Here is the story I submitted to the Lonely Planet/Wall Street Journal’s “World’s Greatest Travel Stories Contest” in 2010, which nearly got published in the Wall Street Journal. I was one of the prize winners of this contest. Please see Articles Published page to see more information about the background of this story.
THE JEWEL BOX – LAKE TEKAPO, NEW ZEALAND
After spending 5 days in Kaikoura, I decided to backtrack a little bit and head to Lake Tekapo. It meant going back through Christchurch and on out to the southwest, towards the mountains. I had been to the Townsend Observatory in Christchurch and seen a cluster of stars called the Jewel Box through a small telescope there, and it really piqued my interest. Some of the people there, said to me, “if you want to see it up close and personal, go to Mt John in Lake Tekapo, where they have the biggest observatory in New Zealand” and is supposed to be a beautiful little village near the Alps.
I wasn’t sure whether to go or not, considering time and money but it was niggling me, so I thought, what the hell, I might as well go. I won’t be happy otherwise. So I did. And my God was it worth it! It was one of the best travel decisions I ever made. I did the Nightsky tour on the summit of Mt John, in Lake Tekapo. We couldn’t have had a clearer night sky, it was spread out before us, with a glorious view of the planets and constellations. The Earth and Sky Observatory had 3 guides up there, waiting for us.
We saw a lot of different stars and galaxies that night but for me, the crowning glory was when I saw the Jewel Box cluster of stars from the 16inch telescope. It just took my breath away. It’s a small open cluster of stars, near one of the pointers of the Southern Cross, that can’t be seen with the naked eye, only with a telescope. Through the big 16 inch telescope, you could see the 3 stars in the centre of the cluster, one is red, like a ruby, one is blue, like a saphire and one is white, like a diamond, hence the name the Jewel Box.There are also hundreds of other small stars gathered around these 3 stars and it’s just gorgeous to see. When I got to Lake Tekapo itself, I was astounded by the beauty of the place. It’s a stunning little Alpine spot, where the water of Lake Tekapo is a beautiful turquoise blue, created by rock “flour” from the glaciers.
For me, this was an example of following my gut instinct. I was so glad that I did backtrack, as Lake Tekapo was one of the highlights of an amazing trip to New Zealand.
It was also gut instinct that started me traveling 14 years ago. Back then, I had to make a choice between taking a promotion at work or traveling and working on my own around Europe, which I’d never done before. For me, it meant giving up my car, my job and my house in London and heading off on my own, knowing nobody and trying to get a job and accommodation in every country I went to. I was very “green” and naive at that time and people thought I was crazy. It was scary but still, I decided to go traveling and I’ve never looked back. It was one of the best, if not the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I learned so much about myself, other people, countries, languages and cultures.
Traveling is such an amazing lifetime experience. I can safely say that that decision changed my life for the better and it’s one that I’ll never forget or regret. I’ve learned to trust my gut instinct and I still do to this day.