Christchurch to Aoraki / Mount Cook

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Christchurch to Geraldine

Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook

Leaving Christchurch, you head down the main south road towards Ashburton and then Geraldine - it's very straight but a good road with plenty of passing bays. If you want to take a less busy and slightly less monotonous route, then go via Thompson's Track to Geraldine and bypass Ashburton.

To take Thompson's Track, turn right after the Rakaia River bridge. The Rakaia Bridge is the longest bridge in New Zealand and takes you over one of the many South Island braided rivers. It's the same turn off as for Methven, but then follow signs to Mount Somers and Mayfield.

Thompson's Track is a relatively straight road (as it the alternative route via Ashburton) and although the scenery is not as spectacular as some New Zealand routes, it is certainly pretty. You pass deer, cattle and sheep farms and have the Southern Alps rising up on your right (as you head south). The lack of traffic makes it a stress free drive. Just before Mayfield you join up with the Inland Scenic Route, (which will take you back to SH73 and then on to Amberley on SH1 if you drive back the other way).

Alternative Route - Stay on SH1 and pass through Ashburton. Just after crossing the Rangitata river (the second bridge), take a right on SH79 towards Geraldine.

See and Do

  • top at DressMart and Hornby Mall and stock up before you head south
  • Visit Knitworks on the left as you head out of Christchurch (before Rolleston)
  • Stop and shop at Dunsandel Nifty Gifts in the old wooden church in Dunsandel
  • take a detour to Methven and go on a balloon safari - it's a magical experience
  • in winter, head to Methven and then Mt Hutt for skiing

Eat and Drink

  • Salmon Tales Cafe and Bar in Rakaia

Stop Awhile

  • Rakaia Bridge - you can pull off before the bridge for a refreshment break
  • Rakaia River Holiday Park - on the left as you drive over the bridge
  • Peel Forest Camping Ground
  • Grumpy's Retreat Holiday Park between Rangitata and Geraldine

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Geraldine

This is a good place to stop if you need a break and it has a post office, bank with ATM, public toilets.

See and Do

  • Visit one of the many craft shops in and around Geraldine
  • Let the children play in the playground in Geraldine next to the reserve
  • Play a round of golf
  • Visit the Vintage Car and Machine museum -as you leave Geraldine towards Fairlie.

Eat and Drink

Stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables at the farm produce store near Geraldine


Stop Awhile

Geraldine Holiday Park

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Geraldine to Aoraki / Mount Cook

From Geraldine, you turn right towards Fairlie and Aoraki/Mount Cook. As you leave Geraldine the road becomes more windy and you start to climb as you head towards the Southern Alps. You then enter Mackenzie District (also known as Mackenzie Country).

The next town is Fairlie which has cafes and banks as well as ski stores. It's a good place to stock up before you go skiing. You then go up Burke's Pass and as you come down, you suddenly will see the most spectacular view of the lakes with the southern alps behind.

The first lake you come to is Lake Tekapo - the water is an icy blue and you will often see the snow-capped mountains behind it reflected in the lake water. The lakes in this region provide hydro-electricity for the country. The next lake on the main road is Lake Pukaki, which has a fantastic view of Aoraki/Mount Cook on a fine day, and it is just breathtaking when you drive around the corner and first see it.

There are 2 lakes to the right off the main road - they are Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor, which are both beautiful and worth a visit if you have time for the detour. To get to Lakes Alexandrina and McGregor, take a right where you see the Mount John Observatory sign, just a little outside Lake Tekapo.

Back to the main road, there is free camping around Lake Pukaki - you enter just before the Lake Pukaki dam and drive through the pine trees. There are no facilities but waking up to a view of the beautiful powder blue lake with the snow capped majesty of Aoraki/Mount Cook rising up in the distance was magical when we camped there. The lake was so still that the mountains were reflected in the lake. It was a great place to spend some time.

Just across the Lake Pukaki is the visitor centre - there are public toilets here as well as rubbish (garbage) and recycling bins. Not far beyond this is the turn-off to Aoraki/Mount Cook and Glentanner. Check that both the road to Glentanner and the one between Glentanner and Aoraki/Mount Cook are open - there is a large blue sign giving information on this after you turn in. The road runs up the western side of Lake Pukaki until you get to Glentanner.

Mount Cook village is surrounded by the mountains and is worth a visit but if you want to look out over great scenes rather than being enclosed by them, you might want to stay somewhere like Lake Pukaki where you look over the lake towards the mountains - a magical sight in the morning when you look across the pale blue waters at the snow-capped mountains rising up.

See and Do

  • In winter, ski at Mt Dobson Ski Field- outside Fairlie
  • Ski at Round Hill Ski Field - just before Tekapo
  • Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd - this is an iconic NZ landmark and a great photo backdrop. Take the road to the right just before you reach Tekapo village
  • Visit the Ice rink at Lake Tekapo - follow the signs to the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park
  • Visit the hot springs at Lake Tekapo - same direction as the Ice Rink
  • Visit Mt John Observatory - just as leave Lake Tekapo - take an Earth and Sky Tour
  • Take scenic flight over Aoraki/Mount Cook and Tasman Glacier - you can take flights from Lake Tekapo airfield which is as you leave Lake Tekapo, from Glentanner which is on the road into Aoraki/Mount Cook or from Mount Cook airfield which is just before Mount Cook village. Check if the flight also does a snow landing
  • Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre which is located at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook Village

Eat and Drink

  • Farm Barn Cafe at summit before you reach Fairlie - there are fantastic views over towards the Southern Alps
  • Buy a fresh salmon to barbeque for dinner at the Salmon Farm - the first entrance is as you leave Lake Tekapo and there is another one just before you arrive at Lake Pukaki - the farm is 12 km from the main road whichever direction you take.

Stop Awhile

  • Fairlie Top 10 Holiday Park
  • Lake Tekapo Holiday Park - this campsite looks out over Lake Tekapo which is just beautiful
  • Stay at Lake Alexandrina - this is a wild life sanctuary so if you have a pet, you won't be able to visit
  • Stop for refreshments at the rest stops on the road into the Salmon Farm
  • Lake Pukaki - take in the views of Aoraki/Mount Cook at Lake Pukaki. Just before Lake Pukaki dam, drive in through the pine trees. You can just stop for refreshments or stay the night. It's great free camping
  • Glentanner Holiday Park
  • White Horse Hill DOC site near Mount Cook village - just 2km up the Hooker Valley Road. This is a basic campsite but it is a great place to base yourself if you want to try any of the many walks and treks from Mount Cook village.

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