Road trip from Queenstown to Mt. Cook and Mt. Cook itself cannot be forgotten for years. I still remember turning my head around to see what I was leaving behind: the grandeur of these mountains and the half frozen lake Pukaki. Crystals of ice were sparkling in water as the sun rays touched the surface.
We started our day early as Christchurch is about 350 Kms from Mt. Cook and we were expecting to take about 7-8 hours with few stops on the way. What became an adventure on the way could have costed us a bomb!
To make you understand, I have to contextualize the scene. When we reached Mt. Cook, we only had about 15 litres petrol left. We saw a self-service petrol pump (THE ONLY ONE in Mount Cook) which has a Diesel and Regular 95 petrol option. The next available petrol pump was at Tekapo, about 100 Kms en route Christchurch. Our RAV4 needed Regular 91. We were also worried if Regular 95 could spoil the car.
So after reading on some forums, we decided to go ahead with 10 litres of Regular 95 calculating that it might be more than enough for us to reach Tekapo. Thereafter, we could get the fuel tank full with Regular 91.
All was good until GPS asked us to leave the highway to reach Tekapo. We presumed that it might be a shortcut. Eventually after taking the turn, we realized that this detour is going to connect back to the same highway. However, since we were already on the route we continued and took pictures on the way. Saw the country salmon farm on the way and our excitement came to an abrupt halt when we saw a road closed board ahead of us and we were just 2 km before joining the highway again. We had come about 25 Kms in and had to return back on the same route to catch the highway. Suddenly the surplus fuel became insufficient as we did not budget for such a thing to happen. The next 60 Kms until Tekapo were very stressful as the range was showing somewhere around 75Kms and it was rapidly reducing. We put off the AC and decided not to apply brakes to avoid excessive fuel consumption. As you would have learnt by now, there are absolutely no human beings around and very few cars passing by. It was such a sign of relief when we crossed the board “Welcome to Tekapo.” We queued at the petrol pump and guess what, the tank was empty. We couldn’t move an inch. We had to bring a can to add a few litres to start the engine. I was so grateful to God that we made it. If we ran out of the fuel before entering the city, we would have had to call for emergency services or car agency to bring fuel which could have cost a lot of money!
So here is my advice:
Make sure you have enough fuel and keep refuelling wherever you can especially if you are travelling long distances which will be the case in New Zealand. I have posted another article on what else to keep in mind for road trips in New Zealand.
Frankly, I didn’t see anything that came on the way until Tekapo as my eyes were staring on the GPS to see how close we are to the petrol pump. So reaching Tekapo was a relief and a quick bite there helped me to recharge. The views of Lake Tepako are beautiful. It was a bright sunny day and the landscape looked splendid.
We went to the Church of Good Shepard in Tekapo. It is the most photographed Church in New Zealand and sits majestically at Lake Tepako with mountains painted on the canvas. It is a beautiful small, fully functional church and is a famous landmark.
Our next stop was at Fairlie where we saw the Fairlie Museum. It is a small museum built in the city centre but very informative. It shows motor heritage of New Zealand which is very unique.
Geraldine makes a perfect pitstop for lunch as it is almost half way through the journey between Mount Cook & Christchurch.
If you still haven’t shopped, Tin Shed in Geraldine is a good place to buy souvenirs. After that, we went straight to Christchurch.
We spent just 1 night in Christchurch. Personally, after being to all these beautiful places I was disheartened to come to Christchurch. Learning about the devastation caused by the earthquakes in the last few years, was heart-warming. The city is still coping up from it.
At Christchurch, we saw Sign of the Takahe & Cardboard Cathedral. Quake City was under renovation but I highly recommend a visit if you get a chance.
Many people add Kaikoura to the list as well when they are in Christchurch. Kaikoura is an overkill if you don’t stay there for 2 nights. It takes about 8 hours just for a round trip. You will need addition 4-5 hours for seeing around and whale watching cruise. It can become very hectic. So my recommendation would be to either add 1 more day or remove this from your itinerary completely.
Every bit of the trip including the adventure is worth the memory! I would live it over and over again.