Aoraki/Mt Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain and is often on the must-see list for visitors.
NZ’s Aoraki/Mt Cook dominates the skyline above the eastern shores of Lake Pukaki. Credit
Situated in the heart of the country’s South Island, 3724m-Aoraki is accessible by vehicle by just one highway (State Highway 80, which branches off SH8). This means it can get pretty busy up here in the Southern Alps with tourist coaches, private cars and campervans all making the round trip up the western side of turquoise blue Lake Pukaki and into the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
But, if you’re not set on walking, climbing or staying in the park, there’s another way to view the mountain that few visitors know about and it means it can be just you, the lake, Aoraki and a panoramic view of a great swathe of the Southern Alps.
While the rest of the world is heading up and down the paved road on the western side of the lake, those of us in the know take the mostly unsealed road up the eastern side. There’s no road access across the river at its top end, but from this side of the lake our highest mountain seems almost to rise out of Lake Pukaki. In spring exotic species of trees such as larch and silver birch add a splash of vivid green and in autumn burn with gold and orange along the lake shore.
Sheep on the move alongside Lake Pukaki.
To access this alternative route, follow SH8 out of Tekapo heading for Twizel, but just 5km along the road, turn right into Braemar Road. When you reach the lake turn right to explore as far as the public Hayman Road goes, or turn left and head down the lake (still on Hayman Road) to rejoin SH8 at the end of Lake Pukaki. This road is part of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, so if you’re feeling energetic you can relish these views under pedal power.
The Maori, New Zealand’s first settlers, named our highest peak Cloud Piercer and sometimes it really does emerge above the clouds that roll in from the Tasman Sea to the west. Other times, even mighty Aoraki can’t hold back the weather: the Maoris did name New Zealand The Land of the Long White Cloud for good reason!
But, even if the mountains are under cover, the solitude of this eastern shore, plus being alongside some of New Zealand’s classic high country stations (farms) with their thousands of sheep will be ample compensation.