We got to Lake Pukaki at around 2.30pm- the sun was shining and there were clear skies. On the drive up we had brilliant views of the southern alps as we got closer and closer! We also passed some very very blue lakes that had water dams. When we arrived at Lake Pukaki visitor centre we could see the alps surrounding us, all snow capped and across the lake we could clearly see Mount Cook for the first time, along with all the other huge mountains such as Tasman! They were all covered in snow and looked ace! The lake was a vivid blue colour too which looked unreal! In New Zealand there are 23 mountains above 3000m and Mount Cook National Park has 22 of them so we are looking forward to exploring and seeing the area!
For the night we camped right next to the lake at Lake Pukaki Scenic Reserve, by far the best place we have stayed on the trip! We were in a grassed and paved huge park next to the lake with the surrounding alps and Mt. Cook right in front of us! There aren't really any words to describe how beautiful it was! As if places like this are free! We still had the rest of the day so we had a walk down to the lake and practiced (or learnt in my case) skimming stones on the water, with the snowy mountains in the backgrounds! We kept forgetting where we were and being wowed by what was around us! We were so glad we had a clear day and saw all the mountains, especially Cook, as we are expecting rain for the next couple of days. We relaxed in the van with the back open whilst the sun set beyond the bright blue lake, behind the snow capped mountains. Ah, this really is the life!
The national park, the surrounding area and Lake Tekapo area are all in the Dark Sky Reserve, which has been acclaimed to be one of the best places to see the nights sky in the world and also the largest sky reserve in the world. We didn't get to see this though as the sky was too cloudy with the storm coming! We were so devastated! We even set alarms for through the night to see if it had changed but it didn't!
On the 11th we drove 45 minutes up to Mount Cook National Park Village, at the foot of the mountains. On the way up the weather worsened and we could literally see ourselves driving into the storm. A severe weather warning had been put out for heavy rain and thunderstorms for the next couple of days to a week. So it didn't look like we could be seeing much of the mountains from now on. We had lunch in the cafe of the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre, the first man (who was from NZ) to reach the summit of Mount Everest. What a legend! He did his training climbing Mount Cook, which many many people have lost their lives trying to climb due to avalanches, falls and dangerous conditions in the snow and ice.
After lunch the weather had got even worse and it had started thundering and lightening. We did a quick walk to the blue lakes and Tasman glacier view, about 45 minutes return. The Tasman glacier is the biggest glacier in NZ. When we got to the lookout for the glacier it had started to very heavily hailstone and we couldn't see the glacier because of the weather. We did see an iceberg in the Tasman Glacier Lake though before we quickly got back down to the van. The lightening got very close to use on the way back down and the flash hurt our eyes it was that close, the thunder rumbled the floor and echoed and roared in the mountains surrounding us. It was pretty scary!! Then as we were nearly back the lightning hit the floor metres away from us. I turned to Nath and shouted run, but he was having none of it. I was off!
For the night we stayed at White horse hill DOC campground, which was $10 each, but the only campground in the national park. The wind, thunder and lightening and rain was very bad and pretty scary when we got there- the van was just shaking and rumbling! The campground was right at the bottom of the mountains, including Mount Cook and Mount Sefton, but the weather meant we didn't have the best views, though we did get some and at times could see the deep snow. More snow was expected with this heavy rain and was due to come down to 1000m so the snow is likely to get thicker. The rain and some storms carried on for most of the night. We woke up at around 11pm and there was a break in the clouds and some stars were out which looked amazing. It didn't last long though but gave us a taster of what the nights sky would be like here.
The sun now rises at 7.43am (this morning anyway) so we are always up before the sun now. On the 12th we set off from the campsite which is the base of most of the walks in the area and we did the Hooker Valley walk. On the way we stopped at the Alpine Memorial, that remembers all those who have lost their lives in the national park. The walk was around 3 hours return, crossing three very long swing bridges over the Hooker river, through the valley and ending at Hooker glacier lake, with Mount Cook behind. The rain was pretty light when we set off and then stopped all together and we got some clear skies along the way with great views of the mountains including Mt Cook and Mt Sefton, which was covered in blue glacial snow. The weather showed how quickly it could change and within minutes very dark black clouds had covered the skies and the rain became very heavy, just in time for us reaching Hooker glacier lake and Mt Cook, so we didn't get any views there! The walk was still great though despite the weather, it's just NZ weather, and we got good views of the mountains and Sefton's glacier and I slightly overcome my fear of swing bridges! Because of the heavy rain lately the mountains have become covered in even more snow since we arrived and it comes a lot further down the mountains now which makes them even more impressive! I can't even describe the feeling of been surrounded by this many impressive, marvellous and yet scary mountains, especially covered in snow! I think I may be a little obsessed with mountains!
After the walk we went back to the visitor centre that had loads of information on the area and glaciers (the park is covered in 40% glacier), so we finished reading it all and watching a DVD that we started watching the day before. We then went back to the Edmund Hillary centre and had some food again at the cafe. Whilst we were there relaxing the sky cleared up and we got fantastic views of Cook, Sefton and all the surrounding mountains- wow, just wow!!
For the night we went back to Lake Pukaki Reserve and stayed there. The sky had cleared as the sun was setting and there were lovely yellow, green orange and pink colours over the mountains. Once the sun had set, the stars quickly started to appear so we could fully appreciate the nights sky in all it's glory! We were so excited it was unreal! Just what we have been waiting for! What a perfect end to a brilliant day! It was literally unreal! We have never seen anything like it in our lives. Every single inch of the sky covered with millions and millions of stars! We also saw some shooting stars, lots of star constellations and the milky way across the sky. We were so glad we got to see it! Later on through the night the wind got so so bad like nothing we have had before. We actually thought that the van might tip over. The wind was so loud that we had to put ear plugs in to get to sleep! It was crazy! We made it through the night though.
On the 13th we relaxed and enjoyed the views and then set off to Lake Tekapo. What an amazing place Mount Cook National Park is!