The retreating Tasman Glacier melts to create the intense blue of Lake Pukaki and make this one of the most beautiful areas in New Zealand.
After Queenstown, we set out to meet our friends at the Hermitage Hotel, a beautiful hotel inside Mount Cook National Park. This was 3.5 hours away from Queenstown, so we woke up early, grabbed breakfast from Ferg Bakery, and then were on the road again.
Wow. This was the most exquisitely blue lake we have ever seen. Looking at pictures you might think that it’s a heavily edited photo, but it really is this blue and it’s amazing. The drive along this lake was one of my favorite landscapes in all of New Zealand.
Where is Lake Pukaki?
Lake Pukaki is on the South Island of New Zealand. It takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to drive to from Queenstown and about 3 ½ hours from Christchurch. It’s just south of the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
Why is Lake Pukaki So Blue?
The Tasman River is the main water flow that feeds Lake Pukaki, and the Tasman river comes from the melting Tasman Glacier. As the glacier winds its way through the mountains, it grinds rocks into a dust called glacier flour. This makes Tasman Lake a muddy gray. Eventually, the heavier sediment is filtered out and the rest enters Lake Pukaki, creating the extraordinary blue!
The Hermitage Hotel was a meeting point for us and our friends. There are a couple of restaurants to choose from, so we decided to eat lunch there before heading out to the glaciers. This would be a great place to stay if you are spending more time exploring or hiking in the area.
This was the meeting point for the Glacier Explorers boat tour our friends booked. This tour didn’t allow young kids, so we decided we were going to do some hiking while they took the boat ride.
Tasman Glacier and Icebergs
There are a few different paths to take from the parking lot. We split up thinking we would end up meeting at the same destination and were quite wrong. Going straight up the mountain and taking the stairs will take you past the “blue lakes” (which are not blue and not Lake Pukaki – they used to be blue until the water mainly came from rain) and up to the overlook of the Tasman Lake. The lake is so gray from the glacier flour! It’s hard to believe that this is the water that flows into Lake Pukaki.
It was incredible to see icebergs in a lake and the effects of the glacier as it carved the basin. The whole area was awe inspiring.
What is the Best Way to See Tasman Glacier and Lake?
- Helicopter or airplane
We couldn’t bring Jeannie on the boat ride so we opted to take the hike. We really enjoyed the exercise and the view and it was fun for our family. Our friends also had a young child, so half of their family did the hike while the other half did the boat ride. Those that did the boat really enjoyed it and loved getting up close to the icebergs and the glaciers. They also found the tour guide informative. At the end of the day, what is best is up to your preferences!
Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve
Royce has become obsessed with stars and planets. After hearing about the International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest in the world – we were super excited to take him stargazing.
When researched tours, we learned that none of the tours allowed for kids under 8 to go. That would have eliminated 4 out of 6 of the kids that were with us so it didn’t make sense, but it ended.
What is an International Dark Sky Reserve?
An International Dark Sky Reserve is an area free from light pollution. With so little artificial light in the area, on cloudless nights the sky comes alive with millions of stars and constellations.
Where can you stargaze in New Zealand?
We already had a packed day traveling 3.5 hours from Queenstown in the morning. After exploring the glacier area, we headed to Fairlie for the night. There were not a lot of restaurant options and there was really not a lot in the area…which is why it’s a dark sky reserve. We decided we would head toward our Airbnb and look for a place we might stargaze after dinner.
We made it to one of the only restaurants in Fairlie, the Red Stag, for dinner. When we were leaving we asked the restaurant manager, “Where should we go to look at the stars?” He looked at us like we were idiots and said in his amazing New Zealand accent, “You can go outside on the lawn, if you’d like.” Touché!
Our Airbnb was practically another farmstay, out in the country but without the animals and the company of a farmer. As soon as we got out of the car and looked up we were in awe. More stars than we had ever before seen, clearer than we have ever before known, were suspended right above us.
There was no moon that night and no clouds – we could not have asked for better conditions. The Milky Way was on full display, we saw distant galaxies floating like cosmic clouds, Matt took a photo capturing Jupiter and two (or three!)) of its moons, and we geeked out all night until the cold and sleepiness finally did us in.
In this area, there is no need to pay to go and see the stars – unless of course you want a guide to tell you more about what you are seeing. You can just step outside as our local friend so kindly told us to do!