Tekapo is a little town perched at the edge of a big old glacier lake in MacKenzie Country, a grassy brown swath of countryside situated on the dry leeward side of the southern alps. It’s where they raise merino sheep, because I guess the breed gets rotten foot problems if they live in lusher moister pasture. Together with a couple of Kiwi friends we rented a house there last weekend. This is the view from the front porch.
I still haven’t learned what exactly what mineral makes these glacier lakes such a peculiar shade of blue. People say it’s “glacial silt,” but as you’ll see in pictures below, the silt at the very tail end of Tasman glacier is quite brown. The village of Tekapo is at the tail end of the lake, which is now dammed for use in the hydroelectric scheme.
The ride down to Tekapo would normally only take about 3 hours from Christchurch, but we made numerous stops on the way. Milo must have had at least 4 potty breaks (the last one being successful, even though it entailed pooping in a cemetery), and Jeremiah couldn’t pass Fairlie without stopping for a pie at his all-time favorite pie shop.
Kiwis love their “savories” and Jeremiah is a devoted convert. The pies here aren’t sweet–they’re meat pies like pepper steak, curried chicken, and the ever popular salmon & bacon. We stopped and fueled up the human tanks both to and from Tekapo.
The house we rented had a TV, so we also enjoyed a Kiwi sport weekend–America’s cup sailing in the morning and Rugby at night. Milo even got to sit and eat his breakfast while watching the sailing action.
At least three big lakes are linked by impressive canal systems that provide hydroelectric power, but also house salmon farms (you can see the floating rafts in the background). Occasionally the nets break and salmon populate the canals, much to the fishermen’s delight. Trout too grow to massive sizes feeding on the salmon farm food, but whether these count as the world’s biggest wild trout or half-domesticated pansies is debatable. We didn’t have any luck luring them at any rate.
The guy across the canal started giving us black looks when Milo splashed rocks, so we shifted down to where no fishermen would complain about scared fish….not that they were biting that morning anyway. You really can’t tell a two-year-old that he must not throw rocks into water–they’re drawn to it like magnets.
Mt Cook (or Aoraki) is the tallest mountain in the Southern Alps, up at the head of the glacier valley just south of Tekapo. We had stunning weather all weekend, but we could see the clouds broiling just over the divide. Yikes, glad we weren’t over there!
Tasman glacier at 27 kilometers is the longest one in New Zealand, in a valley just next to Mt Cook village. We walked up the length of it’s glacier-melt lake and a bit up along the tail end of it.
This glacial valley is the most raw terrain I’ve ever seen. Tasman is receding rapidly now (at estimates of 1,500 to 2,500 feet/year), and you can see along the valley sides the giant walls of gravel that the ice had plowed up during it’s latest peak. The tail end is all dirty and gravelly, not pristine at all. Our friend Damien commented that NZ will never lack for the gravel component of concrete. To me it’s fascinating to see such young land. New York was once covered in glaciers and I used to work with a farmer whose fields were on what was once the terminal morraine. They were ridiculously rocky and irregularly hilly, but looking out at the melting Tasman I could imagine how they formed.
Our friends Anna and Damien sit overlooking the lake at the end of Tasman glacier. Those icebergs drop off the end of the glacier and get blown down the lake where the lodge and make a surreal landscape.
The Feb 2011 earthquake triggered a massive ice-fall from the end of the glacier, somewhere between 30 and 40 million tons of ice, creating a glacier lake tsunami. Apparently the tour boats that were on the lake at the time road the 3-meter high wave without a problem, since they were out in the lake center and not near shore.
Mt John was an old island of hard rock surrounded by glaciers “back in the day.” Underneath the thin brown grass you can see the old river paths that crisscrossed the whole countryside from up there. Its like seeing the earth’s skeleton. Interesting landscape, but too raw and barren for me. I like green trees to clothe the land. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because our Kiwi friends quite like the “golden tussock lands” as they call them. It’s spring now, so don’t think this countryside ever looks green.