Another day, another drive! New Zealand sometimes seems to us, here in Australia, to be a "small country" but nothing could be further from the truth! Our trip research and numerous long drives have prompted me to look up where it stands in World Area Rankings and I was somewhat surprised to find it is actually larger than the United Kingdom. Looking at the map of our trip also shows how little of this wonderful country we have been able to cover in our three weeks here - we may have to come back!
Before we commenced today's drive to Mount Cook, we stopped in for a quick visit to the Te Anau bird sanctuary. This lovely little park does a wonderful job on a number of levels. It is dedicated to native birds, many of the surviving species of which are endangered, through rehabilitation of injured birds and a dedicated breeding programme. It is also open 24/7, allowing visitors to drop in at any time (say, at 8am before a long drive!) to enjoy the rare birds, such as the Takahe, and the expansive views across Lake Te Anau. It was a very relaxed start to the day.
We had to retrace much of our trip down on Monday, which gave us an another opportunity to pause and enjoy - and photograph some more! - the fabulous Lake Wakatipu. After about three hours, we diverted from the road to Wanaka at Cromwell, once a gold centre, now a major food-producing area, and continued up the middle of the country. As we drove along the Eastern shore of Lake Dunstan, an artificial lake created in 1992 by the Clyde dam, we were met by a house - yes, a house! We were waved over to the side of the road by an outlier vehicle, then the relocating house turned up on its low-loader. There was not much room! Fortunately, that was the traffic highlight of our day.
From Cromwell, we drove along the Lindis Valley and up to the Lindis Pass. Unlike Arthur's and Haast Passes, this pass does not lie amongst verdant rainforest. Instead, the pleasant market garden areas gave way to dry, poorly vegetated terrain that looked as if it would struggle to support the few head of sheep we saw. This was probably the starkest evidence on our trip of the rainfall difference between the West and East sides of the Southern Alps. Fortunately, Spring was sufficiently advanced that the snow line was a little above the Lindis Pass, but there was enough snow around to make for very pleasant views on a beautiful, blue-sky day.
We eventually arrived in the small town of Twizel, a very young town, not quite 50 years old. Built as temporary accommodation for hydro-electric construction workers in 1968, Twizel was saved from destruction by the residents in 1983 and is now a significant tourism and service centre. We were on a mission to get to Mount Cook, so our only objective in Twizel was lunch - not any old lunch, mind you, but salmon. A thriving industry in farmed salmon has grown up in this area and our choice for lunch, High Country Salmon, has blended industry and tourism very well. Besides the cafe, HCS also provides opportunities to feed the fish and find out about salmon farming. We tried the salmon chowder and a salmon pie - both were great!
Shortly after leaving Twizel, we turned off the main road and drove along the Western shore of Lake Pukaki. Originally formed as a glacial moraine-dammed lake, Lake Pukaki has since been dammed and now forms part of a complex hydro-electric scheme. Semi-artificial or not, Pukaki is beautiful. It has a distinctive blue which provides a lovely foreground to the mountains beyond. We stopped numerous times to take pictures and pretty soon the pictures included Mount Cook, which gradually rose before us. On arriving at our accommodation in Mount Cook Village, we were delighted to find we had been allocated a ground floor room that opened onto a deck with a great view of Mount Cook.
After unpacking the car and a coffee, we went off for a short hike to a view point above the village. It was steep but fortunately not too long and were were rewarded with some fabulous views over the village and, of course, up to Mount Cook. The lovely weather was holding, so when we returned to our room, we had our evening meal on the deck and enjoyed our view of Mount Cook as the sunset progressed.
For what was just a repositioning drive from Te Anau to Mount Cook, we thought we had enjoyed a really full and interesting day and were now looking forward to our planned activities for our last full day in New Zealand.