Mt Cook to Queenstown Road Trip

road lindis pass

The morning dawns damp and grey. “The mountains are gone,” says Bob mournfully. Nevertheless we make our way early to the Blue Lakes and the Tasman Glacier View track, a 40-minute return walk from the car park. At the lookout we gain excellent views of the lower Tasman Glacier, a rock-strewn river of ice rumbling through a vast lunar-like landscape.

“It looks forbidding,” says Bob, as we return to join our Glacier Explorers tour of the lake. Our guide, Kylie Wakelin, settles our group aboard a Mac boat, then we motor alongside one of several floating icebergs. “It’s made from pure water and snow that fell over 500 years ago,” she says breaking some off so we can have a taste. Bob’s neighbour, a Japanese chap, is prepared for the occasion. He whips out a hip flask of whiskey and a mug, adds ancient ice, and shares this heady brew with Bob as we continue across a silty, milky-grey surface to the glacier’s impressive bluff which begrudgingly yields its melt to the glacier lake. There’s a medley of sound: the steady drip of melting ice, loud cracking, rumbles, creaks and splashes, as muddy ice slumps to the water leaving gaping wounds that emanate electrifying shades of blue.

It’s 10 am before we begin our four-hour drive to Queenstown. As we rejoin Lake Pukaki the sky clears, but Mt Cook is completely shrouded by cloud. “Lucky we flew yesterday,” says Bob.

On Twizel’s Lake Ruataniwha we pass rowers, and shortly after Omarama we drive through the dramatic mountain landscape of the Lindis Pass. In Tarras we consider our lunch options, but decide to continue to Wanaka where we eat at the information centre’s café nestled amongst poplars and deciduous trees on the lake’s southern shores.

Bob collects tons of brochures on Queenstown’s many attractions, then we soak up more sun at peaceful Glendhu Bay before resuming our journey. We take an alternate route to Queenstown, via the Cardrona Valley Rd where we stop to photograph the historic Cardrona Hotel. There are a number of activities to indulge in: horse riding, quad biking, and monster trucks and rally car rides, but we continue on through the dry tussock-filled landscape to a lookout point which offers excellent views of the mountains and Lake Hayes.

Descending, we turn off for Arrowtown, an old gold mining town nestled on the banks of the Arrow River. A wide leafy boulevard leads to this quaint town which we explore on foot, marvelling at its wealth of original cottages, shops, saloons and churches from the gold mining period.

At the Lakes District Museum we see fascinating displays detailing the various gold-mining methods used in Arrow River and then we explore the Arrowtown Chinese settlement on the far side of town. Here also there’s plenty to keep visitors amused, from playing a round at the Millbrook Golf Course to hiking, hot air ballooning, horse riding, hang gliding, paraponting as well as 4wd tours up the river to the ruins of Macetown, a gold mining ghost town.

But we’re bound for Queenstown, and after driving over Edith Cavell Bridge – as the Shotover Jet skims the canyon walls beneath – we arrive in Queenstown where a charged atmosphere lingers in the crisp mountain air. Visitors join queues snaking from booking offices, while others relax outside busy cafés and bars and fill in time writing postcards before their next adrenaline-pumping activity.

We park down by the peaceful lake and sit on its shores admiring the view: trees reflect in the clear blue waters of Lake Wakatipu; The Remarkables, Cecil, and Walter Peaks pierce a golden sky. The TSS Earnslaw - a coal-fired, twin-screw steamer - toots its departure to Walter Peak high country station and chugs across the lake, while behind us the Skyline Gondola almost ascends vertically to Bob’s Peak, where a beautiful panorama awaits. The distant cry of punters on its 800-metre-long luge adds an air of excitement, and faint screams can be heard from the direction of the Ledge Bungy.

“Well,” says Bob finally, after flicking several times through a thick wad of brochures, “Where do we begin?”