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!

The Bucket List

2020 started over 5 months ago, but in someways it feels like it is just beginning. As with all new starts, its time to start dreaming (and planning) those adventures that will leave you with lifetime memories.

Not sure where to start? I thought I would share my top 5 New Zealand bucket list items. (In no particular order)

Doubtful Sounds Overnight Cruise

I have been fortunate enough to have done an overnight cruise in Milford Sounds. To this day, it remains one of the most magical and memorable travel experiences I have ever had.

There is something about the fiords that makes you marvel at creation. They make you feel so small, in a good way, where you are reminded of just how awesome mother nature is. Combine that with the stillness and silence of the place and your are in for a real treat.

Doubtful Sounds is less visited by tourists, much larger and very quiet. I want to kayak next to huge fiords again, count shooting stars at night and watch the sun rise in the sounds.

Who could imagine anything better?

Star Gazing in a Dark Sky Reserve

I have always had a fascination with stars. They are so mysterious and magical. We live in a world with so much light pollution that our night sky is very different to what our ancestors would have looked upon. Fortunately there are still areas in the world where the magic of the milky way and shooting stars that make you gasp can be seen.

New Zealand has 2 official dark sky reserves, including the world’s biggest – the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve in Canterbury. At Lake Tekapo you will find Mt. John Observatory where you can partake in a variety of star gazing experiences (currently closed due to Covid-19).

The star gazing experience that’s on my bucket list though is Lake Tekapo’s Soak in the Stars experience at Tekapo Springs. Imagine floating in a natural hot pool, gazing up at the milky way. I am sure it would leave me breathless.

Stewart Island

Following on from my fascination with stars and the night sky, I would love to see the Aurora Polaris. I am sure many of you have heard of the Northern lights, but you don’t have to head all the way to Alaska or Scandinavia. The Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights, can be seen from parts of New Zealand, including Stewart Island. I don’t know about you, but for me, all those colours dancing about in the sky and witnessing this natural phenomena is most definitely a bucket list item.

Stewart Island is 80% national park, making it an excellent place for bush walks and seeing some of our native wildlife including the kiwi. I can’t wait for the opportunity to explore this place.

Swim with Dolphins

This experience has been on my bucket list for the last few years. I have made 2 attempts at this so far. The first one I had lined up was in Tauranga but I had to cancel that last minute as my husband had a small motorbike accident a week before we were due to depart. I then made a second attempt earlier in the year on our south island trip, you can read about that here and here.

As with any wild animal encounter, there is always an element of chance and luck. This is part of what makes the occurrence so special. On this trip, we didn’t get to swim with dolphins, but we did get to observe the little, rare Hector’s dolphin in it’s natural habitat which was pretty special.

I am not sure when, but I will definitely be making another stop at E-Ko Tours in Picton for another chance at swimming with dolphins. I really love the care and commitment this company has for protecting our environment.

Multi Day Able Tasman Kayak

In 2000 I tramped Able Tasman on a school trip. I then went straight onto a family holiday in Rarotonga. I remember thinking that the beaches at Able Tasman were more amazing. And that’s saying something because the beaches in Raro are beautiful.

In 2012, I did a half day Able Tasman Kayak with my husband. Clear water, blue sunny skies and stunning beaches. I can’t get enough. I have my eye on this 5 day kayak trip with Able Tasman Kayaks. Bring it on!

What’s on your bucket list?

Car Sauna, a Swanky Macca’s and Dancing under the Stars

Hawkes Bay, it’s one of those places that, whenever I visit, I am left pondering why I don’t live there. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wellington, but the weather is often far less than favourable. But in Hawkes Bay, the sun shines, vineyards are plentiful, fresh produce abounds and everyday life looks like a beach holiday.

Napier is where we are heading today. I am looking forward to the promise of a sun drenched weekend. The car is packed, we are ready to go, but first we have to drop Frank and Ed off at the pet sitters. Somehow, Frank and Ed have more luggage as us. Yes, my dogs are spoilt.

Napier is a 4 hour’s drive from Wellington, but it felt so much longer! The aircon in our car doesn’t work and OMG, it was such a hot drive up. (My husband wants me to mention that it hasn’t worked for years because I didn’t want to pay $800 to get it fixed. I made my bed and now I am sweating in it!) I was so happy to finally arrive and get some water and an ice cream, even if it was from McDonalds.

Believe it or not, our McDonald’s experience was actually pretty cool.

In 1931, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Hawkes Bay region, completely devastating the area, including Napier. When Napier was rebuilt, it was done in the current fashion of the era – Art Deco style. Everywhere you go, you will see an amazing variety of art deco styled buildings, including the McDonald’s building. I don’t think I will ever see such a swanky McDonald’s in my life – stained glass windows, ceiling rosettes, décor in the typical 1930’s design and art work, depicting the way of life in this bygone era. If you’re in Napier, be sure to check out the Taradale McDonald’s

Every year in February, the city holds an Art Deco Festival Weekend. People dress up, ride around in vintage cars, attend Gatsby picnic’s and much more. I love how the city has embraced the era.

Writing about it now, I think it needs to go on my bucket list.

The reason we are in Napier though is not to go to and Art Deco Mcdonald’s or attend Art Deco weekend. We are here to see Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminal’s concert at Church Road Vineyard.

Every year, Napier holds a variety of concerts in some of their beautiful wineries. They have had a multitude of famous artist such as Elton John, Michael Buble, Sting, Eric Clapton and more, filling the vineyards with songs. This is my first time attending one of these events and I am really looking forward to it.

We arrive as the doors are opening and find a spot on the lawn to set up our picnic. (You can take your own food in.) There are a number of food trucks you can purchase meals and snacks from, as well as wines from the vineyard and beer.

The atmosphere was great. A warm summer night, dancing barefoot in the grass under the stars. A delectable picnic on hand, wine and some great music.

What more could you want?

Things did get a little awkward as the day turned to night and picnics turned into a concert as wine filled people started tripping over picnic baskets. I wouldn’t recommend setting up your picnic right in front of the stage!

We spend the night out at a friend’s batch at a remote beach called Waipataki. The night air is filled with the sounds of the ocean, chirping crickets and a house party singing ‘don’t go out in the pouring rain’

Away from the city and light pollution the stars are magnificent. I have always had a fascination with stars and it has been a long time since I have seen a night sky this clear, the Milky Way is stunning.  I was disappointed I didn’t think to pack the camera. My cell phone camera won’t pick up this incredible moment.

Next time.