New Zealand Part 4: Back to Queenstown via Lake Tekapo, Ohau, & Mount Aspiring National Park

After our time in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, we had a couple of days to get back to Queenstown. During that time, we explored Lake Tekapo, had a relaxing night in Ohau, and saw a couple of other destinations in Mount Aspiring National Park.

This post is part of a series of posts on our trip to New Zealand’s South Island. Our itinerary included:

  1. Christchurch and Akaroa
  2. Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park 
  3. Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
  4. Lake Tekapo, Ohau, Blue Pools, and back to Queenstown (this post)
  5. Glow worms, Te Anau, and the Routeburn Track (Packing List)
  6. Milford Track (Packing List)

Note: when possible, booking through links in this post will earn us a commission. If you find this information helpful, please consider using them to make your reservations. 

Lake Tekapo & Ohau Friday, 1 March

On our drive out from Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, we stopped several times to enjoy views over Lake Pukaki. At the end of the lake, we again stopped in Pukaki to get some snacks — coffee and an early lunch, not memorable — and headed north toward Tekapo.

Lake Tekapo

In Tekapo, we drove by the University of Canterbury’s Mt John Observatory, but we did not ascend the toll road to the summit. They offer evening programs (TripAdvisor) that had intrigued us when planing our trip, but we ultimately decided they were pricey enough not to book.

We stopped a bit further up to for the Peninsula Walk. We meandered the trails through forest, across open lands, and down to a rocky peninsula on lake. I loved how the vibrant blue of the lake contrasted with the golden grasses on the surrounding hills. Near the peninsula, runoff had also sculpted the mud on the cliffs into fascinating patterns like those you would see in caves. A loop brought us back to the car, after 3.8 miles, in a very leisurely 2.3 hours. We spent a lot of time along the lake.

Lake Ohau

Once back in the car, we drove south to our accommodations for the night at Lake Ohau. We had booked a well-reviewed bed and breakfast, the Barn at Killin (Booking.com | TripAdvisor), with the idea that it would be a relaxing day before we headed back to Queenstown to get ready for the Milford and Routeburn Tracks. Its proximity to Aoraki / Mount Cook also meant that, if we’d had the misfortune of multiple days of rain, we could have rearranged our schedule to make it a bigger hiking day.

As it was, we arrived at the bed and breakfast in mid-afternoon. From the moment we pulled up, Hugh, took care of us. We were shown to our comfortable room and offered beers while we had a chance to clean up. Also, there were cats to pet.

So that we would not have to head back out, we had booked the dinner. It was ample and delicious: chicken with stuffing, pork with blackberry jam, root vegetables, fresh vegetables, gravy, and finished with a wonderful Pavlova. We enjoyed the conversation with Hugh and accompanying bottle of wine as well. After dinner, we retired to the hot tub with a bottle of brut — so perfectly relaxing. By the time we got out of the hot tub, the lights had faded, and we enjoyed gazing at the endless stars in the dark, dark sky.

Fantail Falls, Blue Pools, and back to Queenstown Saturday, 2 March

In the morning, we enjoyed sleeping in. Over a fantastic breakfast, we discussed several itineraries with the Hugh. Many sounded exciting. Hugh’s description made us wish we had some extra days to allocate to the Otago Peninsula. The route over Arthur’s Pass, to the west coast, and back over Haast Pass also looked beautiful, but at 12 hours and 900km, it would have been a long day without much time for exploring.  Because we wanted to be sure to get back to Queenstown in time to do laundry and hopefully to catch my parents in Wanaka, where they would arrive later in the day, we decided to do small hikes we had missed in Mount Aspiring National Park.

When we eventually set out, we first drove north along Lake Ohau’s western shore. This offered lovely views of the lake and the valleys to the north: Hopkins Valley and Dobson Valley. We’d love to go back and explore each, in time.

From there, we turned around and returned to the main road at Twizel. We passed High Country Salmon (TripAdvisor) but did not stop. Hikers we later met on the Routeburn made us somewhat regret not stopping, but we also get great salmon at home in Seattle.

We continued back through Omara and Lindis Pass, turning off Highway 8 toward Hawea Flat. We had hoped for this to be a shortcut on our way to hikes. As it turned out, we instead ran into processions of horses that slowed us considerably. We eventually learned that we had run across the Goldfields Cavalcade. Once past the Cavalcade site, traffic began to move faster. We drove along Lake Hawaea and Lake Wanaka, across the Neck, and up the Makarora Valley toward Haast Pass.

Many of the short walks along the Haast Pass/Tioripatea Highway appealed. Given our time constraints, though, we decided on two particularly short walks.

We first stopped at Fantail Falls, a short 0.2km round trip stroll to a waterfall at Fantail Creek. At the creek, we enjoyed looking at pebbles as much as the falls.

From there, we turned back up the highway to the Blue Pools. This 1.5km walk led down to the Makaroa River. The trail crossed the Makaroa River on one swing bridge and the Blue River on another. Short spur trails led down to the banks on each side of the river. This made for another beautiful and leisurely stop.

From there, we drove back into Wanaka, where we met up with my parents at Doughbin (TripAdvisor) for snacks with my parents. After a nice visit, we set out for the remaining drive to Queenstown.

There, we checked in to JuicySnooze (Booking.com | Hotels.com | TripAdvisor). We also dropped off the car, where the Avis lot was overflowing with after-hours returns. Back at the hotel, we did a quick load of laundry and repacked for the next stage of our trip. While the room was small, the balcony was nice, and I caught up on some email, checked weather forecasts, and read a bit.

As dusk approached, we went up to the hotel’s rooftop bar for a complimentary glass of wine. For dinner, we went to Taco Medic (TripAdvisor). Their fish tacos were particularly good.

In the morning, we set out for Te Anau and the Routeburn Track. We’ll post about that soon; in the meantime read on to our notes on planning.

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