On the route to Queenstown we made a few stops to enjoy the scenery. At Lake Tekapo, there is a stone church just on the banks of the lake. It's a great place to stop for photos or have a picnic lunch. We then drove down around Lake Pukaki and north up its western edge to reach Mt. Cook.From the parking lot and visitor's entrance of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, there is a well maintained trail to Hooker Lake. It takes about three hours and is 5.5 miles round trip. I would categorize this as an easy hike as it's not very hilly. The trail goes through the valley and not up Mt. Cook. There are a few suspension bridges over a river and wooden walkways built over grassy land. When we hiked this trail, it was cold, windy, and rainy but the views along the way were breathtaking.
|Mountains overlooking Lake Hooker|
After our harrowing hike to Lake Hooker, we needed to find an affordable place to stay for the night. We had not booked anywhere in advance, so I Googled a few hotels while en route to the towns of Twizel and Omarama. We settled on a hotel in Omarama called the Countrytime Hotel. Walking into the lobby and the rooms was like stepping back in time. This was probably THE place to go in the 1960s. Since then, not much has been updated. There was a radio built into the wall near the bed, and the counter top, which held a small fridge, was carpeted. Despite the hotel's dated appearance, the staff were very inviting and accommodating. There is a dining room for meals and a bar and lounge area where we hung out most of the night huddled around a roaring fireplace. The views from this gem were amazing and at $98 NZD for a double room on www.booking.com, it was a great deal. It was definitely one of our favorite places we stayed during the trip.
In the morning, we went down the road for breakfast at Ladybird Hill Cafe, a place known for allowing you to catch your own fish and then pay $38 NZD for the restaurant to cook it for you. We did not choose this option. Instead, we ordered from their regular menu and were pleasantly surprised with delicious sandwiches options. At around $10 NZD per meal, it was a great deal and awfully filling. We also did a wine tasting while we were there. After breakfast and wine, we headed farther south to the town of Wanaka. We stretched our legs by walking around town and then along the lakefront for a few hours. It's a wonderful little town to visit. If I had more time, I would have liked to stay a few days to explore the town, the winery up on the hill, and to enjoy all of the water sports they offer on the lake.
|On the shores of Lake Wanaka|
Later, on our way north back from Queenstown, we detoured to St. John's Observatory. The observatory has amazing views overlooking Lake Tekapo and houses the Astro Cafe. We did not eat at the cafe, but the views from the top were well worth the slow winding drive up.