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  • Craig Cooper Photography

Experience New Zealand: Lake Pukaki, Aoraki/Mount Cook and Tasman Glacier Lake

Home to New Zealand's highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is one of the most scenic locations in the country and is quite a popular destination for adventurous visitors, as well as casual visitors who desire to witness some of New Zealand's most inspiring views.

View of surrounding landscape via Highway 8 near Lake Pukaki
Getting to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and Lake Pukaki

Regarded as one of the most appealing locations in New Zealand, there is only one way in and out of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and that is via State Highway 80, with Twizel being the nearest town to the park.

Traveling from Christchurch:

Drive south on State Highway 1 to Rangitata and turn right to Geraldine (1.5 to 2 hours). Continue on to Fairlie (approximately 30 minutes) and turn right onto State Highway 8 to Twizel (1 to 1.5 hours total). Total drive time: 4 hours, with stops to Lake Pukaki or Lake Tekapo along the way.

Traveling From Queenstown : Drive north on State Highway 6 past Cromwell (approximately 45 minutes). Turn onto State Highway 8 and continue north through Tarras and over Lindis Pass, then through Omarama to Twizel (1.5 to 2 hours total). Total drive time: 3 hours.

Lake Pukaki

Located within the Mackenzie Basin of New Zealand's South Island, Lake Pukaki is the largest of 3 glacier fed lakes we encountered along the route towards Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. This magnificent lake is one of the most exquisite lakes I have ever seen, featuring many shades of vibrant blue.

The lake is given its distinctive blue color from sediments and glacier flour, which originates from the nearby Tasman Glacier and flows into the lake via the Tasman River.

The lake is most definitely worth spending some extra time to explore and revel in all of the spectacular views and lookout points along the route. One of the most popular lookouts is Peter's Lookout and requires a 5-10 minute detour from Highway 8 on Mount Cook Road.

After spending some time exploring the area, we continued our journey to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park via State Highway 80 with stunning views of the lake along the way.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park sprawls out for over an impressive 400 miles across the South Island of New Zealand and is a premier destination for hikers of all levels and experience. Hikes range from simple day walks to extensive alpine expeditions to some of the most remote locations in New Zealand.

Along with numerous adventure excursions, the park also contains ample amounts of history regarding the area, including the Ngai Tahu tribe (the native Maori tribe of the South Island).

Aoraki is named after one of three brothers who are claimed to be the sons of Rakinui, the mythical Sky Father. According to Ngai Tahu legend, Aoraki and his brothers were on a sea voyage when their canoe overturned. The brothers climbed atop their canoe and the freezing south wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island, and it is believed that Aoraki and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

The Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre is highly recommended for all visitors and includes art exhibits and plentiful educational movies to educate visitors on the history of the park. The centre also provides information regarding hiking trails, attractions and activities located within the park.

The drive into the park is truly immaculate and offers views of the Tasman Valley, and Mount Cook in the distance on a clear day. One would truly understand why this drive is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world.

Blue Lakes & Tasman Glacier View Walk
  • Grade: Easy

  • Distance: 1.6 miles roundtrip

  • Elevation Gain: 328'

The expansive Tasman Glacier is the largest glacier in New Zealand. Only a short drive from Aoraki/Mount Cook village, the hike begins at the Blue Lakes Car Park located at the end of the Tasman Valley Road.

About 0.9 miles into the hike, we came to our first junction. Hikers have a choice to either turn right to trek on towards the Tasman Lake and Tasman River or turn left to head towards the Tasman Glacier View & the Blue Lakes. We decided to turn right for the 25 minute walk toward Tasman Lake.

The walk to Tasman Lake was a pleasant, non-strenuous walk along a paved trail with beautiful views of the Tasman Valley in the near distance. Once we arrived to the Tasman Lake lookout, we made our way down to the bank of the lake to really soak in the views and experience the floating icebergs up close and personal.

After spending some time at Tasman Lake, we began our hike back to the junction and continued on to visit the Blue Lakes. The views of Mount Cook along the hike back to the junction were incredible.

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