New Zealand is such a beautiful place, you can’t help but want to be outside. And that’s pretty much how we spent our time in New Zealand – outdoors enjoying the view.
Visitors wanting to get outdoors in New Zealand often focus on the longer, well known hikes like the Milford and Routeburn tracks. But, these hikes require backpacking experience, a lot of planning, and several days to accomplish. And that, unfortunately, wasn’t going to fit into our busy New Zealand schedule. Instead, we opted for day hikes, which turned out to be a great option for us. We would go for a hike in the morning, get back to the campervan by about one, have some lunch, and then drive to our next destination where we would camp for the night. The perfect schedule! Even on longer driving days, when we would spend most of our time in the campervan driving from place to place, we would still get out and stretch our legs for a little bit. Trailheads practically line the roads in New Zealand, and with so much of the south island being national parkland, you really can’t go wrong. But, if we had to choose the best of the best, three day hikes that we took probably stand out – Lake Tekapo / Mt. John, Mt. Cook’s Hooker Valley Track, and the Rob Roy Glacier Track.
We arrived at Lake Tekapo Village on our second full day in NZ. It was a bit overcast when we got there. But, as the day progressed, the sun came out to reveal the true color of Lake Tekapo (Tee-kah-poe), an incredible turquoise blue created by the “rock flour” deposited in the lake by glacier melt. Practically every bit of water we saw in New Zealand, from the lakes to the rushing rivers, was this beautiful shade of blue.
There isn’t much to do around Lake Tekapo except relax and gaze at the lake, but the view and our morning hike kept us occupied for hours. There’s a nice hiking trail that takes you to the top of Mount John, where you can take in a 360 degree view of the area at a small cafe. It was a steep climb, so the lunch we packed in the campervan never tasted so good. Especially the chewy caramel TimTams, which we’ve since decided are the best packaged cookies on the planet.
After our Lake Tekapo hike, we headed toward Mt. Cook. The drive was spectacular – especially the part of the road that took us alongside Lake Pukaki – another beautiful blue glacier fed lake – toward Mt. Cook National Park. Every road we took gave us a different, more breathtaking view.
We arrived at Mt. Cook Village with enough time to get in a short hike to Tasman Glacier. This view was a short walk from the car park, not thirty minutes from Mt. Cook Village.
Mt. Cooks’ Hooker Valley track was my favorite hike. The sunny weather combined with the soaring mountains and rushing streams just sealed it for me. I’ve never been in a more beautiful place. The scenery was so unbelievable, some of our pictures look like we’ve been photoshopped into them.
This track ends in a spectacular view – Mt. Cook. standing behind the snout of the Hooker Glacier. It was the perfect spot for a rest and a snack. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any pieces of the glacier calve into the lake while we were there. We did see several iceburgs in the lake, though. And we definitely heard the glacier creaking and rumbling. It took us off guard when we first heard it because it sounded like little earthquakes or avalanches.
The Rob Roy Glacier Track was one of the tougher day hikes we accomplished. It was 6K one way with 500 meters of elevation change from the car park to the glacier lookout point. The weather on the day didn’t cooperate much, either. It was rainy and chilly. But, we put on our rain gear and soldiered on up the mountain anyway.
This nicely kept trail begins along the ice blue Matukituki river and follows the water all the way up the mountain. So, there was a constant roar of whitewater while we walked.
I wasn’t prepared for the view we would get at the end of this trail. Towering peaks, blue glaciers, and more than 25 waterfalls, including one of the tallest free falling waterfalls on the south island (1000 feet!). If the weather had been clear, this view may have trumped Hooker Valley. Our pictures just don’t do it justice.