A word of warning.. visiting New Zealand may spoil any future holidays. The beauty of the South Island is so arresting that it is simply hard to beat. Case in point, the two days we spent in Lake Tekapo and Aoraki / Mount Cook. It took us about 2.5 hours to drive to Lake Tekapo from our first night’s stay on Warwickz Farm. We took the Scenic Route which proved to be magnificent. After idling our way through the flat Canterbury Plains, we suddenly found ourselves at the start of the Southern Alps. From here the wow factor kept increasing until we reached our lunch spot, Lake Tekapo. Our first port of call was tourist favourite, the Church of the Good Shepherd, located on the shores of Lake Tekapo. We popped our heads in to the church and then spent the rest of the time racing around the shore, marveling at the turquoise colour of the Lake (courtesy of rock flour from surrounding glaciers).
Our lunch spot was a short drive away to the summit of Mt. John. Located next to the Observatory (the area is famed for star-gazing), you’ll find the aptly named Astro Cafe. With views over the Mackenzie Basin, we enjoyed a delicious toasted sandwich and planet foamed cappuccino!
After a blustery walk around the top of Mt. John, we headed to Tekapo Springs. Here you’ll find 5 pools, 3 are varying degrees of hot and the other 2 are fun family play pools. There’s also a waterslide but we didn’t feel we needed to pay the extra $$ for that part and quickly spirited the kids away so they couldn’t see it!
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the hot springs as we still had a 90 minute drive ahead of us to Aoraki/Mount Cook Village. Enroute we passed yet another stunning lake, Pukaki, whose turquoise shimmer had us jumping out the car and posing for yet more photos…
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home to some of the highest mountains in New Zealand. I was so delighted to finally make it here as it was the one place I was sad to miss out on during our South Island honeymoon ten years ago.
Where did we stay?
Accommodation in Mount Cook village is a captive market so prices aren’t cheap. I booked a 2 bedroom apartment at Aoraki Court Motel. From the outside the motel looks a bit drab (although that might be the incredible mountain exteriors overshadowing everything in its path). Inside the apartment was enormous, modern and the cleanest hotel room I have ever encountered. The staff were friendly, giving us milk and tips on family walks in the area. The apartment has a master bedroom, second bedroom with three single beds, bathroom with jacuzzi bath and separate shower and large lounge/kitchen diner.
What did we do?
This is a stunning National Park so there’s every kind of activity to suit the outdoor lover (even couch potatoes can’t fail to be impressed by the Southern Alps).
- I’m obsessed with glaciers and was lucky enough to do heli-hike on Franz Joseph on my honeymoon. This time with Jetlag & Mayhem in tow, a helicopter ride was out the question. The next best option to getting up close and personal with the glaciers was a glacier boat trip. Glacier Explorers runs a boat trip from early September to May, 5 times a day. I booked quite far in advance and my favoured time slot was already taken. However, they told me to keep an eye on the website and about 6 weeks prior to our trip I managed to amend the booking. Pack layers as the weather in summer can range from sunshine on your walk to the boat to freezing cold once you’re on the lake. I would recommend the trip for kids age 5+, your child needs to do a 25 minute, slightly up and down walk along the rocks (fairly flat) to get to the boat.
You then get 45 minutes on the Tasman Glacier terminal lake, whizzing around, stopping to inspect icebergs and admiring the Tasman Glacier from a safe distance. Our guide was informative and funny, I highly recommend you book this trip!
I wanted to do a family friendly hike and we were recommended the Hooker Valley Track. Round trip usually takes 3 hours and encompasses 3 swing bridges. We were running short on time (and slightly moany children) so only made it to the 2nd swing bridge (about 90 mins walk from the start at the White Horse Hill Campground. However this was all we actually needed to experience the bridges, stunning scenery and catch a glimpse of Mount Cook.
The track is mostly flat but I would definitely put babies/toddler in a baby carrier as it’s not stroller friendly. If you’re a vertigo sufferer (yep) you may find the bridges slightly scary. Luckily I had my 7-year-old whispering words of encouragement along the way.
Where to eat?
- We had a delicious dinner at the Old Mountaineers Bar & Restaurant. There’s not a huge amount of choice in the area so if you are visiting in high season, you may wish to make a reservation.The restaurant has stunning views out to the mountains and decent food. Pick up some muffins for breakfast the next day. Be warned it shuts at around 7.30pm!
- We picked up a picnic lunch from the Sir Edmond Hillary Cafe at the Hermitage Hotel.
- For more dining options, you may wish to hold on till Twizel, approx. 40 mins drive from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village. There’s a decent supermarket and Shawty’s Cafe does exceptional coffee and pastries.
For more on our South Island Adventure