Another delicious breakfast to start the day before we headed out of Queenstown. First stop was a gorge on the Kawarau River which is another LOTR location and probably the last one for the trip. We've been pretty light on with them, and I don't mean to freak anyone out, but as time goes by things change and believe it or not these movies were filmed 17 years ago! Of course mountains are still mountains but trees grow or fall down and the locations just aren't quite as recognisable as they once were.
We decided to take the scenic route from Queenstown to Wanaka, which meant driving the Crown Range Road. The first part involves a quick climb, not unlike Jacob's Ladder in Tasmania, a series of straight inclines and hairpin turns. The rest of the drive is narrow and windy, but not as steep, taking you through golden, tussock covered hills.
At Wanaka we sought out NZ's most photographed tree to, well, photograph it. It's a willow tree that's growing out of the lake and admittedly is pretty photogenic.
Back on the road we drove over Lindis Pass, more golden hills, and into the true alpine country. We stopped at a random little cafe in Omarama for lunch and then headed for Twizel to book into our motel.
Twizel is situated in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve (to preserve its value for astronomers) and it's overcast here so yeah, the sky will be pretty bloody dark tonight...
All day the cloud cover sat over the mountain peaks, but we drove up to Mount Cook anyway. The road takes you along Lake Pukaki which is glacial fed making it a beautiful turquoise colour. Though Mount Cook was obscured, one cool thing about the cloud cover was the way the lake reflected its colour back onto the clouds, making a patch of blue clouds amidst all the grey ones.
At the base of Mount Cook we ventured up the Tasman Valley until the road ran out and then tramped up a steep hill for spectacular views of the Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake. The lake is white because it is filled directly from glacier melt and there are even icebergs in it. The glacier has receded a lot in recent years and is melting at a rate of 400-800 metres per year. So y'all better get over here soon if you want to see it!
Back at the base of the track we spotted a very active group of Riflemen (NZ's smallest bird in case you forgot) and even managed to snap a few photos.
By this time it was getting quite late so we headed back along the lake towards Twizel, stopping once along the way to scan the Tasman River for Black Stilt. This is prime habitat for the stilt which are one of the world's rarest birds. IUCN has the official population listed at 27 individuals but captive breeding over recent years has increased that a little. We didn't have any luck but hopefully tomorrow we will.