If you have not visited New Zealand, and plan to do so, then one place you should visit is Mt Cook in South Island. A self-drive tour is a great way to do that.

Kiwis are disciplined drivers. The speed limit within town is 50km/h; outside the city, it progresses from 70km/h or 80km/h, to 100km/h on the highways. Daredevils, beware! Exceeding the speed limit means trouble. The traffic police are waiting just around the corner.

Renting a car is easy. A 4WD is spacious enough to fit a family of five and luggage. It is powerful and easy to handle. You can arrange for a car rental online before you arrive, or use the services of car rental companies at the airport. If you choose car rental companies outside the airport, there will be a shuttle service to pick you up and send you to their car depot.

You will probably start off in Christchurch, where you should stay for a day, at least, to look around. Because of the massive earthquake, you can now see “ cardboard buildings” where the old magnificent structures once stood. It is too risky to rebuild at the same quake site but you can still drive around the city.

First, set your GPS to Geraldine, which is 139km away. The drive will take you past vast farms where you can see cattle or sheep grazing. Have a coffee break in Geraldine, and remember to check the fuel tank.

Petrol prices vary from place to place; it is much cheaper in North Island. From Christchurch southwards, you have to pay more. When at Geraldine, set your GPS to Lake Tekapo, 88.6km away. When it asks whether you take the “dirt” or “tar” road, key in the latter – otherwise you may be taken on a longer route through more farmland.

mt cook new zealand

Lupins growing luxuriously by the banks of Lake Tekapo.

As you near Lake Tekapo, you will be enchanted by the pristine blue lake and beautiful lupins growing wild, generating a carpet of purple, pink and white. As you drive along the highway, you will be awed by this scenery, and will want to stop to take more pictures.

Another place on the way is the Little Good Shepherd’s Church, on the shores of Lake Tekapo. Inside this small church, you will have a vantage view of the lake and mountains. Couples from around the world have come to this quaint and beautiful location to get married.

Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook is about an hour’s drive. Aoraki, as the locals call it, is the highest peak in the Southern Alps. If you stay at Mt Cook Village in Mt Cook National Park, you will have easy access to the many hiking trails to see glaciers and mountain lakes.

mt cook new zealand

A closer view of Mt Cook taken at the Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre.

The hike to Tasman Glacier and the Blue Lakes starts at the Blue Lake Shelter. To get there, take the Tasman Valley Road which is a scenic 8km drive to the Blue Lake Carpark. The climb up takes about 20 minutes until you ascend a rocky moraine to a viewpoint overlooking the Lower Tasman Glacier and the Blue Lakes.

After taking in the sights, you will need another 20 minutes to descend to the starting point.

It is breathtaking! Inhale the mountain air, soak in the tranquillity, and admire nature at its best. At Mt Cook, you can stop by the Visitor Centre to view video clips and talk to the staff who are ever willing to answer your queries.

mt cook new zealand

The writer and his wife against the spectacular backdrop of Tasman Glacier and Mt Cook.

December is summertime in New Zealand. The daylight hours are longer and the sky is still bright until 9pm. The weather can be chilly, though, and you must come prepared with jacket and raincoat.

Throughout our stay in New Zealand, we used cash instead of card as there are surcharges and conversion which would incur more costs. This was my first time in New Zealand. I would still like to come back to Mt Cook and stay longer to enjoy the many outdoor activities and nature.


The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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