Avalanche Watch at Mount Cook

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Excuse the first pun of this post but we felt a bit “all at sea” after our nautical adventure on Christmas Day.  With sadness we said goodbye to our cabin and crew on the Milford Mariner and headed back to our little car, Notey.  He had loyally waited in the car park overnight – I think the final insult for him had been stripping him of his tinsel decorations to put in our cabin.  He fired up no problem but I am sure for the first few miles the engine sounded like “baaaarhummmmbug, baaaarbummmmbug”.

After a one overnight stop in a motel, we arrived in Cromwell.


Two things about Cromwell, like so many other places on the South Island, is that it originally had a different name and was established via the discovery of gold in 1862.  The original name was The Junction (because it is where the waters of two rivers met) although it has also been called The Point and Kawarau.  Like all other gold mining towns the boom was short lived and now fruit is grown on a massive scale.  Around Cromwell the most visible crops are grapes and cherries.

The arrival of construction workers and engineers who used Cromwell as their accommodation base to build the Clyde Dam changed the town dramatically in the early 1990s.  The dam raised the water levels so one third of the town had to be rebuilt on higher ground.  Strangely a new town centre called The Mall was built 2km away from the original Cromwell so there is a very fragmented feel to the place.  What remains of the original town is referred to as the Heritage Precinct and it is a lovely peaceful area overlooking the Kawarau River.  Just such a shame that the retail, restaurants, visitor centre, etc where not built in the same location.

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Our Airbnb was just outside the town in the midst of olive trees.  We had a warm welcome from Margaret, Ken and Spike their adorable dog.

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

In fact it was a very very warm welcome, we had been experiencing a bit of a mini heatwave since Christmas. The house was on a large plot which originally just housed Margaret’s holiday cottage. After much planning, the new house was built further back and higher behind the cottage which had wonderful views over the cherry orchards, vineyards and mountains.  We both decided that we would never want to go out if we lived there!  This is the view that I enjoyed whilst laying in the bath.

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Unfortunately, we only had scheduled in a one night stop and so leaving crept up on us too quickly.  We did manage to visit the little market/fete/fayre that Margaret was helping out with in Cromwell before we left.  It was a brilliant mix of local crafts.

Tarras and Twizel

On Margaret and Ken’s recommendation we stopped 20 mins or so into our journey to Twizel at a place called Tarras.  It was a good job we were looking out for it because we could have very easily just sailed (sorry second nautical pun) by.  There were about 4 or 5 buildings.  The first recommendation was for the coffee shop where Jon had what he called, “the most amazing breakfast torpedo he had ever tasted”.  Basically this was just a cooked breakfast in a long bun but apparently was “so much more”.  The second recommendation was to see the Shrek Museum.  No it is not what you are thinking, a museum to a giant green ogre.  Shrek the sheep is very famous in New Zealand.  He was a male Merino breed sheep.  Most sheep are gathered up once a year for shearing but Shrek had managed to hide himself away in various caves at shearing time so was not shorn for 6 years.  In 2004 he did not avoid detection and by this time his fleece had enough wool to make 20 suits.  He became so famous in NZ that he was taken to parliament to meet the prime minister and even ended up being taken by helicopter to an iceberg that uncharacteristically floated off the south of the South Island in 2006.  Quite the celebrity.

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Onward to Twizel on another very hot day via the Lindis Pass, quite a different landscape but impressive none the less.

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

This is located near Lake Ruantaniwha (just love that name!).  Twizel was purely set up as a hydro town for the building of hydroelectric system and is a baby of the towns we have visited, only being established in 1968. We arrived at the 5 acre plot called The Nest.  We were given a warm welcome by Jeanette and Bruce and then introduced to Jimmy the Australian parakeet, Shaun and Shirley the sheep, Peppa the pig, Tom the turkey, the duck that has an identity crisis and over 140 chickens.  I hasten to add that these were not all kept in the house.  We were shown around our lovely self contained unit, which had the blessing of air-conditioning, and later met Tim and Lex, two holidaymakers from Penrith who were only just starting their NZ holiday.

Aoraki/Mount Cook

After a hearty breakfast cooked by Jeanette and Bruce and some local travel tips, we headed off on a cloudy day to try and see Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. It took about 50 mins to drive along the edge of Lake Pukaki to the Mount Cook visitor centre. Lake Pukaki is evidently the back drop for Lake-town in The Hobbit- Desolation of Smaugh.  As we traveled along, the lake looked greyish blue and the clouds were beginning to slowly lift to reveal yet another view of the southern alps. After getting to know a bit more about the mountain in the visitors centre we decided to make a walk up the Hooker Valley to get a closer view.  In the visitor centre there was quite a bit of history on Sir Edmund Hilary who reached the summit in 1948 prior to his Everest conquest but it was abundantly clear what a dangerous climb it is from the in memoriam books which listed over 230 names of experienced climbers and guides. By this time, the cloudy view had turned into a blisteringly hot day so with both supplies of water and our picnic we headed off.

We walked for around 40 minutes before finding a little shady spot to eat our goodies before heading onwards and upwards. Although we are by no means experienced mountain walkers, we were staggered by the number of people who just seemed to think they were taking a two minute stroll from their cars to a look out point.  No water, flip flops and, if available, hoodies over their heads to shade them from the heat of the sun for what was about a 3 hour round trip. We took it steady and crossed very wobbly, 20 person capacity suspension bridges along the way, cooled ourselves in the glacier river and enjoyed to view more and more. We were even treated to a few mini avalanches way above and ahead of us.  We heard a couple of loud rumbles and then saw the powdery snow falling.  Nature at it’s best.

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

We felt hot and tired but it was a great experience.  The drive back along the shores of Lake Pukaki was a total shock. Now that the sun was so bright the colour of the lake was such an amazing azure blue.  It looked unnatural in some ways, like a painting.

So what do you do when you get back to your Airbnb after a long day out?  Go and bottle feed Shaun and Shirley the sheep of course and try not to leave out Peppa who gets a little jealous.  The added bonus was when Bruce said he had something to show us.  He took us to one of the hen coops where a very proud mum was sitting on 4 newly hatched chicks (two yellow, a brown and a black).  After a quick cuddle (with the chicks!) they were returned to mum.

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

Our final evening in Twizel and Jeanette and Bruce’s company was one of laughter.  A special time with a very special couple who certainly have a richness of life that is enviable. I think it must be Jeanette’s philosophy that she thinks everyday is Saturday that is infectious!

Mount Cook New Zealand JWalking

26.12 – 29.12.2015


  1. Oh, if only every day was a Saturday! Although every day must feel a bit like a Saturday for you two as no day is ever everyday! If you get what I mean. I had no idea the mountains were quite so vast. Very impressive. The mountains Jon, not you!

    Liked by 1 person

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