast.
The highlight of the trip was really the drive more than the destination. South Island is absurdly beautiful on a sunny day. Too bad the whole island has to share one day’s worth of sunny weather between them every month.