Best Travel Experiences in the South Island - Day 2

This was an incredible day for us; everything we experienced was easily accessible and the mountain scenery was awe inspiring. Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is one of New Zealand's finest National Parks. About 40% consists of glaciers and there are 19 peaks more than 9000 ft high, including New Zealand's tallest Mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook. For us, without doubt the Hooker Trail was the highlight.

We made an early start on the 3-hour return hike along the Hooker Valley Trail. An easy walk on well prepared tracks, much of it boardwalks, with spectacular mountain views on both sides. There are 3 suspension swing bridges along the trail that some might find challenging, mainly because of the roaring noise coming from the rivers below and the fact that they are a suspension design so there is a little bit of sideways movement as you cross. We soon got used to that and pressed on.

At the turnaround point of the trail is a large lake formed by the melting glacier with icebergs floating on the surface – our reaction was the same - “amazing”. At the far end are beautiful blue cliffs of ice rising out of the lake, the parts of the glacier that have not broken away. After 20 minutes of enjoying the incredible mountain scenery, we made our way back along the same track. Definitely an inspiring experience and Susan’s camera was working overtime to capture the views, especially Aoraki/Mt Cook and the other mountains and glaciers that tower over the trail.

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We also enjoyed the many mountain wildflowers that grow along this trail, including the pretty Mt Cook Buttercup.

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Shortly after leaving Aoraki/Mt Cook Village where we had stayed the night, we turned onto the Tasman Valley Road to reach Tasman Lake. As you will see in the photo below, it's very nice 20 minute drive up to the lake trail. This is a much larger lake than we had seen on the Hooker Valley and the icebergs created by the melting Tasman Glacier at the head of the lake are bigger. There are 2 options here. Either make your way to The Jetty (about a 25-minute easy walk from the car-park) from where you can hire kayaks to paddle out to one of the icebergs, or take the stairs (be warned, there are lots of them!) from where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Tasman Lake, The Tasman Glacier and the surrounding mountains. 

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Time didn't allow us to take a kayak out to one of the icebergs, but we will definitely do that on our next visit. If you look at the top of the Blogs title page on our website http://newzealandvacations.com... you'll see a great closeup shot of the largest iceberg on Tasman Lake.

An hour later we returned back along the shores of Lake Pukakai, marveling once again at the incredible blue color of the lake.Then to Omarama where we wanted to take a look at the Clay Cliffs, an experience we include as an optional activity on our website. 

These are over 8 miles off the main road and most of that is unsealed gravel road and we are reminded that New Zealand rental car companies do not provide insurance cover when travelling on unsealed roads, so we proceed carefully.

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Our opinion is that the Clay Cliffs would mainly interest people with an interest in geology, but for us, maybe still dazzled by our time in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, we rated it as interesting, rather than amazing. What we did enjoy were the wildflowers that covered much of the valley floor on the drive to and from the cliffs. These are Russell lupin (Lupinus polyphyllus)

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Then it's over the Lindis Pass, about 1 1/2 hours before arriving in the Otago Wine growing region where we will stay the night with our good friends Robert & Natalie who live in Bannockburn. Tomorrow will be the longest day in our whistle stop South Island vacation, so an early start will be essential. Can't wait!

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Nov 14, 2016