New Zealand Road trip – Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy

Lake Pukaki is no doubt, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful glacial lakes. With its milky blue waters and snow-capped peaks of Mt. Cook National park as a backdrop, this lake presents an amazing sight. It was created by a receding glacier and it is still fed by the flow from the Tasman and Hooker glaciers, which provides the lake with its distinctive turquoise colour.

The amazing turquoise hues of the lake and the sharp outline of the peaks of Mt. Cook National Park create such an idyllic Middle Earth setting that Peter Jackson chose this location as the setting for the ‘Lake-town’ in ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ film.

Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy

Ater exploring the lake, we followed the road along its north shore and it took us to Lake Tekapo.  While Tekapo is not as impressive as its bigger neighbour and somewhat more developed, it is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve – meaning that it is a great spot for watching the night sky.

Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy - Lake Tekapo
Lupins at Lake Tekapo

After a brief exploratory wonder around Lake Tekapo, we returned to Lake Pukaki and headed for the snow-capped peaks of Aoraki  (Mt Cook) National park.  The drive itself was quite spectacular framed by the glimmering waters of the lake on one side, tussock covered ranges on the other and towering peaks of the mountains ahead. The park covers over 700 km² and glaciers cover 40% of the park area.

Mt Cook National Park

Aoraki is home to most of New Zealand’s tallest peaks including the country’s highest mountain, Mt Cook at 3753 meters and Mt Tasman. A day ago we stood on the Fox glacier near the summit of Mt Cook and now we were approaching the mountain from the opposite (eastern) side. The strikingly beautiful scenery of Mt Cook served as the representation of the pass of Caradhras in The Fellowship of the Ring movie.

Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy - Mt. Cook National Park
Mt. Cook

The mountains of the Southern Alps are considered to be quite young – less than ten million years old, and they are still building at the rate of 5-10 mm per year. It’s estimated that approximately 25 km of build-up has occurred, however, weather erosion is counteracting the build-up.

Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy - the 'big' nature of Mt Cook National Park
Mt. Cook National Park
Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy - Mt. Cook towering over the landscape
Sefton glacier
Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy - Lake Pukaki and Mt. Cook
Lake Pukaki and Mt. Cook

Kawarau Gorge

From Mt Cook National Park we started the long drive back to Glenorchy.  We travelled through the rolling hills of the Central Otago – the site of LOTR’s Gondor and the Pelennor Fields, and onto the wine country of Cromwell and the rugged hills of Kawarau Gorge.

Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy - Central Otago
Central Otago – Filming location for Gondor in The Lord of the Rings movies

We stopped at the Wild Earth winery that sits on the top of the gorge. Kawarau Gorge is the setting for the Pillars of Argonath in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The pillars were off course digitally inserted later in the studio, but the bright green-blue water of Kawarau river is easily recognizable from the film.

Lake Pukaki to Glenorchy - Kawarau gorge - filming location for the Lord of the Rings
Kawarau gorge
Pillars of Argonath
Pillars of Argonath

In later afternoon we reached the quaint Arrowtown, a historic town about 20 min drive from Queenstown. It is a charming and quirky town where practically every building is Heritage-listed. Unfortunately, all we had time for was a stroll on Buckingham street and a coffee in one of the ‘cute-as-a-button’ cafes.

Cabin with a view

By the time we arrived in Glenorchy, it was pitch black. We spent a while driving up and down Coll road trying to find the bunker from the set of the Vertical Limit, where we were staying overnight until we finally gave up and knocked on the door of a house at the end of the road. The door was opened by an elderly man, who promptly fetched his daughter who then fetched her husband who to our absolute relief and amazement jumped on the bicycle to show us the way to the right house.

Movie set bunker in Glenorchy
Smaller bunker

The bunker was incredibly cosy. It was two bankers in fact: a bigger one that contained a kitchenette and a smaller one that was just a bedroom. We quickly settled in and fell asleep to the sounds of neighing & galloping horses next door.

Previous stop: Fox Glacier to Lake Pukaki               Next stop: Glenorchy to Queenstown

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