Our quest on day 4 was to see Mt Cook, but waking up to rain was not a good sign. After packing our bags we headed south and eventually the rain stopped and the skies cleared up. We came to Lake Pukaki whose color is (I kid you not) a fluorescent Carolina Blue. Even on Google Maps this lake looks freakishly light blue – and fake. But WOW is it incredibly beautiful! We drove the full length of the lake into the canyon that houses the access points to Mt Cook. The closer we got, the windier it got and clouds were forming quickly. By the time we got into the National Park it was mostly cloudy, and by the time we got to the end of the road it was pouring rain so hard we couldn’t see anything. We hung out at the resort and drank a cup of coffee and checked out the museum and shopped, hoping the storm would pass, but no such luck – this thing was going to stick around all day.
We left the park and the skies gradually cleared as we continued our way south into Central Otago. We stopped in the incredibly cute and tiny town of Tarras for a long lunch and to check out the shops. We also learned to appreciate just how crazed people here are about their mountain bikes. We saw a guy who had his bike attached to the side of his motorcycle – still not sure how he got on and off. We also got to see raw wool from Shrek (the famous sheep that eluded shearers for six years) which was pretty cool.
We then headed west following a huge river toward the town of Wanaka which is situated on another huge lake. This is a beautiful and well planned mountain town – with lots of parks and open spaces so everyone can enjoy the views. Bike trails and walking trails make it very conducive to outdoor activities. And plenty of shops and restaurants for us to check out on another day.
Our next B&B was in Cardrona which was 20km outside of town. This particular B&B is ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for the South Island (so I just had to find out why). It quickly became obvious as we drove down the driveway. Not only is it in a beautiful secluded location across from the Cardrona Ski Mountain, but they greet you with a glass of wine and a platter of cheese and fruit. The house (circa 1928) was restored, retaining it’s charm, yet it is fashionably decorated. The hosts are extremely pleasant and helpful and they make you feel as if the place is all yours….so we pretended it was and just hung out enjoying the beautiful grounds and views for the rest of the day. They offered to cook us a lamb dinner, but we decided to check out the historic hotel and pub in Cardrona instead. Being the off-season for the ski mountain, we pretty much had that whole place to ourselves too.
The next morning we headed for Bannockburn and Cromwell – which some argue has the best pinot noir in the world, so we had to check it out. Neither of us are wine experts, but we were not disappointed. As for the best in the world?…well, we still have lots of places to check out before we can make that call. 🙂
We headed back to Wanaka where it was drizzling on and off. We checked out the shops and Robert was finally able to get his hair cut by someone who could speak English. The spring rain storm moved out revealing snow on the mountain tops in the distance. The forecast was calling for some ‘fine’ weather over the next 3 days so we decided to venture into Milford Sound tomorrow. This meant we’d have to get up pretty early in order to make the long drive. We ate an early dinner in Wanaka and headed back to our B&B where they had a large plate of desserts waiting for us.
An interesting tidbit I learned is that four National Parks on the South Island comprise a UNESCO World Heritage area (Westland National Park, Mt Aspiring National Park, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and Fiordland National Park.) Two-thirds of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Park is covered with forest – beech and podocarps – some of which is over 800 years old. The only alpine parrot in the world – the kea – also lives in the park, as well as the endangered flightless takahe, and a myriad unique marine animals. What an amazing place.