7 March 2017

On the road. Mount Cook to the Westcoast

Quick passage through Lake Tekapo before reaching the West Coast of New Zealand.
Mackenzie Country on South Island, New Zealand © Claire Blumenfeld

After four days of hiking, I leave Mount Cook and the Glentanner campground to go to Lake Tekapo, another huge lake in the region. Like a few days before, I cycle along Pukaki Lake and its fabulous turquoise blue water for around thirty kilometers. Having recovered the intersection with the main road, I continue towards Lake Tekapo. A small information center sells salmon sashimi at the end of the lake. I take this opportunity to buy some despite the price and I have lunch outside enjoying the view of the lake and Mount Cook in the background. The salmon has an incredible melting flesh. It comes from one of the many salmon farms nearby.

I continue my route by following the Lake Tekapo Alternative Route Trail, a section of the A2O trail, Alpes to Ocean, which connects Mount Cook / Lake Tekapo to Oamaru on the East coast of the South Island. The track runs along the other side of Lake Pukaki and I enjoy the smell of pines and the song of cicadas in the warm afternoon atmosphere. I climb two hundred meters to reach a plateau where the Tekapo Canal is located, which brings water from Lake Tekapo into Lake Pukaki. The canal is part of a system of hydroelectric dams organized throughout the Mackenzie Basin region. A farm raises salmon in the canal. The breeders are feeding the fish when I pass and seagulls spin in the air. I spend around forty kilometers along the canal on an almost flat track (hallelujah), but the wind is blowing hard. Just before Tekapo, I pass a small hydroelectric power station and finally arrive at the village at the end of the lake of the same name. I stop at a small campsite, by the lake and spend the evening chatting with two other cyclists.

The next morning is a sightseeing tour for me. Small plane flight with Air Safari. The trip is supposed to fly over Lake Tekapo, the peaks of the region including Mount Cook, the various local glaciers and the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers located on the West Coast. From Mount Cook to the west coast, which I will reach in a few days, is quickly reach on a plane. Only the high mountain range separates the two regions. But the weather is overcast with a sea of ​​clouds at the level of the West coast, making observation of the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers impossible. The flight still takes place but the route will be a little different. The pilot offers me to sit in the cockpit in place of the co-pilot, which I accept with pleasure. About fifteen passengers take their places in the back and we fly away. Lake Tekapo and its region reveal all their beauty from the sky. We fly over the mountain ranges with some turbulence. The wind is blowing hard outside. The Tasman and Hooker glaciers that I visited a few days ago reveal their impressive size. We take height and Mount Cook appears wrapped in a sea of ​​clouds. I see the clouds spinning on its crest, it must really be a very very strong wind outside. The plane spins around the top, which turns on my stomach a bit. On the coast, a sea of ​​cloud spreads out as far as the eye can see. After forty five minutes of flying over the mountains, we leave in the opposite direction to land an hour later at the small airport from which we departed. I can hardly believe that the flight is already over, dazzled by what I have just seen. The bad weather and a lack of explanations on the region from the pilot spoiled the experience a little but the view remains very beautiful.

I spend a quiet afternoon at the campsite, the weather slowly covering. I am waiting for the evening and another sightseeing tour: the night tour of Mount John Observatory to watch the stars. The Mackenzie region is one of the places in New Zealand with the least light pollution. This makes it the perfect place to observe the stars. During my few days at Mount Cook, I had the pleasure of being able to contemplate a superb starry sky, with a very pretty milky voice. In Tekapo, is located Mount John, a 1029 meter high mountain where there is an observatory.

Before my date with the stars, I have rendez-vous with Hana, a young Malaysian girl whom I met five months earlier in Te Anau. At the time, she worked in the village supermarket. Since December, she has been working at the Tekapo supermarket. I came across her completely by chance while doing some shopping quickly last night! So we made an appointment. I join her after her work and we spend a few quiet hours chatting. She shares a house with other backpackers also working in Tekapo and with two sheep living in the garden of the house. Hana is very kind and very impressed with my decision to travel by bicycle. She prepares pancakes for me which I devour happily. It is time for stargazing but with overcast weather, there’s no observation of the sky. It is a big disappointment. The tour still takes place but we only visit the different telescopes. We are entitled to a multimedia presentation and hot chocolate. Not enough to erase the bitter taste I have left on my tongue. My activities in Tekapo ended up to be a bit of missed opportunity.

The next day, I set out again on the road. It is time to hit the West Coast. For that, I have to go down to Wanaka then join Haast on the West Coast. There is no other road. Crossing the mountains is impossible. I try to hitchhike with the bike. But after two hours of waiting in the cold and with the rain coming, I give up. I take the bus which leaves at the beginning of the afternoon from Tekapo and which takes me and the bike without too many problems. Barely two hours to redo in the opposite direction all the journey I made in several days. Climbing Lindis Pass seems so easy! The bus drops me off at Tarras, the tiny town where I stopped a week ago for lunch. From there, I continue on bicycle to reach Wanaka. Arriving at an intersection indicating in one direction Wanaka, in the other Lake Hawea, I decide to change my plans and go to the lake. The village and its lake are on one of the roads leading to Haast, it is perfect!

I join the lake, fifteen kilometers further. A small village is spread out along its banks. I spend the night at the campsite by the lake, my tent right by the water. The view is absolutely magnificent. The next day, I take another bus that takes me in two hours through the mountains and the gates of Haast. The road is very mountainous. I could have done it by bike but it would have taken me several days. In the early afternoon, the West Coast finally opens up to me. Here I am in Haast. The smell of the sea fills the atmosphere. Palm trees and large ferns change me from the vegetation of the mountains. The tiny town seems to live at a very slow pace in the sunlight. First step on the coast: join Jackson Bay.

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