The Cloud Piercer

Twizel Travel Blog

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The Inland Scenic Route, never a dull moment...

Today is January 14, the length of our travel and the twelve hour time difference make it look like we have skipped a day. But then again, when we go home again our 26 hour journey will appear to take only about half of that, leveling the equation again.

We had planned to get up at 7.45 am, but we are up and about at 7.15. The little jetlag that bothered us is completely gone and we are ready to start our New Zealand tour.

Breakfast in the Latimer Hotel is excellent.

Somewhere along the Inland Scenic Route, a place for a dip or a boatride (if you own a boat, that is).
Continental breakfast is included in our booking and this is all we need. There’s coffee and tea, juices, croissants, pastries, toast, fruit and of course: marmite. We go back to our room to collect our gear and with a little regret we part with this great facility.

We walk to the Budget Depot, which is only a couple of blocks away on Lichfield street. The sky is blue and the sun is doing its utmost to make this a beautiful day. Trudy and I brought flexible cases with wheels on them, so there’s no hard labour in getting our luggage to the depot for us. My dad on the other hand brought an old fashioned suitcase, flexible yes, but there are no wheels of any significance on it, so he has to carry it all the way, and tiny droplets appear on his forehead before we are halfway.

En route lunch.
We step into the Budget office at nine thirty and even though the agreed pick up time was ten o’clock we are served promptly. My stress hormone level starts to rise again, because the “credit card moment” now rapidly approaches. No need for that, because here too, things seem to go down the old fashioned way as well. We have booked a class F car and, according to the brochure, this would be a Ford Territory, but since this car is unavailable we get a Hyundai Santa Fe. This is also a class F car, but it has a bit more luxury and gadgets (like a compass in the rearview mirror) and on top of that it runs on diesel fuel, making the KPE (kilometers per euro) go up even further. Before setting off we check the car for damage, making sure that we won’t have to pay for damage we didn’t inflict upon returning the vehicle. We report a few scratches that aren’t on the form, but the man says that road metal is normal wear and tear and that we mustn’t worry about it.
The statue in honour of the collie dog, standing proud on the south shore of lake Tekapo.

Although we have been to quite some countries with “lefty” traffic, I have never been driving myself and it takes some getting used to. At the first couple of turns I switch on the windscreen wipers instead of my turn signal. Not only is the steering wheel on the “wrong” side of the car, everything has been relocated.  On top of all that the car makes a pinging sound, with the pinging going faster and slowing down along with the car. When I am about to reach for my cell phone to call Budget and ask for help I see the red warning light for the hand brake, placed exactly out of sight behind the steering wheel. Now I have found the warning light I have to find the lever to get the hand brake off. In this car the hand brake ísn’t a hand brake, it is a brake operated with a pedal, also cleverly hidden somewhere left from the normal break.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, is there a better place to get married?

We have to make our way out of town now, but the map we own isn’t as detailed as Trudy (who is my loyal and skillful navigator) would like, so we have to call in help from the friendly kiwi’s twice. Once in a petrol station, where the boy and girl (who both appear to be in their early twenties) do the best they can, but it takes quite a while before I’m heading in the right direction out of town, because they don’t seem to be map reading types. We are heading for Darfield and when it takes too long (in our opinion) before we see any signs with the right names on them, we ask a man on the side of the road. Although he is deaf-mute, he manages to explain that we have to take a left on the next roundabout.  We now are on the SH73 and this is where the Inland Scenic Route starts, which makes its way through a fantastic landscape of plains surrounded by mountains to Twizel.

My dad giving perspective to the vastness of lake Pukaki.

On this journey we will not be having lunch in restaurants, because this takes too much time, instead we will be buying our bread and fillings in a supermarket we happen to cross, so we can eat when and where we like. When the clock ticks towards twelve I feel like having a cup of coffee to flush our baguettes down with and we pull over in Stavely, a place so small it can hardly be called a town. On the side of the road a café and shop in one draws our attention. Trudy says that she recognizes it from a Dutch travel show on tv called RTL Travel. The host of the show ate a Hokey Pokey ice cream here. I tell her that she’s probably wrong, there must be a million places looking like this in NZ. We walk in and then it hits me: This ís the place we saw on the telly. My urge for coffee makes place for a craving for ice cream.

The view from Peter's Lookout.
We tell the lady behind the counter the whole story and she remembers having a Dutch film crew of some sort disturbing the peace in her quiet little shop. This seems to break the rut of her day, because she’s all smiles now and starts chattering enthusiastically. She orders the girl preparing our ice creams to “make it a double and stack it on”. The girl constructs three huge ice creams made of three or four scoops on a dangerously small cone. Lunch will have to wait for a bit I guess… Before leaving I have to sign the guest book, in which I thank her for the flowers (while I’m writing she puts some on the table where I’m sitting) and after taking a picture of the shop with products from at least 50 years ago, we head west again.

On the way we stop a couple of times to look at the scenery and somewhere on the way there’s lunch as well, but the first planned stop is at Lake Tekapo.

The road to Aoraki/Mt. Cook NP appears to disappear under the mountains.
We park the car near the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, where a wedding is taking place. It ís a perfect place for the occasion… The church was built in 1935, using mostly oak and rock, giving it the look of a building from the early settling age. The rocks used had to be gathered in a 5 km radius from the building site that had to remain undisturbed, even the matagouri bushes had to be left alone and rocks that happened to be on the wall lines were not to be removed. Nearby stands an image of a collie dog, a tribute to the sheepdogs that helped develop the McKenzie country.

I take a right when we pull off the parking lot, but we came from the left and Trudy tells me not to be stubborn and make a U-turn. Since I wrote that she is my loyal and skillful navigator I do as she says, to find out only  a few minutes later that the road I was about to take was a shortcut.

The Hooker Valley Track crosses two swing bridges. Although it looks peaceful, there was a stiff breeze on our way out.

While driving along the shores of lake Pukaki we stop a few times to gaze at the stunning views over the lake towards Aoraki, a.k.a. Mount Cook. The Maori named the mountain Aoraki, meaning Cloud Piercer, after an ancestral deity in Maori mythology. We have to take a right before reaching the town of Twizel, onto the 55 km long road to Aoraki/Mount Cook NP. We briefly park the car at Peter’s Lookout, where I stroll down the hill a bit, to take a picture with a slightly different perspective than the other tourists that are about. The closer we get to the park, the more desolate the road gets. Apart from a young couple with a broken down car asking for jumper cables and the occasional sheep, there’s not much to disturb the mighty mountains.

Trudy and my dad walking the Hooker Valley Track.
At a certain moment we are on a stretch of road that runs into the distance where it seems to disappear under the mountain.

The town of Mount Cook isn’t much, the most important buildings are the Visitor’s Centre and the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. At the Visitor’s Centre we inquire after a nice walk that should take more than a couple of hours. We are advised to take the Hooker Valley Track that should take about two hours and starts from the camp ground a few kilometers back from where we came. There are decent toilets on the campground and an opportunity to fill our water bottles and after using both thankfully we set off. There is a gusty wind on the journey out and when we get to the first of the swing bridges we have to firmly strap on our Tilley hats in order not to lose them on the second day of use.

Aoraki, the Cloud Piercer, only lacking some clouds.
We walk on gravel tracks, surrounded by low bushes and shrubs, mountainsides nearby with waterfalls disappearing strangely into the rock faces, turning the wind into a cool blow dryer. At the end of the track we stand face to face with a lake, a glacier on the far end, huge chunks of ice floating in it. Beautiful sight. We cannot linger too long, because it is getting late and the way back will take well over an hour. The wind has completely died down and the temperature has hardly dropped, so our jackets remain in our backpack.

It is 20.45 when we reach the car again and we are in Twizel no sooner than 21.30, just in time to check in, but the restaurant of the Mckenzie Country Inn is already closed. We can try the restaurant across the road and otherwise there should be some places in the town centre.

The glacier lake at the end of the Hooker Valley Track, with Hooker glacier on the far end.
Option one is closed as well, so we have to head into the town centre. Here too, all the restaurants have closed up shop. We are welcome to come in, but for drinks only. There is one place though where the chef is willing to make us a couple of pizzas (thanks to a Dutch guy that works in the bar next door who put in a good word for us) and they are pretty tasty, too.

With our bellies filled at last we drive back to the hotel, through the tiny town that used to house only people that worked on the dams that were being built in the area. When the dams were finished, instead of becoming a ghost town, Twizel adapted and now serves as a well known base of operations for checking out Aoraki/Mount Cook NP. Our day ends late, no sooner than 1 am I close my eyes.

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The Inland Scenic Route, never a d…
The Inland Scenic Route, never a …
Somewhere along the Inland Scenic …
Somewhere along the Inland Scenic…
En route lunch.
En route lunch.
The statue in honour of the collie…
The statue in honour of the colli…
The Church of the Good Shepherd, i…
The Church of the Good Shepherd, …
My dad giving perspective to the v…
My dad giving perspective to the …
The view from Peters Lookout.
The view from Peter's Lookout.
The road to Aoraki/Mt. Cook NP app…
The road to Aoraki/Mt. Cook NP ap…
The Hooker Valley Track crosses tw…
The Hooker Valley Track crosses t…
Trudy and my dad walking the Hooke…
Trudy and my dad walking the Hook…
Aoraki, the Cloud Piercer, only la…
Aoraki, the Cloud Piercer, only l…
The glacier lake at the end of the…
The glacier lake at the end of th…
The Hooker Valley track.
The Hooker Valley track.
Again, the Inland Scenic Route.
Again, the Inland Scenic Route.
A small waterfall disappearing mys…
A small waterfall disappearing my…
401 km (249 miles) traveled
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photo by: TrudyNRonnie