Lake-town/ Lake Pukaki

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Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki, is a blue oasis set against a backdrop of Mt Cook in New Zealand. Peter Jackson – the energy behind the Hobbit films chose this location to be his Lake-town in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The lake is set in an iconic New Zealand landscape of high mountain peaks, glacier-fed alpine lakes and golden tussocks stretched beneath an endless sky. At the head of Lake Pukaki, is New Zealand’s highest peak Aoraki, also known as Mt Cook. The craggy peak draws serious alpinists and mountaineers from around the world, and the surrounding region is a popular destination for space tourism, winter snow sports, cycling, summer hiking and walking, and romantic getaways.

A pure distinctive light, the turquoise hues of the lake and the sharp alpine landforms were all part of the attraction for the film-maker who has used this region three times for major location scenes in his The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies.
But, while the irresistible beauty of this Middle-earth landscape is obvious, the region also offered Jackson an endless wild expanse virtually unencumbered by human population and evidence of settlement, that was none-the-less easily accessible and able to accommodate the needs of a massive crew and cast.

Lake-town – one of the most extensive outdoor sets built for The Hobbit Trilogy – was created at Tasman Downs Station on the shores of the lake. The whimsical lakeside village set sits over water incorporating clusters of two-storey wooden dwellings arranged around connecting walkways, waterways and wharves – all featuring the highly detailed style that Peter Jackson is recognised for. You’ll also see this location as the ‘Misty Mountains’ in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The British actor, James Nesbitt who played Bofur was impressed by the immense natural beauty and colours of the Aoraki Mount Cook region which he described as “very, very beautiful, huge open spaces, lovely wild flowers. I remember – going along all the roads – just all the kinds of colours.”

Nesbitt is not alone in his appreciation. Visitors to the region are attract ted by the colour contrasts that begin with the startling blue of the lakes which is due to finely ground minerals in the glacier-fed waters, green forested lowlands, golden hill country and snow-capped mountains. In spring (our Autumn) and summer, the hills around the lake are blanketed with brilliantly coloured lupins.
Lake Pukaki is surrounded by big country. Sourced from the Tasman Glacier (New Zealand’s longest at just over twenty miles long) the lake borders the eastern slopes of New Zealand’s greatest alpine park – Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. It is the largest of three lakes in the region which also encompasses the country’s highest mountains (19 peaks over 3000 metres) and a series of glaciers that cover 40 per cent of the park.

flying over Aoraki

Aoraki Mount Cook (3754 metres) and the national park form part of Te Waipounamu – South Westland World Heritage Area in recognition of its outstanding natural values. One of the best ways to experience the majestic landscape is on scenic flights that offer an unending panorama of mountains, lakes, glaciers and the oceans on either side – the Tasman Sea on the rugged West Coast and the Canterbury Plains fringed by the surging Pacific Ocean. There are also options for landings on glaciers and snow, or cross country tours by four wheel drive vehicles and glacier exploring by boat.

Space tourism or star gazing is increasingly popular and New Zealand is well positioned to take advantage of this growing appeal. In June 2012, the region gained further international recognition as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. At 4300 square kilometres, it is the world’s largest international park in the sky. Far from city lights, and under strictly controlled local ordinances, the gold-rated dark sky reserve has almost light-pollution-free skies making for exceptional night sky viewing for the thousands of visitors who make the pilgrimage each year.

Picturesque Lake Tekapo – a 30-minute drive north of Lake Pukaki – is the centre of star gazing tourism in New Zealand. Mt John Observatory above Tekapo is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world. It is home to six telescopes, including one which can observe 50 million stars each clear night although who is going to count to be sure of this. What’s a million or two between fellow holidaymakers.

star gazing at Aoraki

Stargazers can also visit Aoraki Mt Cook’s Hillary Alpine Centre and Planetarium – the world’s southernmost planetarium which offers virtual 3D tours of the sky – or simply step outside on a clear night to witness the unforgettable southern night sky.
Such countryside also attracts walkers and cyclists. Starting from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail is New Zealand’s longest continuous bike ride. The multi-day cycling trail descends over 609 metres and travels 300 kilometres to the coastal town of Oamaru. This trail showcases New Zealand’s geological, geographical and historical highlights from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.

There are many walking trails for all levels of fitness throughout this region. Along with shorter walks, the southern edge of Lake Pukaki forms a one section of Te Araroa – The Long Pathway, a walking trail that travels the length of New Zealand.

Other outdoor activities include kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, horse trekking and hiking. Local waterways are popular for salmon and trout fishing.

But the attraction of the films made by Peter Jackson is what has pulled visitors, firstly to New Zealand and secondly to this area. Twizel – the region’s main country town – appeared in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as the location for the Pelennor Fields. Many locals were employed on the film, and some are now guides on daily tours revisiting the fields that stretch to the foothills of the mountains and which –they claim – look exactly as described in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

For more information about New Zealand, click here.

Images © Tourism New Zealand

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