Searching for Stars in Tekapo

We have one more night of our holiday but instead of spending it in Geraldine, we pick up Daniel’s Grandmother and head to Lake Tekapo. Tekapo is one of Aotearoa’s Dark Sky Reserves. I am hoping that tonight I will be witnessing a twinkling starry sky and a dazzling milky way.

It is grey clouds and rain as we head towards our destination. Not a good start! Our tour isn’t until 8pm though so there is plenty of time for the sky to clear. I am feeling hopeful.

We make a stop in Fairlie. You have to stop in Fairlie, the Bake House is famous for their pies. Everyone else on the road seems to have had the same idea, the queue is out the door. Fortunately it moves quickly. I am delighted to see that this time, they have vegetarian pies. Oh yum! It was so delicious. Chunks of vegetables in a creamy sauce and loaded with cheese. Perfect for a cold, stormy day.

We continue on with our journey. There is fresh snow on the hills. No wonder it is feeling so cold. We arrive in Tekapo and are greeted by the sight of the vibrant, turquoise lake. It is the most stunning colour. It gets it’s colour from what is called ‘rock flour’, a fine powder made from the heavy glaciers moving down the mountains and grinding rocks on the way. The powder remains in the lake, giving it the most vivid colour. It is quite the sight to see.

We stop down at the lakefront and get a photo of the famous sheep dog statue. My grandmother gave me some old travel guides from the 80’s. I was flicking through them a while back and was interested to learn that the statue is there to pay tribute to the sheepdogs that made grazing sheep in the mountainous region possible. They were known as Boundary Dogs. Reading about them was quite sad, they had such a hard life. They are the unsung heroes of the High Country.

I then head to The Church of the Good Shepherd. It’s probably the most photographed church in all of New Zealand. It’s only small but has beautiful, grey stone walls. It is perched on the shores of Lake Tekapo and framed by the snowy mountains. It’s a real place of beauty. I was hoping the surrounding lands would be covered in lupins, like in the photos I have seen, but apparently they don’t bloom until December. This will have to wait for another time.

We still have a few hours before our star gazing tour so Daniel and I head out for a walk around the lake. I take photos of the brilliant blue waters and marvel at their beauty. Daniel stops to take photos of the power station.

Dinner is at The Dark Sky Diner. The restaurant has huge windows that look out at the lake, it’s the perfect place to watch the moody sky and the day fade into night. The food was excellent too. A cocktail and buttery, rich empanadas for me, Daniel manages to select a meal so big they bring it out on 2 plates. We had such a lovely time with Grandma, talking over food and wine with stunning views as our backdrop, sharing travel stories and enjoying each other’s company.

At 8pm we check in with Dark Sky Project for our Mt. John Observatory tour. The sky is still looking pretty ominous as we wait for our guide to give us an update. We are informed that there is snow on Mt. John and the peak is engulfed in clouds so the tour won’t be running.

We are given the option of doing an alternate indoor experience which we decide to do. It’s pretty scientific, but certainly interesting. In the first room we see a huge Victorian telescope. It’s the only one in the world that is in a dark sky reserve. It is massive and really impressive.

In the next room we are show images of the night sky in moving images on the floor. I learnt that 70% of people have never seen the milky way. That is so sad. I remember seeing it at Waipatiki Beach last year and it took my breath away. It was absolutely mesmerizing.

The 3rd room was about the planets and sun with models set out about the room. The last part of the tour was from the comfort of beanbags, looking up at a screen giving us a little bit more history.

On the way home, a few stars appear so I grab my camera and head out to try and get some photos. They are quickly covered up by clouds though and the best photo I get is one where I accidentally pointed my camera at a street light.

While it was disappointing not to see the starry night in a dark sky reserve, any experience when nature is involved isn’t guaranteed. But it’s the unpredictability and mystery of it that makes it so rewarding when it does happen. There will be another opportunity I’m sure!

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