20 Photos of the Awe-Inspiring Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook

This, I feel, is one of Mother Nature’s greatest hits! 

Writing about my trip around New Zealand has become increasingly difficult. Every place that I visited lived up to, or even surpassed, my expectations; my reactions were essentially always the same, “This is too much.” I can only rave about its otherworldly beauty.

The wildest, most pristine, jaw-dropping, and formidable place I went to was Mount Cook National Park, which is part of the MacKenzie Country. This region is situated in the center of South Island and based around the Mackenzie Basin, a expansive intermontane basin in the eastern shadow of the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain (3724 m). Water from the melting glaciers fill three large lakes: Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau, which feed the Waitaki River and the country’s largest hydroelectric scheme.(Wikivoyage)

The region’s history is a intriguing read as well. In short, it was named after James Mackenzie, a shepherd from Scotland. He was accused of stealing sheep from a large farm with the aid of his dog (stories with dogs always hit my sweet spot!) and captured, but then escaped and recaptured. This Catch Me If You Can game happened several times before he was acquitted. People admired his rebelliousness and audacity and honored him that way. Here is the unabridged version for your reading pleasure.

The two most prominent spots to visit in the MacKenzie Country are Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mount Cook Village.

1. LAKE TEKAPO

It was a blessing that the weather at Lake Tekapo was mostly cooperative on the day I visited.

What sets Lake Tekapo apart from the many lakes you have seen and will see is its striking turquoise blue water, which is created by “rock flour” – the glaciers in the headwaters grind the rock into fine dust. The color is amplified on a clear, sunny day.

When I stepped off the Intercity bus, I was stunned. A vast, menacing body of water in the shade of blue that was unlike anything I had seen before. The vast majority of Lake Tekapo photos and postcards shows stands of purple, pink and white lupines in the foreground and the turquoise blue lake and snow-capped mountains in the background. I visited in autumn so there was not any lupine, but I still had multiple eyegasms with the golden brown grasses.

Behind every nature photo of New Zealand you see are a hell lot of hoops I had to jump through to be able to take it. Lake Tekapo looks very calming, bucolic, and photographer-friendly in this photo, but goodness knows I was almost knocked down by the raging wind in the process.

After checking in the YHA, I immediately headed back to the lake. The radiant light lasted for about two hours before apocalyptic-looking clouds almost engulfed the sky. The wind grew stronger. I made it back to the hostel in time before it started pouring and spent the rest of the day hanging out with fellow travelers in the common room, in front of the fireplace. With the rain rattling against the windows, it felt so cozy.

The one thing I did not enjoy about Lake Tekapo (and New Zealand in general) was the food. And I am only saying it as a matter of fact; I am not disparaging the food scene there because I understand that this is a far-off and sparsely populated region.

When I arrived, I was starving and had an intense craving for Asian food. It is such a tiny town that the number of places to eat can be counted on two hands. I went into Jade Palace (the only Chinese restaurant) and ordered the wonton noodle soup. Everything else on the menu is so damn overpriced (considering how basic it is). The soup itself turned out to be a pitiable embarrassment. It definitely was the worst wonton noodle soup I have ever tasted in my life, but I would not consider it a complete waste of money, as thanks to it, I was full for a few hours. Oh and the people working in the restaurant were not very hospitable. No surprise that it has mostly appalling reviews. I would never go back!

In the evening, at the suggestion of Jo’di, my new Singaporean friend, I braved the rain and wind with a borrowed headline  to get  Japanese food at KOHAN, which is within walking distance from the Chinese one. True to form, everything about it is superior, from the manners of the staff, the ambience, the prices, to the quality of the food. I recommend without any reservation!

A quick glimpse of the gentle sunrise before I departed at 7.30AM the following day.

2. LAKE PUKAKI

Not too far away from Lake Tekapo and on the way to Mount Cook is Lake Pukaki, the largest of the three alpine lakes mentioned above. Most buses will make a pit stop here for people to take photos. 

Morning cloud orgy 😀

3. AORAKI/ MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK

Mount Cook is often covered in clouds, and my first day was no exception. 

Mount Cook is the place that defies the “It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey” maxim. It is the place that makes me acutely aware of how inadequate my writing abilities are, as I cannot put into words its magnitude and magnificence.

The route from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook is the most scenic I have ever been on. But as I was on the bus, I could not take any photo. I was intensely jealous of people in cars because they were able to stop anytime they wanted along the way. For the sake of brevity, just look at this photo.

However, nothing really prepared for the moments of officially entering the zone. Words to convey thoughts and feelings started to fall short.

I spent a day and half there and did not feel physically great enough to tackle long walks, so on both days I chose the Kea Point track, which takes about 2 hours. I skipped the popular Hooker Valley Track this time, as it takes longer. But I do not feel like I missed out, because I know I will return.

Visual stimulation!

The rewards for finishing the track are insane views of the Southern Alps (in this photo, obstructed by clouds) and Mueller Glacier lake. 

My first day ended on a pinky note. 

Mount Cook is not the best place to watch sunsets due to its location. But this sunset remains memorable because sunsets with glacier-capped mountains being front and center are a rarity.

I still stayed at the YHA, the cheapest of all the places (a total of 5?) available in the national park. The hostel is fine; there is nothing particularly remarkable about it. The following day, I woke up and immediately went outside to catch the soft morning light. The clouds had cleared, promising a glorious day ahead. 

A clear, wonderful day like this happens only once in a while in this part of the world. I really hit the jackpot with the weather, not just in Mount Cook but also in all other places. 

There are six more months left of 2016, but I already know that visiting New Zealand in autumn is one of my wisest decisions. All the colors are INSANE!!!

Mt Cook (and NZ as a whole), I want you to know that I APPRECIATE YOU SO FREAKING MUCH!!!

Too marvelous of a view I needed a photo with me in it.

Same scenery different (cloudless) sky. May I present you Mt Cook on the right hand side? GLORIOUS!!!

I remember I did not have breakfast yet when I saw this. I almost fainted.

Still felt like a virgin during my second time at Mueller Lake 😀

A photo posted by Khoa (@confuseddasher) on

And this is me & Jo’di, the Singaporean I told you earlier. She is one of the most unconventional & self-sufficient Singaporean girl I’ve met in the last 4 years roaming the world. That night in Lake Tekapo, what started out as an innocuous question of “oh where do I eat on this rainy and windy night” spanned into hours of conversation about our respective travels, lives, Singapore’s notorious 5C (the five ultimate material acquisitions), and relationships. 6 months ago, she left the comfort of her home to work and travel around NZ, camping/sleeping in a tent wherever camping is permitted, going on multi-day hikes, and hitch-hiking along the way. Excuse my language, I felt like a p**sy listening to her experiences 🙁 I had to leave the following day, so we parted way, uncertain whether we’d meet up again. That’s the cold hard reality of meeting people when you travel; it’s wonderful yet fleeting and a tad saddening especially when you click with them. Two days later, I was heading back after my walk to Kea Point and bumped into her literally in a bush! Needless to say, we both were shell-shocked because really, what was the likelihood of that happening? If it’d been 30 minutes later, we wouldn’t have met as I would be on the bus to Wanaka. Uplifting serendipity!

I also highly recommend that you go on a stargazing tour. It is the kind of thing that you can only do in certain places, and it is so surreal and transportive. I have seen a fair share of beaches, mountains, glaciers, and what-have-you during the last four years roaming the world, but a starry night? ONLY TWICE (my first was in the Morocco Sahara desert). A starry night with the Milky Way? NONE UNTIL NZ. I think the Hermitage Hotel is the only one that organizes this tour (I am not positively sure if the name of the company is Hermitage Hotel, but you book the tour in the souvenir shop in the lobby of the hotel). Here is what it says on the website: Mount Cook is far from the city lights and therefore has some of the darkest skies in New Zealand – perfect for viewing the night sky! In June 2012 the Aoraki Mackenzie region, encompassing Mount Cook Village, was approved as one of only a few International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR) worldwide, meaning the darkness of our night skies is almost unbeatable!

I hope you enjoy this long post about this jaw-dropping region of New Zealand. It is an absolute must when you are in the South Island.

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