On the way north from Mt Cook, where we spent the two last days, sits Tekapo. Small, quiet, set along the beautiful namesake lake, Tekapo offers a place of choice for passing travelers. Famous for its jewel-like lake and for the numerous hikes exploring its surrounding area, it is also renowned for its startling night skies. Indeed the area (430 000ha surface) is one of the four International Dark-Sky Reserve. On clear moonless nights, you can observe here one of the purest skies on Earth!
Walking above Lake Tekapo
We set our tent in the garden of the YHA hostel, facing the lake. We are more than happy to use the hostel’s facilities! We nearly forgot how good it was to take a hot shower, to cook in a real kitchen, or to have access to electricity! We have booked two nights, to allow us to rest a bit after our cold and exhausting trip, but we also hope that doing so we will have more chance to see one of those incredible Tekapo skies that everybody kept telling us about! Unfortunately, the first night is not a winner… After a tremendous thunderstorm followed by an incredible double rainbow, we spend a cloudy evening near the cracking fire in an shabby but over-comfy couch while a young english guy plays soft beautiful tunes on the piano. It was decidedly a brilliant idea to book this inn!
In the morning, surprise!! The sun is finally here, warming up the atmosphere. The blue sky is perfectly mirrored by the lake, and the surrounding mountains are suddenly too bright to look at, gleaming under the powerful sun light. We set off for a lovely hike along the lake before starting our way up to Mt John summit, where stands a massive sky-observatory. The track takes us through the cool shade of a pine forest before crossing a vast open area covered with high golden grass and wild flowers. A few minutes later, we reach the rocky top, not far from the observatory. From this perfect lookout, we have an overview over a wide dry plain, bumping against the Southern Alps and their snowy peaks, and over the large blue lake, coiling in the sunken relief.
We stay there quite a while, cuddling on a bench while admiring the view. As the sun starts its way down across the sky, we decide to do the same and, forgetting the track, we run down the slope like crazy rabbits to the lake shore. We just have to follow it back to our hostel!
A starry sky at the Church of the Good Shepherd
As the sky goes darker and darker, we start to understand that this night might not be a good night either… Long fingery clouds claw at the sky and a big round moon outshines all the stars! We are very disappointed. We still choose to walk our way to the Church of the Good Sheperd to see if we can manage to take a picture of the moon or two. This very famous little Church is adorable and therefore offers a wonderful foreground for night sky photography so when we arrive there, the place is already crowded with people trying to get a shot with smartphones or compact cameras. They soon run away, disappointed. That when we met a Korean with a « few thousand dollars pro camera set » who wasn’t even able to take one proper picture! Of course, he just bought it duty free a few days ago at the airport because it was « so cheap » and use it in full automatic mode… A bit frustrated, we draw back a few steps to set up our camera gear, dragging behind us the poor sheepish Korean guy and his wife, to whom compassionate Quentin has decided to give a few advises! Not completely satisfied with our shots, we finally decide to go back to the hostel and to wrap ourselves in our sleeping bags, expecting a long and very cold night.
But around 4:00am, a sudden urge to wee leads us out of the tent. One look at the sky lets us breath taken : the moon has set behind the mountains and all the clouds are gone. The sky is one of the clearest we ever saw! It has to be now or never. We seize this opportunity to try to take a perfect night shot. It’s too cold and we are too excited now to get back to sleep anyway, so we put on all our layers of clothes and go wandering in the dark. Mariette chooses a spot near the deserted lake, its mysterious dark waters plashing quietly against the shore and its rippling surface catching from time to time the evasive lights of the stars. Quentin takes the path to the Church for the second time today. What a beautiful show! Alone under the stars and the Milky Way…
A little bit later, a glorious soft orange and pink sunrise finishes to fill our hearts with wonder. We are the only witnesses of this incredible performance of the sky! There is nobody around, everybody is still asleep. That night will definitely stay scribble in our memories. We don’t believe our luck !
Back to Christchurch
After a good warming breakfast, it’s time for us to put an end to our wandering through New Zealand. Only three hours of hitchhiking left and we will be back to Christchurch and to the beginning of a new « normal » life! The last person to give us a lift is lovely Caroline, who drops us near our friends Dan and Rochelle’s place where we already spent some time a few weeks ago.
Two weeks later, we meet awesome couple Rocky and Julz to whom we rent a room. Their house, very cute and 10 minutes from the CBD, has a crackling fire, a charming garden, a little veggie garden and… 3 chickens!! We couldn’t have hoped for a better place to stay! Moreover, both of us are lucky enough to get a full time job in our fields. We even buy a small car to continue to explore the area during week ends. Ready to face 4 months of New Zealand winter!!
Tintin & Riette