Day 10 | Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

This has got to be one of my top 3 favorite/most memorable days on this trip. As I commented before, instead of following our original itinerary (which would’ve put us in Day 16 for Mount Cook), we decided to chase the good weather. We were supposed to be headed to Wanaka (southwest of our destination) by now, but we decided to go northeast again just to get another good hike in.

Of course, heading in, we had to pull over for scenic stops…

 

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park; Hooker Valley Track

We originally wanted to do the Mueller Hut track, but it required booking in advance during the months of November-April, and not everyone in our party was equipped to do such a strenuous hike. After looking through our options at the visitor center in the village, we decided on Hooker Valley Track, which put us at a good 3-hour turn around time, in time to make it to Wanaka by mid afternoon.

The track itself had little elevation change, but it had A W E S O M E lookout points including the Mueller Lake one. I see so many movies and advertisements with snow capped mountains and turquoise lakes, thinking, oh they’re just green screened or photoshopped, no way they could be real. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL, FRIENDS.

Unfortunately, shortly after, we had to cross a suspension bridge…which…I…extremely…dislike…if you remember from my post about the Blue Pools. It was windy and once again had a maximum of 10 people at a time. Everything between the first and second suspension bridge was full of twisty elevation changes and flat lands. Once we got off the second bridge, we got to a little shack aka “rest stop” for people to take a breather, go to the bathroom, or just enjoy the open window view. From our understanding, that was a mark of 2/3 of the way. Being completely transparent, I was ready to turn around and go back at that point.

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…and so we did, about 10 minutes later. I wasn’t feeling too great, and we were all getting pretty hungry, and we were told that there wasn’t a “must-see” view later on in the route. (I know, there wasn’t the satisfaction of finishing the hike, but our bellies were calling) plus the weather was already making a turn for the worse at the time.

Hill Country Salmon Farm

We had passed by this farm several times now, first time from our first Christchurch->Omarama drive, then the day in Lake Tekapo, then now we’ve all made up our minds to get some salmon sashimi for lunch. The farm had salmon feeding, sashimi, and pre-packaged salmon to cook later. After reading so many great reviews on TripAdvisor, I’m not sure that I was quite as impressed. It was “ok” sashimi, and I feel like we’ve had better in Auckland and definitely better now that we’ve eaten another 3 pounds in Akaroa.

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Wanaka

We AirBnB-ed a holiday lake house from this lady and it was a huge home! There were 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a giant kitchen, and wonderful lake views from the balcony. As always, we like to cook a meal at home, so we used all the necessary items – oven, electric wok, pots, and pans to make mac and cheese and lamb bake.

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Day 9 | Mount Aspiring National Park + Wanaka

HIKING. What everyone tells you to do in New Zealand and one of the biggest parts of our trip! I’m so excited to be able to share this post with everyone, finally, after putting it off for half a week (hey, I needed the rest).

Mount Aspiring National Park; The Blue Pools

We drove out 2 hours to head to the Blue Pools (something that’s been on my Pinterest travel bucket list). Every scenic drive is worth staying awake for, even at 8am, and we stopped twice to take some pictures before heading into the park. Below is a 10am picture of Lake Wanaka:

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The Blue Pools track itself only takes about 25-30 minutes each way. I had such a hard time staying on the correct side of the road (the left side) and kept running into people who were heading out. The air quality was so pure, and one could hear birds chirping and the nearby waters rushing. It was truly a peaceful and calming experience!

There were two bridges we needed to cross before getting the view of the final destination, and I AM NOT A FAN OF SUSPENSION BRIDGES! First off, the max number of people that could be on one was 10…so I kept counting us and making sure there wasn’t another 5+ people coming behind or ahead of us.

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After two wobbly bridges, we made it!! The scenery was so rewarding, and it was everything I’ve seen from online and more! The water was so blue due to the glacial waters and since it hasn’t rained in a few days, nothing has been tossed around and it was so icy and clear. We saw a group of German boys do bridge jumping into the waters, and it reminded me of the (once in my lifetime) experience when my friends and I cliff dived in Hong Kong.

Lunch Break in Wanaka: Kai Whakapai

Our first time in the little town of Wanaka was rewarded with a sunny, outdoor lunch, and unique food many of us have never tasted! Our group does the whole “5 people share 4 plates” kind of thing, and I make the decisions 99% of the time, so I always get full say in what we eat. This is what I ordered for everyone:

1. Kumara Fritters with Saute Spinach, Haloumi, Poached Eggs, Roast Pepper and Tomato Salsa
2. Turkish Lamb Skewers served with warm flat bread, spiced Moroccan style couscous, beet root, feta salad, and tzatziki dip
3. Ciabatta French Toast with Central Otago roasted stone fruit, vanilla mascarpone, and sweet, raspberry, and almond toasted dukkah
4. Soft Tacos with chimichurri marinated fish, black bean & quinoa salad, coleslaw, and tomato chili & lime salsa

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It isn’t over until we get dessert! Black Peak Gelato is pretty popular in the area, and we opted for the Chocolate and Tim Tam flavor, while our friends chose Central Otago apricot and chocolate.

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Mount Iron Track

We figured we would squeeze in a short 1.5 hour hike before heading back for the day. The first 10-15 minutes or so of the hike was zig zag, gaining elevation, and it was so tiring! The trail was very dusty, the weather was extremely hot that day, and we were wearing winter clothes…that combination made the first half of the hike almost miserable, but the views = always worth it! Recommendation and note to self for future: wear short sleeve shirts and cotton pants along with the outwear. Otherwise, your wardrobe will forever be in winter mode.

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Extremely thankful to have had great sleep that night…and onto the next one the next day, Mount Cook!