Twizel Travel Blog

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A black and white of Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand.

This morning we left Christchurch before the sun rose.  We were heading south and west into Middle Earth, or at least what director Peter Jackson portrayed as Middle Earth in the wonderful movie trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.  Among other reasons, Jackson, a native Kiwi, selected his homeland to bring life to Tolkein’s amazing vision because of its diverse, relatively unspoiled, and breathtaking natural beauty.  Thankfully, we will see a heaping helping of the country during our twelve full days here.  

We started today by moving away from the Canterbury area (which includes Christchurch) and toward Mackenzie Country.  About, oh, five minutes after we left the metropolitan Christchurch area we were in pure, absolute, unadulterated countryside… and primarily agricultural land.

Grasslands in the foreground; Mt. Cook in the background.
  Quaint small towns dotted the landscape.  In between the hamlets were fields and fields full of sheep, cattle, deer (raised specifically for venison), and hay.  And the hills rolled on and on until they formed mountains… very large mountains.  Collectively, they are known as the Southern Alps.  We were en route to Mt. Cook, which, at over 12,000 feet, is the tallest among those peaks and stands taller than any other peak in Oceania.  To arrive at that spot, though, we passed some postcard vistas. 

One of our first stops was at Lake Tekapo, which is something of a gateway to this main spine of the Southern Alps.  The lake is remarkably blue; this is a product of “rock flour,” which is finely ground particles of rock brought down by the glaciers at the head of the lake and held in suspension in the melt water.

The glacial lake formed by the melting of the Mueller Glacier, which is on the west side of Mt. Cook.
  On the lake front stands the Church of the Good Shepherd, and from the front window of the church, the lake is perfectly framed in the background.  

We all dropped our jaws when we rounded that first curve and saw the view.  And on an ordinary day, that would have been plenty and we could have loaded up the car and headed to down to road to accommodations for the evening.  But the fun was just beginning.

We soon arrived at Lake Pukaki, which looms in the southern shadow of Mt. Cook and its sister giant peaks.  (Pukaki, like Tekapo, is a Maori name.  In fact, the Maori name for Mt.

More of the Southern Alps.
Cook is Aoraki.  According to the legend, the boy Aoraki created the mountain after a boat trip from heaven to earth.)  The water of Pukaki was as blue as the waters of Lake Tekapo, but the mountains were much closer, producing a super panorama.  The road leading from Tekapo into the Mt. Cook National Park was one of the more spectacular drives of the trip thus far.  On our right remained the azure waters of the lake.  On our left were gently sloping hills covered in sheep, scrub vegetation, and the occasional rushing stream and waterfall.  Ahead of us sat Mt. Cook and the range of gigantic, snow-covered peaks.
Lenticular clouds. Ask Sheldon.

Soon we dropped anchor at the luxurious lodge at the mountain’s base.  If we had US$600 to blow, we could have stayed there a night.  As it was, we had a bite to eat at the café and then headed off down on a 90-minute hike to a feature called the Mueller Glacier.  (Kiwis use the term “tramping” to describe a hike.  The trail we followed was the Hooker Glacier trail.  So we tramped the Hooker trail.  Seriously.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

The scenery was amazing.  While the ground was relatively flat, once we neared the overlook, we ascended rapidly to a place called Kea Point.  On our left sat a peak of over 9,000 feet.  On its side crawled a bright blue glacier.  Below us were extraordinarily tall glacier moraines.  At their base rested the Mueller Glacier, which intersected with a glacial lake full of that typically blue-green glacial water.

Sunrise the morning we left Christchurch.
  We heard the ice crack a time or two, but other than that, the place was literally silent.  Seated on a bench, we could see Mt. Cook ahead of us, ferocious winds kicking snow from its rocky summit.  The stillness, coolness, and freshness of the location combined to give each of us a sense of absolute remoteness.  All too quickly, we tramped back to the car and headed to Twizel, our home for the evening. 

Twizel is really out in the middle of the nowhere.  Go ahead and look at it on the map.  Twice full of life (once when the hydroelectric company took over the town to build its generator and plants, and then again when a group from Middle Earth descended upon the village to film scenes for three motion pictures), the town now is the personification of rural.  Yet in this itty bitty place we found a wonderful motor lodge and, perhaps more important, a delicious restaurant that could rival some of the best in Atlanta.  The three of us sat around a fireplace for about two hours, eating and talking and making merry.  When we finally exited, the sky twinkled with countless stars and the temperature had dropped somewhat drastically… to zero degrees Celsius, i.e., 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brrrrrrrrrr.


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A black and white of Mt. Cook, the…
A black and white of Mt. Cook, th…
Grasslands in the foreground; Mt. …
Grasslands in the foreground; Mt.…
The glacial lake formed by the mel…
The glacial lake formed by the me…
More of the Southern Alps.
More of the Southern Alps.
Lenticular clouds.  Ask Sheldon.
Lenticular clouds. Ask Sheldon.
Sunrise the morning we left Christ…
Sunrise the morning we left Chris…
photo by: TrudyNRonnie