After an exhilarating experience at Queenstown, Te Anau & Glenorchy, I was wondering on what else could I see beyond what we had already seen. Not expecting much, we started at about 8:30 AM from Queenstown. The drive from Queenstown to Mt. Cook is about 270 Kms and can take anywhere between 4 – 6 hours depending on the number of stops on the way. It roughly took us about 8 hours as we took our own sweet time to embrace the nature.
Summary Of Our Route
- Day 1: Queenstown> Coronet Peak> Arrowtown> Wanaka > Lindis Pass> Omarama Clay Cliffs> Wairepo Arm> Lake Pukaki> Aoraki Village at Mount Cook National Park
- Day 2: Trek to Hooker Valley, Mt Cook National Park
- Do check for weather warnings (especially in winters) as some parts of the highway might be closed or might require snow chains.
The beauty of this road trip is that the drive and landscapes both change as you move from one city to the other. The drive from Arrowtown to Wanaka is completely different than the drive from Wanaka to Lindis Pass and so forth.
Day 1: Queenstown> Coronet Peak> Arrowtown> Wanaka >Aoraki Village at Mount Cook National Park
About 22 Kms away from Queenstown, Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town in Otago region. We spent about an hour here and saw The Heritage Town Centre, Arrow River Walk, The Chinese Village, Lake Hayes and Lake District Museum. We then spent some time at the Buckingham street and Ramshaw Lane. Buckingham street is one of the most historic streets in Arrowtown and many historic cottages are preserved here, many of which have now been converted to shops and cafes. Help yourself with freshly brewed coffee in these intimate cafes.
Wanaka is about 55 Kms from Arrowtown. However, it’s a curvy drive so in winters, it can take slightly longer to travel this stretch. The drive is beautiful and there were moments when we were driving in the valley with mountains on both sides. That sight was un-imaginable! There are no words in English dictionary to explain how gorgeous the roads looked as they turned with mountains on either sides. There are multiple lookout points on the way to let your mind dive and explore endless beauty of nature.
After lunch in Wanaka, we then headed to Wanaka Lavender Farm. This is a summer attraction. The farms were barren in winters with few cute Lamas grazing hay. So we just passed through this farm. We did not have time to check out the Puzzling World but if you do, give it a shot. It is quite impressive as told by the fellow travelers whom we met during lunch.
You will see Lindis Pass at about 82 Kms from Wanaka. Until then, sit tight and enjoy the views. This dramatic pass lies between the valleys of the Lindis and Ahuriri Rivers. The scintillating mountains look perfectly carved by an artist. You will see a brown board which will say “Lookout”. Climb up the lookout point for 10 mins which is absolutely worth it.
Omarama Clay Cliffs (Quailburn Road and then Henburn Road)
This stop was an impromptu one. We did not research about this while planning our trip. We saw a board for this lookout and we decided to go for it. You have to leave the highway to take an unsealed road to reach Clay Cliffs. This is a part of someone’s private property so you need to drop $5 in a donation box at the entrance. It is about a 15-20 mins drive off the highway. Leave the SH8 on the Quailburn Road and then follow the road signs. These Clay Cliffs have formed over a period of 2 Million years through erosion of silt and gravel. This is a different kind of beauty and I am confident you will not be disappointed. I loved these cliffs as it was they were gignatic and very unique as compared to any other form of nature that we had ever seen before.
Wairepo Arm and Lake Pukaki
Wairepo Arm is a small water creek by the side on SH8. On a still sunny day, it offers incredible reflections of the trees and the hills surrounding it.
Lake Pukaki, a beautiful 40 Kms stretch of lake all the way upto Mt. Cook National Park, offers an invigorating drive across SH 80. You can stop at any of the shoulders on the way to take a pause and admire this majestic beauty. Towards the end of Lake Pukaki, you will enter into the Mt Cook National Park.
You can take a stop at Peter’s lookout point, right at the start of SH 80, which is a good resting area and gives you a glimpse of what you can expect as you proceed with your journey to Mt. Cook. I am not lying here but I got goosebumps to see what was coming next. It was ferocious snow clad mountains and frozen fractions of lake with snow all over. The sight was unforgettable and I wanted to jump right into it.
Aoraki Village, Mt Cook National Park
By the time we reached Aoraki Village, it was already about 4:30 PM and the day light was fading. So we just went for a short walk around the area and couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning. Aoraki Village is a very small village with a population of less than 300, in the Mt Cook National Park area, about 15 kms south of Mt Cook, the highest peak in the country. The village is extremely beautiful, surrounded by massive snow clad mountains from all sides. It has quite a few hotels like the Hermitage Hotel and the Youth Hostel. The village has a couple of restaurants, like the Old Mountaineer’s cafe that offer few eating options. There is a small super market at the Hermitage Hotel. You can also find a self-operated Petrol Pump that offers Petrol 95 and Diesel. You need to have a credit card with a pin to make the payment here. We stayed in Mt. Cook Hermitage Hotel which had good facilities. It had a post office and also ticketing counter for Sir Edmund Hilary Stargazing experience.
Day 2: Trek to Hooker Valley, Mt Cook National Park
We initially intended to spend just 1 night in Mt. Cook. Mesmerized by the beauty of Mt Cook, we added another day to our itinerary. We trekked to Hookers Valley. With snow and mountains all over, it was an incredible experience to walk all the way till Hooker Valley. Another alternative is to take a helicopter ride in the area (about NZ $500 per person). It is operated by the owners of the Old Mountaineer’s Café and starts at 9 AM in the morning. In the night, we went for the Sir Edmund Hillary Stargazing (NZ $70 per person). It was absolutely phenomenal and one of my best experiences in New Zealand.