Mount Cook and Some Lakes

We drove south from Christchurch with a sulky cat, who really didn’t want to be driving again. Even the giant salmon statue in Rakaia failed to impress him.

The road wound slowly through farmland. It was apparently harvest season, because there were tons of hay bales everywhere, from giant industrial farming setups to individual bales in what otherwise looked like front yards. Also some smurfs, for reasons we haven’t figured out.

We made a stop in Timaru for a short walk before the rain set in. Timaru is supposedly the home of a little blue penguin colony, but the penguins head to sea early in the morning, so we hadn’t expected to see any and were thus not disappointed.

From Timaru we left the coast and cut inland, headed for lake Tekapo through the intermittent rain. Arriving in town, we found the lake showing its promised crystal blue. We had just enough gap between showers to snap a couple of pictures of the bridge, before the rain drove us back into the car.

The area around Tekapo is an international Dark Sky Preserve: light pollution is banned in a wide radius, so that people can see the stars properly. We had considered staying the night, but it hadn’t made the cut for time. As we drove through a dark sky in the daytime, we were happy we’d skipped it; with this weather, nobody was going to be seeing any stars for a long time. (Totally unrelated: this is about when we figured out that if we put Captain’s carrier in his car seat, he was willing to use it. Sometimes.)

Our drive took us past the southern shore of the not-quite-as-blue Lake Pukaki. By this point the weather had improved, from intermittent downpour to merely scattered showers and ominous lurking clouds. Captain judged this an acceptable amount of moisture and consented to be walked.

We got to Twizel, where we would be staying, and pulled up to the house we thought was our AirBnB. The key that was supposed to be under the mat wasn’t there, and the agency wasn’t picking up their phone, but Jazz found a hide-a-key in the back, and it opened for her. So we started hauling our things inside, and let Captain start exploring… (Side note: check out the fridge! Every place we stayed had a bottle of milk waiting for us; apparently this is Standard Minimal Hospitality.)

And then we found a rule book, which was very explicit about pets not being allowed. Uh… what? So we looked again at the booking, and realized we were supposed to be next door! We gathered the suitcases and disappointed cat back into the car, drove about thirty feet, and let ourselves into our real place with the key that was under the doormat. It turned out to be smaller but much more comfortable – though we got a good laugh out of the beans sprouting in the dishwasher. Still, it was a three bedroom house, with an extra shed full of bunk beds in the back yard; everything in the area, or at least everything pet friendly, seems to be set up for large group tourism. This place even had a bathtub, which meant Jazz could pick up some epsom salts and have a nice restorative soak, for her still-not-fully-functional leg and ankle.

We headed into town for dinner at the one nice restaurant in town, which Google told us was open all day. This was kind of true, but dinner service wouldn’t start for another thirty minutes, and they were fully booked; did we have a booking? After some discussion, they agreed to seat us when they opened, so long as we gave the table back within an hour or so. So we came back, and finished a very pleasant meal before almost anyone else arrived.

In the morning we headed off to The Destination, which in this case was the Hooker Valley Trail up towards Mount Cook. As with most of New Zealand’s parks, pets are not welcome on the trail, so Captain finally got a morning off. The drive in is very pretty.

The walk is also lovely. It was very crowded by the time we arrived, so at times it felt like we were walking in a long queue. (We did our best to hide it in most of the photos.) The trail slowly approaches Mt Cook along the base of the valley, crossing back and forth over the dark gray river.

As you near the end point, at Hooker lake, the scenery actually gets less impressive, at least in this silty end-of-summer season with the last of the meltwater filling the lake with mountain runoff. A helpful sign reminds you that the water, with its huge floating chunks of ice, is actually very cold, and you should not try to swim in it.

After winding our way back to the parking lot, we took a side road over to the Tasman Glacier viewpoint, where a shorter but much more vertical walk, up stairs set into a very windy hill, brought us to this hilltop. Tasman Lake was also silty and gray, and filled with floating chunks of ice. The trail also offers a view down to the Blue Lakes, which are green. Did we mention it was windy? We feared Jazz’s hair might lift her up off the side of the mountain; Andrew kept a good solid grip on the camera.

Some of the best views of Mount Cook were actually from the road along lake Pukaki, so we drove back to the cabin and brought a reluctant model out to some spots we’d marked along the road. By the time we got back, the blue sky was starting to cloud, blending with the white snow on the mountain tops. We were sad that we hadn’t been able to bring him in the morning. Still, some great results; it turns out Captain will sit calmly if you just give him enough treats. It’s important to pay your models.

Jazz also got into the instagram photo action. We’d seen people trying to take this shot as we passed in the morning, with the blue sky, but since there was nobody around on our way back, we figured we’d give it a go as well.

We were excited about how the cat photos came out, and posted them to Instagram, where we immediately got a comment from some random New Zealander about how cats were not allowed in Hooker Valley National Park, and we’d better not have brought him any closer. We’ve been repeatedly surprised about how much unsolicited negativity we get around our cat in this country.

Ah well. Back to town, for another pleasant dinner in hobbling distance of our apartment, and then a restorative soak for Jazz’s injured leg-parts, before packing up for another drive in the morning.

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