Glaciers and azure lakes (and it’s not always sunny in the South Island)

We’ve been in the South Island for over a week now, and have had a grand total of 3 hot days… it’s not the glorious weather I had in mind when I reluctantly packed one pair of jeans for our 3-week road trip. However, for the most part, it really hasn’t mattered and we’ve managed to do some very cool things, sticking religiously to our “off the beaten path” guidebook. 

The first part of the week was spent in central and south-western mountainous regions with lakes of the strangest and most beautiful blue colour either of us had ever seen! It was something along the lines of a milky, opaque, rich, sky blue which faded to an incredible transparency at the shore. Photos can’t really do it justice but here are some examples:

The reason for this unusual colour is the rock flour which flows down with water from the glaciers atop the nearby mountains. The shore of lake Tekapo was lined with what looked and felt like clay when wet, and chalk when dry, which may explain the milky look of the water (looking at you, Geologist Dave for an explanation here!). The other beauty of nature to be found around these lakes are the lupin flowers. These are long, cylindrical flowers which look a little like lavender, and flower in all shades of blues, pinks, purples and creams. It’s an incredible sight, and made so unique by the rich colour palette as you look around. 

Lake number 2 was Pukaki. We had hoped to do a day’s walk just north of here at Mount Cook, but the weather did not allow for this. Feeling disappointed, we headed for a suggested rainy-day option and stumbled upon another unexpected and stunning sight; ice bergs floating on more pale, milky blue water, having separated themselves over time from the Tasman Glacier just a hundred or so metres away. The Glacier is, sadly, receding due to global warming, but “calving” (the separating of icebergs from their glacier) has always happened here. It means now that the glacier doesn’t replenish itself as quickly as it used to, and so has lost a great deal of its surface area. The icebergs themselves are magical, the ice so thick it seems blue, and most of them firmly attached to the depths of the lake. It’s the kind of view that makes you feel very small, and we took ourselves down to the shore of the lake via some rocks to get a closer look and wait for a little bit of ice to float towards us. 

Third and final lake was Wakatipu, the lake beside adventure-capital Queenstown. The landscape of this is town is unusual, as it’s surrounded by mountains which plunge directly into the water- but jaded as we were by the beauty of the previous lakes, this particular stretch of water was just a boring old grey-blue colour. The southwesterly, Antarctic wind was not our friend for these 3 days, but it didn’t stop us taking a fantastic and scenic tramp (‘walk’ in Kiwi-speak!) up Wye Creek: a waterfall-lined hill which seemed to be frequented only by locals (thanks again to our guidebook) overlooking the impressive skyline.

Now for a little restaurant recommendation! That evening was Adrien’s “birthday” (booked far in advance), and we took a gondola up to the top of the mountain behind the town to the famous Skyline restaurant. After realising how popular it was, I was fearing an abundance of selfie sticks and bus loads of tourists, (and I wasn’t far off) but this turned out to be a great example of a positive tourist trap! The meal was a buffet of extensive and delicious choice, and we had a great seat by the window, watching the dramatic sheets of rain fall over the town. I would strongly recommend this as a Queenstown experience as it was a really lovely evening to get a little dressed up and enjoy a very special view! It was also pretty good value, and we definitely got more for the cost than we expected, even after paying extra for a window seat (a must in order to really make the most of the experience).

So there ends the tour of the southern lakes! The colour of the first two have truly spoilt me for life, I really couldn’t believe their beauty. Queenstown was a good place to spend 3 nights, particularly as the weather wasn’t great and it allowed us to have our restaurant experience, a trip to the cinema, and other cold-day city pursuits (rather than freezing in a chilly campsite in the middle of nowhere), but it wasn’t actually as interesting as I was expecting. It’s really the place to go for skydiving, bungy jumping, jet-boating and other adventurous activities and if those don’t interest you, then two nights is definitely enough. Just the time to tramp up the obscure Wye Creek and eat at the crowd-pleasing Skyline restaurant and in my opinion you’ll have done the best of Q-town!

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