Day 53: Tekapo to Pukaki

Thurs 16 March 2017

  • Km today: 29
  • Total Km: 943

Alps 2 Ocean

I have been looking forward to todays walk. There has been an extended time away from walking plus it promises to be a particularly spectacular area to walk through. I am back on the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail which is also the Te Araroa trail through this area. Starting with a visit to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo. You can’t really not stop for a picture as this iconic spot after all, even if the tourists seemed to have increased exponentially since the last visit years ago. Photos taken we continue to the canal where I can start walking. The weather is clear and fine so it will be a great day for it. The folks continue onto Twizel to arrange accommodation for tonight and will try to find me during the day along the way. We have quickly discovered that accommodation is still at a premium despite it being late summer. All forms of accommodation are fully booked from hotels to camping grounds. The great majority of the visitors are tourists however there are also many cyclists who are doing the Alps 2 Ocean trail as well. We all need somewhere to stay after all.


On either side of the canal is a flat gravel road and I walk along the left hand side. The clear water passes silently along the canal next to me and I can only marvel at the engineering and construction of these hydro canals which were built from the 1960’s for the Waitaki power scheme. The canals are beautiful in their simplicity; the steady, undetectable gradient to direct water to its destination and gigantic contoured sides that are unmistakably man-made yet can blend conspicuously with Mother Nature’s dry central Otago landscape. The mountain water which flows along the canal is crystal clear and glassy on the edges then changes subtly to turquoise and hues of blue as the canal deepens towards mid stream. It moves at a steady unrelenting pace, slower than my walking which I can judge as there is a branch floating down the canal nearby. Any significant streams that existed before the canals were built still flow underneath through pipes laid perpendicular to the canal direction. Power pylons march across the landscape, their low slung wires humming and crackling overhead with high voltage electricity which was created from these very canals. There is no service vehicle traffic on the canal so I have it all to myself, something not uncommon during my walks. There is a contractor working in a paddock which just seems to be mown tussock. Large white sacks are heaped in a pile and may be fertiliser. I consider going down for a nosy but as I get closer I see the contractor is working intently on the sower and his language doesn’t entice me for a closer look. So instead I look for fish in the canal. I am beginning to think there isn’t anything when I spot a small tan coloured salmon. I take a photo as I can’t believe my luck. Then about 10m on there is a big daddy salmon, a couple of feet long, sunbathing languidly near the side. There are fish every 20m or closer along the canal all enjoying the sun and not selling to mind a walker passing by.


After several kms the summit of Aoraki Mt Cook comes into view. I cannot help but keep looking at its majesty whenever it is visible above the mountains in between. I reach the end of the service road where it is gated from the public access. There is a portaloo for everyones use although the sign indicates it’s a male toilet so I wonder where women are go. The canals are also used for salmon farming and there is one such farm in this section of the canal. It is closed so I don’t stop but there are plenty of employees working diligently across the farm ponds. The canal harbours more weed in this section, this is where the public are fishing but I cannot see any fish from the road. They would be better to go some kms back up the canal where I had come from. The canal ends at a small dam from which penstocks take water down to the next powerhouse, Tekapo B. The penstock pipes look artistic in contrast to nature like an industrial Anish Kapoor sculpture.


As I am walking down the roadside towards lake Pukaki a familiar car comes approaches, in it my parents. We agree to meet at the lakeside soon and after a quick stop for lunch I continue on around the shore of Lake Pukaki. It is an area of astounding beauty. The rarity of the distinctive blue colour of the lake is caused by ‘glacial flour’ which is finely ground rock powder which never dissolves within the water. Every inch of the lake is captivating and it can well be the most memorable view you may ever see. Aoraki Mt Cook sits sentinel at the distant end of the lake – our highest mountain equally majestic in this extraordinary vista. It is impossible to not take many pictures of the lake and landscape as each step reveals a slightly different view which you want to capture. There will need to be some deleting later today. The track is on the lake edge and at one point I stop to chat to a cycling couple who have just been for a swim. It is cold but refreshing apparently and they encourage me to try. I say I might take a dip later on. When Haydon hears of my walk he offers to take me tandem paragliding if I am in Wanaka. I am thrilled by the thought of such adventure and his kind offer. Haydon and Mona cycle off and after a few hundred metres I think maybe I will have that swim, it’s a small sacrifice after the generosity that Haydon has shown. Now I don’t have any togs as such so underwear must suffice for swimming. But I still have quite a way to walk today and wet undies equals painful chaffing. My swim became a quick skinny dip in the cold water of Lake Pukaki on this sunny afternoon in March. The main road runs nearby so I tried to be somewhat discrete however a naked man might be in a few tourists photos from Pukaki. Shortly afterwards another cyclist stopped for a chat. Janis was from the Netherlands and had been cycling up and down New Zealand for a few months covering 5000km already. We talked about different trails and her favourite places in NZ and I gave some advice on what to see north of Auckland, then she was off again towards Twizel. Maybe I will see her there later today. The next encounter was again completely unexpected. There was a bride model being photographed in front of the lake with the Aoraki backdrop. The photographer was fussing with his camera and lenses so I grabbed the opportunity for a selfie with the model.


Eventually I arrived at a lakeside camping area which had fantastic views over the lake. Mum and Dad were waiting there plus there were many tents and campervans – the occupants looking decidedly pleased as punch with their good fortune to have such a delicious lakeside spot. I couldn’t agree more. From the camping area there was only a few more kms to go so I walked this last bit and rendezvoused with the folks again. At the visitor area, people have had fun building delicately balanced rock cairns. You can also purchase salmon products and there is a sculpture of a Himalayan Tahr. The first 6 tahr were gifted by the Duke of Bedford in 1904 from his private estate in the UK, brought to NZ and released near the Hermitage. They were introduced to provide another species for hunting tourism. Without any natural predators the tahr flourished and so the wild tahr here are the largest population outside of their native India and Nepal.

Tonight at dinner we meet a fascinating man who is employed by NASA to study microbes in geothermal water. He works summers in Yellowstone Park and in Rotorua. You just never know who you will meet and tonights encounter has been a highlight.


Categories: 2017 New Zealand

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