Geraldine to Mt Cook Road Trip

lake pukaki mt cook

After a slower start to the day we sit above Fairlie admiring the view of the Southern Alps. We stop for a latte at the town’s Old Library Café, then stretch our legs around its Heritage Museum.

But Bob’s keen to get into the mountains and so we depart, ascending through Burkes Pass to the vast open landscape of Mackenzie country and the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, where we arrive amid a flurry of tour buses.

“Wow,” says Bob, as we wait it out before we enter the church, “I’m sure glad we’re travelling by car and can take our time.”

The church, constructed from stones gathered locally, was built as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country. Nearby, the bronze statue of a sheep dog, erected in memory of all high-country mustering dogs, gazes longingly at the turquoise-blue lake. “I think he wants a swim,” says Bob.

There’s a long line of eateries on Tekapo’s main street serving a variety of international fare, but we choose to picnic in the park beside the beautiful lake. Lunch includes fresh fruit and chutney from Barkers, and crackers and smoky manuka cheese from Talbot Forest Cheese. Then we depart and drive the alternate scenic route to Lake Pukaki along the Tekapo Canal Road, stopping at the Mount Cook Salmon Farm en route.

Here these tasty fish are farmed in pens. We take a self-guided tour and discover that the smallest smelt are located downstream and are moved upstream as they grow, pen by pen, until they reach ‘death row’ at two years of age. Fresh salmon can be purchased, or you can catch your own on supplied rods. Bob’s tempted but instead chats to a local on the bank who fishes for canny rainbow and brown trout dining on the salmon’s leftovers. “I’ve caught more than one 12-pounder here,” he tells Bob.

We continue to the Mt Cook Lookout where Aoraki’s snowy crown rises majestically above Lake Pukaki, then drive up SH80 to the tiny alpine village of Mount Cook, through scenery so vast, it’s overwhelming. “I feel dwarfed,” says Bob.

At Mount Cook we check into the Hermitage, where our rooms provide amazing picture-postcard views of Mt Cook and Mt Sefton through enormous floor-to-ceiling windows. Then we head downstairs to the information desk where we discover there’s a wealth of activities from scenic flights, heli-hiking, glacier exploration and rock climbing to 4wd journeys and lots of popular hikes including climbing the summit of Mt Cook (3754 metres) with experienced guides.

“I don’t know about climbing Mt Cook, but a scenic flight sounds good,” says Bob to the girl at the tour desk, who books us in on the next flight.

We spend some time at the Dept. of Conservation information centre learning about local flora and fauna, then check onto our Mount Cook Ski Planes flight, the only company licensed to land fixed-wing aircraft on the Tasman Glacier. After taking off from its tiny airport and circling Mt Cook, hydraulic skis provide a safe snow landing on the glacier, and we jump out to soak up the absolutely breathtaking scenery. Bob clicks away furiously and, after throwing a few snowballs around, we climb back on board for a unique ski take-off experience, then land back in the valley below.

Later, from the Hermitage’s ambient and aptly named Panorama Restaurant, we watch the sun set over the mountains and dine, most fittingly, upon delectable Mt Cook Salmon.