Location background: Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook Lake Pukaki, a shimmering blue jewel set against a backdrop of Aoraki/Mt Cook, made this New Zealand landscape the perfect Lake-town. Images (3) Some rights reserved Lake Pukaki in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park - location of Lake-town in The Hobbit Trilogy - in autumn is a spectacular vision of golden trees contrasted against opaque turquoise waters and the snow-covered Southern Alps. Credit: Tourism New Zealand Rob Suisted Download Image (5000x3002px, 3941KB) Download image from images.newzealand.com. ID:L387 Some rights reserved Aoraki Mt Cook walkers on Hooker Valley Track Credit: www.christchurchnz.com Download Image (5616x3744px, 16662KB) Some rights reserved Alps to Ocean cycle trail - Lake Pukaki Credit: www.christchurchnz.com Download Image (5616x3744px, 14836KB) Lake Pukaki (178sqkm) is the largest of three lakes (others are Tekapo and Ohau) occupying ancient glacial valleys in the Mackenzie Basin. The lake’s distinctive deep blue tones are from finely ground minerals carried in the glacier-fed waters. Aoraki Mt Cook National Park - New Zealand's greatest alpine park - extends across 70,696 hectares encompassing New Zealand’s highest mountains (19 peaks over 3000 metres) and largest glaciers (covering 40 per cent of the area). Aoraki Mt Cook National Park forms part of Te Waipounamu - South Westland World Heritage Area in recognition of its outstanding natural values. Aoraki Mt Cook was officially decreed a national park in 1953, created from reserves that were established as early as 1887 to protect the area’s significant vegetation and landscape. The region is one of New Zealand's most popular tourist destinations and offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for all fitness levels - walking and trekking, mountaineering and ice climbing, magnificent scenic flights and landings on snow and ice, cycling and stargazing. Stargazers also look to this region - recognised in June 2012 as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. This 4300sqkm gold-rated dark sky reserve has been recognised for the rare quality of its almost light-pollution-free skies. The national park is named after New Zealand's highest mountain - Aoraki Mount Cook (3754 metres) - a dual name reflecting New Zealand’s Maori and early European culture. Aoraki is the original Maori name which means ‘cloud piercer’. The English name honours the 18th century navigator, Captain James Cook, who first circumnavigated New Zealand and claimed the land for the English Crown. To local Maori of the Ngāi Tahu tribe, Aoraki represents the most sacred of ancestors, from whom they descend. The ancestor embodied in the mountain remains the physical manifestation of Aoraki, the link between the supernatural and the natural world. Celebrated New Zealand mountaineer and favourite son, Sir Edmund Hillary, trained on Aoraki Mt Cook for his successful May 1953 ascent of Everest. His life and achievements are celebrated at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, in Mt Cook Village. New Zealand tourism pioneer Sir Henry [Harry] Wigley, made aviation history in 1955 when he made a world-first snow landing in a plane with modified retractable skis. Wigley spent years perfecting the skis before he piloted the first ski plane from Mt Cook village to the Tasman Glacier. Less than a year after the retractable ski prototype was tested, the Mount Cook Company ski plane business was up and running. Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's largest and longest glacier at 27km, is clearly visible from the main highway at the entrance of the park. About 40 species of birds are found in the park, including kea - a cheeky mountain parrot known for its mischievous antics. Rare wildlife includes kaki / black stilt, one of New Zealand's rarest birds, a black alpine wētā - known as the Mount Cook flea - is found above the snowline, and the secretive jewelled gecko that it is rarely seen. Starting from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail is New Zealand’s longest continuous bike ride. The trail descends over 609m and travels 300km 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.