The coolest thing about having visitors in your "home" country? They bring a guidebook!
Rob's parents brought with them the newest version of Lonely Planet's New Zealand, which is the first non-copied/pirated Lonely Planet we've had in some time. (In our defense, you couldn't get the real stuff in Asia!)
On the back cover, the author promised a "wow" moment at least once a day, and our two-day getaway to Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook National Park surely delivered. I mean, for real?
We began our day with a drive up through Oamaru, where we stopped at the Whitestone Cheese factory and sampled some delicious cheeses. As someone who'd be at least 10 pounds lighter were she lactose-intolerant, I have to say, this cheese ROCKS MY SOCKS OFF! They sell it at all the grocery stores, but having it on premises somehow made it extra delicious.
We made it to Lake Tekapo a few hours later and spent the rest of the afternoon ooh-ing and ahh-ing. The color of the water, which is somewhere between turquoise and holy shit how is that real, is due to "rock flour"—residue left over from the glaciers grinding into the rock as they move. I just have to say, thank god for glaciers!
With snow-capped mountains in the background, the Church of the Good Shepherd in the foreground, and colorful lupines all around us, I probably could have just stayed here all day. Instead, we headed up to the Lake Tekapo Hot Springs and enjoyed a soak in all three tubs.
Even though the spring water wasn't naturally hot but heated through stored energy, it made for a refreshing afternoon break and the scenery was stellar. Better yet, I scored a great deal on the tickets by using one of New Zealand's discount sites, so our luxurious afternoon was affordable as well.
After a BYOB happy hour at yet another gorgeous lake, we cooked dinner out of my Mary Poppins grocery bag and called it a night. Unfortunately, we forgot to stargaze, which is sad as this area is supposed to have the clearest sky in the world. I guess it gives us a reason to come back!
The next morning, we quickly made breakfast and lunch and ushered the parents into the car. From our time in Everest, we suspected our best chance at seeing the peak of Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, would be before noon. We were SO SO right.
The drive into Mt. Cook National Park is unreal, as you basically have another crazy blue lake to your right and snowcapped mountains ahead of you. Instead of stopping to take in the views, we pushed on to the parking lot for the Hooker Valley Track and hit the trail.
This 10km hike is much easier than the one to Key Summit and the clear weather made it about 1000 times more spectacular. You cross a few swingbridges and gaze at glaciers tumbling down mountains before rounding the bend and seeing the whole of Mt. Cook right in front of you—seemingly.
From then on, your hike pretty much consists of gawking at Cook and the glaciers. The one thing I didn't expect was for the end to be so spectacular.
Save your sandwich for the beach, Hooker Glacier, and icebergs that seem to magically suspend on the water's surface.
(Now the bad: as soon as I finished my apple, the rain started. We made it back to the "car park" relatively dry, but anyone who started the hike after 9am was out of luck when it came to spotting Mt. Cook's summit or staying dry.)
Back on the road, we played "escape from the rain" and enjoyed a few more stops to take in the amazing views we were leaving behind.
On the way back home to Dunedin, we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders, which looked like something left behind by a dodgeball fight between giants. I mean, really? How is this real? #soconfusedbyreality
Have you been to Lake Tekapo?
Did you do the Hooker Valley Track? Was it one of your must-dos for New Zealand? Let us know in the comments!