Te Waipounamu:

Te Waipounamu:

The Ngāi Tahu guide to the great southern roadie

Te Waipounamu is home to Ngāi Tahu, the mana whenua of the land. It’s full of a rich history and culture, with endless stories to be told, and is one of the most beautiful places in Aotearoa, perhaps even the world. Oftentimes as students, we can get sucked into the vacuum that is Ōtepoti. When it comes time for a mid-sem roadie with your mates, many people often go to the tourist hubs of Wānaka or Queenstown, but there is plenty of territory outside of this that you may not have even explored or heard of. So next time you want to head off on a roadie, consider making these destinations a stop. 

The Lindis Pass through to the Omarama Clay Cliffs (Ōmakō)

Omarama is a small, rural town in the Canterbury region, home to the iconic Clay Cliffs. If you were to begin in Wānaka, the drive would take you about 90 minutes through the Lindis Pass, which is a stop in and of itself. 

The Lindis Pass is a surreal and dramatic landscape, with winding roads and steep mountains which feel like they’re closing in around you. The Lindis Pass, also referred to as Ōmakō by Ngāi Tahu, connects the Central Otago lakes to the Mackenzie Basin and Canterbury Plains. It was a key area for Ngāi Tahu when it came to hunting and gathering, as it’s full of rich natural resources such as tuna and tussock. The beginning of the Lindis Pass is marked by two pillars, which, according to Māori legend, are the spirits of two chiefs who were leaving Lake Takapō under darkness and got caught by the rising sun. 

There are several lookout stops along the way for you to take in the Lindis landscape. Although the drive is lengthy, the views are worth the trek. On the other side of the Lindis Pass, you will come out at Omarama. The Clay Cliffs look like something you’d see in a sci-fi film; they’re tall pinnacles made up of gravel and silt formations from over a million years ago. The Clay Cliffs are on private land, so bring a $5 note to donate before you visit. It’s best to visit this area in the spring or summer, as the trek can often get muddy and slippery in the winter time. 

Lake Pukaki 

Once you have finished up at the Omarama Clay cliffs, continue heading up State Highway 80 to Lake Pukaki. Lake Pukaki is a glacial lake, and perhaps the most beautiful shade of blue you will ever see in your whole life. If you're brave enough, you could take a dip, but since it’s glacial water, it’s definitely gonna make you freeze. If you get the chance, you should check out the Ngāi Tahu Lake Pukaki Centre, which is filled with loads of historical, geological and cultural information on the lake and wider region. The Centre has incredible landscape views too. 

Aoraki/Mount Cook

If you continue upwards from Lake Pukaki for about another 20 minutes, you will find yourself at Aoraki, also known as Mount Cook. Aoraki is of significant importance to Ngāi Tahu. Alongside the majestic landscape of mountain ranges and clear skies, Aoraki also has a rich historical and cultural background. 

According to Ngāi Tahu legend, Aoraki is said to be the eldest son of Raki (the Sky Father). Aoraki and the rest of his brothers were brought here by canoe down from the heavens to visit Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother. However, when Aoraki was reciting his karakia (incantation) for the journey home, he made a mistake in his words. His waka became stranded on a rock and he and his brothers were stuck. As time passed, they eventually turned to stone. It is said that they now form the highest peaks of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (the Southern Alps). It is often incredibly quiet, with the only sounds being the faint roars of avalanches in the distance and the occasional panting tourist. 

When visiting Aoraki, there are a variety of day walks and hikes you can take. The most popular is the Hooker Valley Track, a 3 hour hike surrounded by alpine streams and glaciers. It isn’t too difficult, so anyone can have a go at it. Oftentimes, cheeky keas can be spotted along the trails. There is also the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre, which has plenty of information on the history and culture of the land. If you are wanting to do any climbing, it’s best to consult local guides, and if you’re not an experienced hiker or climber, it’s best to avoid the area in winter given the harsh conditions. 

Lake Takapō/Tekapo 

Lake Takapō, also known as Lake Tekapo, is another small township in the Mackenzie Region. It is best known for its Lupin flowers, The Church of the Good Shepherd, and turquoise-coloured lake. The Lake Takapō area also has a strong astro-tourism sector thanks to the Dark Sky Project, a venture of Ngāi Tahu tourism to encourage education around astronomy, both from scientific and indigenous perspectives. If you’re wanting to check out the stargazing and learn more about the area, take a day trip up to the Mount John Observatory. At night, the skies are so clear you can see plenty of constellations and the Milky Way, a true once in a lifetime experience that you can’t find in major cities with air pollution. 

While you may have heard the area commonly referred to as Lake Tekapo, this is actually a misnomer. The traditional name is “Takapō,” which means “to leave in haste at night” in te reo. Over the past few years, Ngāi Tahu has been working alongside the community to create awareness of this historical mistake, and encourage the adoption of the correct name. Ensuring the use of the correct name is incredibly important, as it ensures that a connection to the land, ancestors and history is maintained and can be passed down for future generations. However, “Tekapo” is still used in conjunction with “Takapō” so that tourists don’t get confused or lost. 

Te Anau 

Moving away from the Canterbury region and into Fiordland, Te Anau is another pit stop you should take on your travels. The eastern side of the lake has the characteristic farms and rolling hills, while the western side is dense with forest and mountains. The township of Te Anau is quaint and friendly, and you can get access to tour operators which can take you kayaking or cruising. You can also take a trip to the Te Anau glowworm caves, or visit the local wildlife centre to see some of our feathered friends, such as tūī, kea, kākā and kererū.

Wānaka/Mount Roy 

On your way back to Ōtepoti, you can always swing through to Wānaka and climb Roy’s Peak. Roy’s Peak is a popular mountain spot just outside of Wānaka, and is a gorgeous spot to watch the sunrise over the lake. It’s got a large elevation climb of 1,250 metres, and is 16 kilometres long. Getting up and down will take you a few hours, plus time for the iconic mountain-top Instagram photos. It’s a bit basic, but hey, it’s popular for a reason. It’s a great way to finish off your southern adventure by taking in the views, and appreciating all Te Waipounamu has to offer. Don’t forget to bring a drink bottle - it’s steeper than you think.

This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2022.
Posted 6:36pm Friday 1st April 2022 by Annabelle Vaughan.