Twizel, NZ to Lake Tekapo, NZ

35.9 mi / 10.5 mph / 1232 ft. climbing
Home: Lakes Edge Holiday Park

Usually a 6:30am alarm gets us into the holiday park kitchen to make breakfast before most other people are even moving, but all the fellow hikers and bikers in this campsite rewrote that story. Rett had to come back to the tent to tell me to stop packing up so that we could get our food eaten before it got even more crowded.

Gravel paths can suck because they can require huge effort to ride through if the surface is poor (and it’s difficult to know in advance if the surface is poor). Paved roads can suck because traffic is scary. It’s always difficult for me to guess which of those “cons” is looming larger in Rett’s mind, so as usual, I was a bit surprised that it only took a small bit of poor gravel for her to decide “fuck it, let’s take the highway”. This was a bit of a risk, because we’ve only done a couple miles on this busier link between Christchurch and Queenstown, and the gravel headed off cross-country we would be committed to the road for at least 7 miles. But the highway actually had a bit of shoulder here and there (especially as we reached Lake Pukaki), so I think the gamble paid off.

Even with the traffic, we could still look upon the Pelennor Fields as we cycled past the scene of one of the great battles for Middle Earth. The flat Mackenzie Basin plains around Twizel even had a lid of gray clouds this morning, shot through at the edges with beams of sunlight, which made it feel very much like the day depicted in “The Return of the King”.

The filming site of the Ride of the Rohirrim at the Battle of Pelennor Fields in ‘The Return of the King’. 200 Kiwis with horses from all around came to be part of the charge, and ended up camping on this field, with their horses, for at least a week. I guess our complaints about finding lodging in Twizel pale in comparison!

We were still disappointed to skip Mount Cook Village, but hey, I’ve seen big ice-covered mountains, I’ve even seen Mount Cook (from the “back” side), and I’ve hiked on top of a goddamn glacier just six miles from its summit! What I haven’t done is see a big ice-covered mountain rising out of a fluorescent blue lake; Lake Pukaki, the central one of the three turquoise lakes in this area, is the most-vibrantly colored, and lies at the feet of Mount Cook. If the clouds cooperated, that’s something we’d still be able to see on today’s ride. Only problem was that the clouds weren’t cooperating.

Our first view of Lake Pukaki. The cloud are keeping the lake relatively dull, but there is shining white hope on the other side!
Lamby meets one of her distant Asian relatives, a tahr.
Lamby’s excitement wasn’t precisely shared by the tahr. But another tourist enjoyed taking a photo of her while she was up there!

We initially stayed on the highway, but when we saw the road curving away from the lake up a big hill, we dropped down onto the flatter, closer-to-the-water trail which had now rejoined the highway for a brief period. Down in an open-forested hollow over the brightening lake appeared a perfect wild campsite. Next time!

The lake is getting milkier as we round its southern end.
Ducks like to drink blue milk, you know.

As we curved up to the right side of the lake, pavement returned, this time essentially car-free, and the slowly-thinning clouds finally gave way in a shockingly-sudden collapse. There was a moment when I though “hmm, is that an icy mountaintop I can see, or just another layer in the clouds?”, then a hill blocked our view up-lake as the road curved around, and when the view was restored, it wasn’t just restored, it was completely re-conceived and re-created: a wall of snow-capped peaks towered ahead of us, with only blue sky behind and bluer lake below.

BA-BAHM! The clouds swept away like a curtain, and the Southern Alps stormed onto the stage.

We only had a couple more miles of riding up Pukaki’s shore before our route turned 90 degrees away from the lake. No! That’s too brief of a time with these mountains and this lake! But wait, the road was taking us upward almost as fast as it was taking us away (ok, not quite that much, but it was a serious 9-10% climb of 350 ft., made relatively easy by no-traffic pavement and even a bike lane (only on the “wrong” side of the road, for A2O riders going the “right” direction)). That means we might actually get better views, a helicopter ride above the lake that we wouldn’t need to pay for (well, our muscles would need to pay a bit).

Somebody dropped their iceberg on top of this grassy hill, and Rett is going to collect it.
Hmm, apparently that was the top of Mount Cook, and it’s a little bit out-of-reach from here.
Rett gazing upon the full mountain range, with Lake Pukaki glowing below.
Looking back down from halfway up the hill leaving Lake Pukaki, now in (or beyond) its full Caribbean-blueness
Ok, the lake and sky are both blue for their own reasons that have nothing to do with reflecting each other. But those clouds are definitely blue because they’re reflecting the blue light reflecting off of the lake! Either that, or there is a giant blue cotton-candy machine out of frame to the right.
Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest point, seen in a much more dominant setting than the peeks we got from the West Coast on the opposite side of the Southern Alps.
Rett riding through maybe the most “Lord of the Rings” New Zealand scene we’ve been through, only because we haven’t had the ability to shoot in winter like the filmmakers did!

The paved road exists in this spot to provide access to Tekapo B, one of the many hydroelectric power stations fed by these lakes and by extension, Mount Cook’s glaciers. It is fed by an 18-mile canal coming from Lake Tekapo, which here drops down to Lake Pukaki, from whence one of the canals we rode alongside yesterday flows. That meant that with our day’s hill completed, we would have nearly-flat riding for much of the rest of the day.

This was just a small lake (or large pond) that is part of the canal system between the lakes, but it still has the same color!
These would be fun waterslides to take us back down to Lake Pukaki. To help with scale, you can probably run a full-sized bus inside each of the pipes.
A check to see how close “Lake Pukaki Blue” is to “Porta-potty Blue”. Not far off!
A duck on a turquoise pond, with equally-turquoise Lake Pukaki down below in the distance.
We didn’t exactly make it “to Mount Cook” like we’d hoped, but this is still pretty good.
Me taking one of the 100+ photos I took today. (© Rett)
Rett riding across the east face of Mount Cook.
Sorry, it’s too-arresting of a backdrop for me to stop taking photos!

But the canal-access road meant a return to gravel, and it was quite rough and rocky up here. So I did the usual reduction in tire pressure, except that I’ve done it enough times by now that I felt comfortable enough estimating by feel rather than checking with the pressure gauge. Bad idea! I almost immediately got a pinch flat (caused by insufficient tire pressure) on my front tire, and Rett likely got one on her rear (but it was a slower leak so we didn’t really notice until arriving in camp). We took that as an excuse to stop for lunch, even though there was no shade for miles. There was however a canal filled with cold fluorescent water and a range of snowy mountains behind!

Our lunch spot, alongside the canal from Lake Tekapo.
Something about the juxtaposition of water and evergreen trees makes the turquoise even more-intense, and the rule did not fail here.

Of course it wasn’t too long after that that the gravel surface got a lot better, and not long after that that it (in the absolute middle of nowhere) changed back to sealed pavement! And then to gravel again for a bit. This continued the whole rest of the way, and my best theory was that the power company (who I believe owns/controls the road) keeps the “edges” of the gravel to discourage civilians from driving on it, and then paves the out-of-view sections to make it easier for themselves. We had a bunch more annoying motorcycle-prevention gates to work our way through, but we essentially had the whole route to ourselves, so I guess they work! And it was really awesome to travel through this otherwise-inaccessible land, thanks to our bikes.

Easy flat canalside riding, if you don’t stray too far!
Riding along a paved section of the canal road (don’t worry, it will return to gravel one more time!)
Now having seen ‘Dune – Part Two’, I’m pretty sure this is the factory where they actually make The Water of Life; the sucking-it-out-of-a-baby-sandworm is just a bunch of mystical BS.

We had to make one more steep climb just outside of the town of Lake Tekapo, which of course was on (fairly rough) gravel again, and that brought us in the back door through a brand-new housing development. At least this place seems to be recognizing the overwhelming demand for people to be here, though a motel would probably be more useful than single-family houses (though it’d be interesting to see how many of them are AirBNBs!) And the demand must be relatively new, since the “town” seems to be barely anything besides a three-block-long nearly-self-contained retail/dining compound.

Descending to Lake Tekapo (both the town such as it is, and the lake).
Lake Tekapo is a degree or two less-fluorescent than Pukaki, but still a super-blue lake.
Hey, I see you eying my wife there, Mr. Jelly Belly! I’ll have none of that! (though I can’t say I blame you look at those legs!)

Our campsite, which we’d sort of been dreading after the arrival into yesterday’s sun-baked crowded campground, turned out to be not too bad. Only problem was that it was far up a steep hill (presumably the campground keeps clearing new tiers up the hillside as demand continues unabated), but otherwise there were a couple of nearby shade trees, and the hillside had us shaded early anyway. And having our own dedicated site was nice too (though we never even saw the tent-only shared site).

But the best part was discovering our neighbors were from Seattle! Or, not even Seattle, but Woodinville, one suburb up the road from where we lived in Redmond. And, they were experienced bike tourers too! (though traveling by car here in NZ). He’s a farmer whose farm in the Sammamish River Valley we’ve likely been by 100 times, and it was great fun talking with them about hyperlocal “neighborhood” stuff: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Facebook/Meta (he’s maybe the first person ever who correctly guessed that I’d worked for their VR division!), and most-especially, “Sammamish River Trail Trees”, which we both have been seeing around here in NZ (lines of tall, columnar poplars), and apparently both pointing out to our partners “there are some Sammammish River Trail trees!”

Even though the overall Americaness of New Zealand has made it not feel like we’re living in an alien land, and even though we don’t actually have a home, it’s still really nice to get a taste of “home” now and then.

Sunset from our site at tier #4 at the Lakes Edge Holiday Park.
The Southern Cross, sideways above our tent (upper left).


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