Journey time: 6 hours (including sidetrip to view giant totara trees at Peel Forest and lots of photo stops)
Direct would be 4 hours
Weather: Fine and mild (Methven 29°C, Lake Tekapo 22°C, Mt Cook 16°C)
From Methven, we head back to the Scenic Highway 72 and then follow it south through Mayfield and Geraldine. The flat Canterbury plains are on our left and the foothills to the Southern Alps on our right. There are constantly pleasing views in either direction. Watch out for stock on the roads as farmers move their animals to new paddocks from time to time.
If you didn't visit these places whilst in Methven, do allow time for some sidetrips:
-Sharplin Falls at Staveley (1 1/2 hrs)
-Hukatere Valley, Erewhon and/or Lake Heron (2-3 hrs)
-Peel Forest turn in at Arundel (1 hr )
Geraldine is a pleasant town with a growing arts and crafts community and a good visitor information centre.
The scenery and colours around Fairlie can be exquisite, including the road down to Pleasant Point. Maybe its something about the light or just my imagination.
Beyond Fairlie we start heading higher and eventually reach Burke's Pass. Turn a corner and you could be forgiven for thinking you've arrived on another planet, or continent or country at least. The barren but appealing landscape of the high level Mackenzie Country unfolds with the first full view of the Alps laid out on the near horizon.
Before we get a chance to acclimatise to these new surroundings we head down a hill and the magnificence of Lake Tekapo appears before us. We turn off toward the lake and take in the sheepdog statue and the Church of the Lonely Shepherd. Another good view is afforded behind the shops on the other side of the river.
Stock up on provisions if you haven't already, for the food shopping options are rather limited at Mt Cook Village.
Before leaving Tekapo, two other must dos are:
- Lake Tekapo lakefront drive or walk
- Mt John observatory
Hopefully you'll capture some of your best photo opportunities ever at Lake Tekapo.
But save some film or memory for what's next.
Deviate off SH8 following the Tekapo Hydro Canal and passing the salmon farm. (Pick up final supplies for Mt Cook?). Along the way you should get your first glimpse of New Zealand's highest and most revered mountain, Mt Cook. The end of the road brings you to the shore of Lake Pukaki. On a nice day, the combination of blue skies and glacier water will project the most superb shades of turquoise on the lake. Take time to enjoy the many vistas from around the lake edge, especially if the wildflowers and broom are in flower.
The road up to Mt Cook Village (SH80) also offers more great photo opps. It's an excellent road but still drive carefully!
At last we're in Mt Cook and settle in to the homely atmosphere of the YHA hostel and plan our next day. Being up here for the first time has a slight sense of trepidation and expectation. It feels a bit like a pilgrimage to the heart of the country - why has it taken so long to make the journey?
The next day at Mt Cook...