Exploring the McKenzie region: Cycling New Zealand – Part 7

McKenzie Region
One of Lake Ohau’s stunning sunsets

In my last post I left you thinking we were setting up camp overlooking Mt Cook which I must apologise for because I’ve become rather muddled up. You see that’s the trouble when getting behind with my blog, I forget which bit went first. It’s often so hard to share my adventures with you as I travel because I don’t want to be glued to my iPad. I value company and enjoy nature so I’m afraid that means you may sometimes have to wait a while for my updates while I sit back, relax and take it all in. After our time in Oamaru and before our stay in Mt Cook we headed to Lake Ohau for a bit of R&R.


McKenzie region
Camping under the Mueller glacier

A lady I met at a cafe told me to visit Lake Ohau during the first week I arrived in New Zealand. I always try to follow up people’s recommendations as it can lead me to some interesting places like you’ll read in my most recent update of my cycle around the Coromandel. We booked a very reasonable dinner, bed and brekkie deal at Lake Ohau Lodge and were looking forward to a proper meal and a proper bed. I had the urge to get pissed after a month of very sensible drinking and I did. As horrendous as I felt the following day (getting old!) I met a good group of guys at the Lodge and have since returned to Lake Ohau on a number of occasions.


McKenzie region
Spectacular Lake Pukaki on the drive to Mt Cook

The road to Mt Cook Village is pretty spectacular thanks to Lake Pukaki which is possibly the bluest lake I have ever seen plus the backdrop of the Southern Alps, which even in summer are covered in snow. We spent a day exploring the village which includes just one cafe and a posh hotel. The Department of Conservation (DOC) centre there is definitely worth spending a bit of time in and we spent a good hour or so reading up on the history, geology and geography of the mountains. I was almost in tears when flicking through the multiple books full of people that have died on the mountain range, many in recent years.


McKenzie region
Exploring the tracks around Mt Cook Village

There are heaps of walking tracks around Mt Cook Village and the nearby DOC White Horse Hill Campground which is where we were staying. Since returning from our South Island tour I’ve nearly completed all of these walks as it has become my favourite part of New Zealand and the best way to spend my days off. The Hooker Valley track is a nice gentle walk which takes you to Hooker Lake where you can find floating icebergs that have broken off from the glacier. It’s pretty amazing.


McKenzie region
Exploring Mt Cook village by bike

The DOC White Horse Hill Campground is one of the most scenic and consequently one of the busiest campgrounds in New Zealand. A tip we got from our cycling friends in Christchurch was to camp near the toilets furthest away from the entrance and nearest the glacier. Not only is this spot quieter but the toilets have a light unlike the others.


Mckenzie region
Icebergs on Hooker Lake

We took a drive to the start of some other walks for views of the Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake which is around the other side of the mountains east of the campground. The path separated into four separate routes and I told Mum we had to complete the lot. We’d come all this way after all. To be honest there was no real need to do them all because a lot of it was the same view but just from a different spot. The best path to take was up to the view point where you can see the Tasman Glacier, the Blue Pools and the Tasman Lake. If you only have time to do one walk in the area then I highly recommend the Hooker Valley track. It will take you a good three hours on gentle gradient and showcases the best views by far.


McKenzie region
The “blue” lakes around the Tasman Valley track

Just up the road from the turn off to Mt Cook is Lake Tekapo which is just as eye catching as Lake┬áPukaki. Sadly it seems to have been overrun by Asian tourists like some other of the country’s Instagram-worthy spots. Whoever thought it was a good idea to place a car park right next to the lake’s most photographed spot, The Church of St John, obviously had a screw loose. Not only did I have to attempt to capture a shot without Asians I also had to try and avoid their ruddy tour busses. Thankfully my patience paid off.


Mckenzie region
The church of St John at Lake Tekapo

Close to Lake Tekapo is Mt John which has an observatory used by the University of Canterbury for research. The skies in the McKenzie Region are said to be the clearest and I certainly don’t disagree with that. It’s a steep $8 to drive up the even steeper access road leading to the top. There’s also a few walks you can do around the top but me and mum gave it a miss after our incident with lunch. Of all the great picnic spots in NZ we always find ourselves eating lunch on the side of a highway like near Te Anau or in our car after we had been attacked by sandflies on the West Coast. For once I was determined to have a scenic picnic on top of Mt John and went all out with wraps, hummus, salad and all sorts.

McKenzie region
Looking out over Tekapo from Mt John

Forget flying saucers, our flying wraps will go down in history. Trying to make a salad wrap on top of a mountain in gale force winds is a disaster waiting to happen. Mum returned from the loo to find purple circles all over the floor. No, the aliens hadn’t landed, the wraps that I had smothered in beetroot hummus had gone haywire and landed hummus side up, multiple times. Both me, the floor and the picnic bench was one big purple mess much to the amusement of plenty of onlookers in the cafe opposite. It was carnage.


Make size region
Mount John Observatory.

Nightly stargazing tours take place at the observatory and I would have love to have gone as I’m interested in all that geeky stuff. Sadly it was fully booked and even if it hadn’t have been, the $150 price tag was debatable. I could see the stars myself by stepping outside but I guess it would have been nice to have a fellow geek tell me what was what. Another time maybe. Words cannot describe the beauty of the snow-capped mountains and surrealism of the flat plains which resemble something out of space. Of all the hype about the West Coast and State Highway 6, for me the best route to take through the South Island of New Zealand is most definitely State Highway 8 which winds through the magnificent McKenzie region.


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