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  • Writer's pictureClaire

24/03/24 Arrowtown to Lake Hawea via Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Wānaka

An uneventful night passed, no earthquakes floods or volcanos so in the grand scheme of things it was a good night! We had an early start today as we had a lot of miles to cover. From the site we took the Road towards Cromwell, and through Kawarua Gorge, a popular bungee jump site. It’s fair to say my knees were freezing so the cwtchy blankie was deployed to keep me warm until I had thawed out a bit. Once again we were surrounded by Wineries, they were thriving in the shelter of the mountains, and there were vines as far as the eye could see. They stood out like emeralds against the pale gold coloured mountains, every available piece of ground had been utilised. In Cromwell there are massive fruit statues on the side of the road, pears, apples lemons and peaches grow prolificly and you can smell the fruit through the open windows as you drive past the orchards.  

We drove over Deadmans Point Bridge which crosses Lake Dunstan, a man made lake and reservoir, and through the Lindis Valley. We were greeted with low lying fluffy clouds around the base of the mountains at various points through the Ahuriri Conservation reserve until we got to Twizel where we stopped at Poppies cafe for some brunch. It was packed, and when the food came we could see why!! 

After a substantial breakfast we drove on a short way and came to Lake Pukaki lookout. This was the place Morg and I saw the Southern lights and I really wanted to take Si there, to view the stars as it’s part of the dark skies reserve. I think it’s probably my favourite lake in New Zealand.  There was a cloud lingering over Mount Cooks peak that made it look as though it was wearing a Smurf hat, which amused me no end! The lake reflected the clouds and mountains in its ripples and I could have spent the whole day there just gazing out over it. 

Lake Pukaki is an alpine lake fed by the Tasman and Hooke Glaciers, making it absolutely bloody freezing, although interestingly it has never frozen. It covers 178.7 square kilometers, and its maximum depth is 70 metres. the bluest lake in New Zealand and that is because of the “glacial flour”, yep, that’s an actual thing, It’s finely ground up rock particles from the feeding glaciers that has accumulated over the years, a truly natural phenomenum and it really is the bluest blue especially if you catch it in the right light. There is a stunning photograph that shows the descending road towards a snow covered Mount Cook with the lake in the foreground and it is just the most incredible vibrant turquoise blue shade. Its most deffinately one of my favourite lakes in New Zealand.  It is also twice the size of Lake Tekapo, yet is about as half famous, something which both puzzles me and delights me at the same time. I prefer it, because its quieter, and there is no-one living around it unlike Tekapo which has a township. Its currently unspoilt, and I hope it stays that way.

As we had 60 more miles to go to reach Lake Tekapo we carried on down the road, with beautiful Lake Pukaki keeping us company for a great deal of the way. Lake Tekapo is completely different to Pukaki. It’s still stunning, and very very clear, but the shore line is mostly accommodation, eating places, and Dark Skies tour booking facilities. They take bus loads of people out to the observatory and you can view the night sky through their telescopes. You get a tour guide with you pointing out the constellations, but the cost is ridiculous for the time you get star gazing. The observatory obviously allows you to see the stars on a cloudy night when you can’t see them with the naked eye, but we decided that we’d already viewed some fabulous night skies, so we’d save our money for something else on this occasion. Also, we are a few days off a full moon, so the brightness of it diminishes the amount of stars you can see. There is an accessible pathway around the lake, and the opportunity for nice photographs. Also really nice is a viewing platform that crosses the outlet which is so clear you can see the rocks at the bottom. There were loads of honey bees, collecting up the last bit of nectar from the flowers, and the biggest bumble bee I’ve ever seen, he was the size of a 50p !  With regards to the dark skies, I wonder how much or how little people can actually see from the shore of Tekapo as it is really quite built up comparted to Pukaki, and its certainly not dark at night.

We didn’t hang around Tekapo after the stroll, we used the toilets, which were very chatty, and played music whilst you were in there and got back on the road towards Pukaki. Our intention was to drive to Mount Cook, but after driving through the Fiords we realised the closer we got, the less picturesque it would be for us. It was also well over an hours drive there and the same to get back. Although, we should have done it for the lakeside views.  Next time!! 

Our next destination was Wanaka. If we’d known how beautiful it was we’d have spent less time in Queenstown and more time there. It has the best chilled out laid back vibe, and just feels a little bit funky! Being a Sunday there weren’t many shops open but all the bars and eating places opposite the lake were open for business. A huge range of ages were gathered from babies to the very elderly, and all were rubbing along together. Unfortunately it had clouded over and the temperature dropped quite suddenly, so we went to find a snack and a drink. We decided to eat inside, although there were patio heaters outside it was still chilly. The food was great in Kai Whaka Pai, and the staff really friendly. It’s located on a corner, and outside all the tables were taken, mainly by young people, except the one right on the corner, the wind whipped through there and no-one wanted to sit there. The inside soon filled up with oldies like us!!

Lake Wanaka is 42 km long and 10km wide at the southern end and over 300 metres deep. It’s protected by a special legislation, and a 1973 act established a “guardians of Lake Wanaka” group that was appointed by the conservation minister to advise on protecting the lake. It’s one of the few lakes without a modified shoreline. The lake lies in a U shaped valley that was formed during the last ice age 10, 000 years ago. The peaks in the Western shore reach 2000 metres high, the ones opposite somewhat smaller but still impressive.  

Because it had become very cloudy, and it was an almost full moon there would have been no way we would have seen any stars tonight, so some things are meant to be and some things are not!  Wanaka is pretty instagram famous because it has a willow tree growing in the lake. #ThatWanakaTree is a commonly used hashtag used on posts. It’s a 15 minute walk to get to the lakeside and when you get there it’s full of people hogging the shoreline trying to get that perfect shot. Can’t be doing with that shit. I’ll look at it on Instagram! I think the sight of everyone jostling on the shore to get their pics would have been hilarious though and a better picture than that of the tree. But that could just be me!

Our campsite was only15 minutes drive away at Lake Hāwea , which runs parallel to Lake Wanaka. Apparently people looking to escape the bright lights of Queenstown typically gravitate to Hāwea. This small town, is strung along the southern shore of its 141-sq-km namesake, separated from Lake Wānaka by a narrow strip of land called the Neck, the blue-grey Lake Hāwea (with an average water temperature of just 9°C (( fekin cold)) is 35km long and 410m deep. It’s particularly popular with fisherfolk looking to do battle with its trout and landlocked salmon. The lake was raised 20m in 1958 when it was dammed to facilitate the power stations downriver. There ain’t much else here except the lake!! I cant for the life of me understand why people would flock there, i can think of much prettier places to go.

After we’d checked in we went to locate a spot closest to the amenities, found one and parked up under a tree. The wind was gusting pretty strongly and it began to rain. Having parked beneath an Oak tree, every few minutes I jumped out of my skin when an acorn hit Ismene’s roof! It sounded like a bloody great rock to my sensitive little ears!   The site wasn’t one of  the better ones, dirty and very old facilities, we were in an unpowered tent site and it was a massive trek to the loo. At the exact same time we both said, “I’m skipping a shower tonight”. There weren’t enough for the size of the site and one lady actually drove her truck to use the loo, although she was camped right down by the lake! If there had been 12 extra showers and toilets, I still dont think that would have been enough to adequately service the number of people they had staying, and we were out of season travellers, i cant even begin to imagine what it must be like in the high season. The lake itself is distinctly unimpressive, but that could be because it was raining, i was, cold, achy and grumpy. Torrential rain replaced the light rain we’d been experiencing, the noise, combined with the falling acorns, and howling wind was really quite deafening! Mildred was shivering outside under a tree in it too for the night, she’s hard as nails so didn’t care at all…. I must make her a rain coat for these sorts of adventures. 

Much love


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