At breakfast the next day, we said goodbye to Diane and Denis, who were also headed out of Aoraki/Mount Cook. We hadn’t even left the alpine village when a light flashed on the dashboard of our rental car. The icon appeared to be a snowflake. Snowflake? It was overcast and chilly outside, but snow? Really? We pulled to the shoulder of the road and dug in the glove box for the owner’s manual. David was thumbing through the pages when Diane and Denis waved as they motored by. A few seconds later they reappeared and braked alongside our car to ask if they could help. We explained our predicament, and Diane said the light would go out as soon as the car engine warmed up. She gave us her cell phone number in case we ran into any more trouble, and they drove off. Precisely as Diane predicted, the light went out the minute the engine warmed up.
As we cruised along the shoreline of Lake Pukaki, we kept a watchful eye for tourists who were making last-minute decisions to stop for photos. Intent on capturing the views, most braked without warning and failed to park completely off the highway. Some even left their doors wide open as they bailed out of their vehicles to snap selfies.
In Twizel, we steered onto Highway 8, the scenic route. As David often is, he was on a mission to reach his destination—Te Anau— and wasn’t fond of making too many stops along the way, but he squeezed in a salmon hatchery tour, and on the recommendation of a friend in the US, found time for a much longer visit to Glide Omarama. Duly impressed, he put a glider flight on his must-do list for “Down Under #2.” I’m still mulling over this particular adventure. I’ve seen videos of the flight path and the vistas are remarkable, but I’d be crazy to even contemplate climbing aboard a plane with no engine to glide over glaciers. On the other hand, I might give in and go.
As noon drew near, we pulled into the Gibbston Valley Winery to have lunch. For us Texans—used to sizzling 100-plus-degree weather—it was a tad chilly to sit outdoors, but our server gave us a window seat—the next best table. We ordered a cheese platter to share and both had the soup special: white bean, cumin, and mint, an odd combination but absolutely delicious. After our meal we stopped next door for a look-see at Gibbston Valley Cheese, also part of the winery. Everything cheese—cheesemaking, cheese tasting, cheese platters to enjoy on site, and cheese and wine hampers to go. We made a note: picnic lunch next time?
We spent two hours sightseeing in Queenstown before we continued on to Te Anau. Prior to our trip, David had hyped the Fiordland Lodge to the point where I couldn’t wait to see our lodgings for the next few days. And I wasn’t disappointed. The lodge, constructed in 2002, sits on a knoll with rolling grasslands and commanding views of Lake Te Anau. Inside, the construction is natural timber with massive log trusses and full-trunk pillars. The ceilings are thirty-six feet high with plenty of glass to capture the vista, and there is an impressive fireplace of local river stone. And the lodge even has its own library.
Despite its vast size, the lodge feels warm and comfortable, and the setting private. In the main building are ten guest rooms with lake views, and adjacent to the lodge are two log cabins, ideal for parties of four or more.
As an outdoors person (fittingly, Earth Day was founded on my birthday), I took seconds to discover the flock of sheep grazing in the pasture next door, and even less time to notice the large vegetable and herb garden growing near the entrance. As soon as I unpacked, I made a beeline for both. Daylight dwindled. We bundled up against the chilly evening and joined several couples on the front lawn to sip drinks and watch the sun set over Lake Te Anau. The dark sky soon filled with stars, so brilliant, you felt you could touch them. As the dinner hour drew near, we gravitated toward the intimate dining room. The prix fixe menu offered three choices each of appetizer, entrée, and dessert. We both chose the cured salmon carpaccio with a lemon and dill sauce, the beef filet with eel risotto, and the chocolate tart.