Land of Mountains & Donuts

Picking up back in Twizel after our walk around Lake Ohau, there were a couple more spots I wanted to check out. Since Andy and Higgs were content to hang out at our Airbnb (and one of those two wasn’t allowed on the hike I planned to take), I hopped in the car to explore. I knew the Battle of the Pelennor Fields from Return of the King was filmed just down the road from us, so that was my first destination.

Luckily, I was the only one there midday on a weekday, so I was free to get my geek on and set up the self-timer for some photos. With no discarded swords in sight, I found a stick substitute and did my best Eowyn. “I am no man!”

It was such a beautiful spot, and it’s easy to see why the location scouts picked it for filming – plenty of space for tons of horses and extras. According to FilmQuest, “Filming took 32 days, with up to 1,700 people on set. Not to mention the 200 horses. On some days, almost the entire population of Twizel would be helping out, either as orc extras, or as support [for] the crew behind the camera.” What a time to be alive! If only I’d been in Twizel a couple decades earlier.

After getting my fill of this little slice of Middle Earth, I made the drive to Lake Pukaki and pulled off (after passing it once) at the Kettle Hole Track carpark. Besides one couple just finishing the walk, I was the only one here too.

It’s a relatively short walk to a glacial formation, known for great views over the lake and on a clear day, of Mount Cook/Aoraki across the water. Luckily, it was a very clear day!

Mount Cook is NZ’s tallest peak at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) and it’s an incredible sight, rising above the other mountains of the Southern Alps. Sir Edmund Hillary began his mountaineering career on its slopes before conquering Everest, and many other mountaineers tackle Aoraki via various routes every year. Because of its highly changeable weather and the challenge involved in summiting, some have also lost their lives.

Looking the other way, the views were vastly different but still gorgeous, with rolling fields, lakes and hills in the far distance.

Viper’s bugloss was everywhere, making for some gorgeous contrast with the turquoise Lake Pukaki.

Because the sun wasn’t fully out, the water wasn’t as bright as it often appears, like pure turquoise. This is due to fine silt particles in the water as a result of glacial erosion. You’ll see a better depiction of this when we get to Lake Tekapo.

Before long, I came to the kettle hole, which was also caused by glaciers, this time by one slowly melting down and forming a big bowl. I’ve never seen anything like it before. This hike would be worth it just for the views, but this was definitely an added bonus.

After my wonderful wander, I headed into central Twizel and got some takeaway for dinner for us (and a cheeky local beer at the pub while I waited for the food to be ready). Back at the house, we were treated to and epic sunset for our last evening in Mackenzie Country. No stars again, but maybe next time!

The next morning, we reluctantly said goodbye to gorgeous Twizel and hit the road toward Springfield, where we’d spend one night, purely to make the drive more manageable. That was the only reason we chose Springfield.

We broke up the three and a half hour drive with some stops, the first of which was Lake Tekapo. You can see the glacial silt in full effect here, turning the water a bright turquoise in the sun.

Higgs was a very smiley dog after cooling his belly in the lake.

He was also keen to visit the dog pilgrimage site nearby, the Sheepdog Memorial.

Built to commemorate the sheepdogs who helped Scottish shepherds farm the region in the 19th century, it certainly isn’t too far off a certain short-legged herding dog I know. Slide the arrows to see the resemblance…

Just give the statue a curly tail and they’re pretty much twins.

We took a wander over to the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, often photographed at night under a brilliant Milky Way, since this is also part of the Dark Sky Reserve. The Mt John Observatory is right down the road as well, which we’d contemplated taking a tour of but didn’t feel up for driving up from Twizel in the middle of the night. It’s lucky we didn’t, since the clouds would’ve been obscuring any view of deep space. Another one to add to the bucket list.

After a good wander on some nearby trails to ensure we’d all stretched our legs, we were on the road again. We ended up meeting our friends for lunch, which was nice, since they now live in Christchurch and were on their way to Tekapo for a holiday. Later in the afternoon, we made it to our passable Airbnb in Springfield, which has one pub and is known for a giant donut. As I said, we chose it purely to break up the drive. I have nothing more to say in terms of selling Springfield as a destination.

More on that donut though. The first iteration was gifted to the town in 2007 to promote The Simpsons Movie. Someone burned it down a couple years later, and it was replaced with a painted tire, until the current concrete version was put up in 2012. Quite the saga!

As the last day of our road trip dawned, we got up fairly early to set off on the almost five hour drive back to the ferry.

About halfway through the trip, we stopped in Kaikoura for lunch and a walk along the beach. The water was looking especially moody with the gloomy sky overhead. I hadn’t been here in about 12 years, and I almost couldn’t recognize the town.

Our last stop was just outside of Blenheim, at Rarangi Beach.

Andy and Higgs found a driftwood Iron Throne.

And Higgs went fully crazy dog on the sand.

The rain was threatening and it was extremely windy, so it was time to head back to the car and onward to Picton.

We arrived with plenty of time and waited until it was our turn to board the ferry for the trip back to Welly, which was pretty uneventful. I’m not a big fan of the ferry trips in the dark since I can’t look at the horizon when it gets choppy, so I didn’t feel the best, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

That wraps up our epic 10-day road trip around pretty much the entire South Island! I hope you enjoyed coming along for our adventure. I’ll be back soon with more exploration closer to home, as a certain small puppy keeps us from going too far afield for now. See you soon. 🙂

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