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 an Observatory in Christchurch and seen a cluster of stars through a small telescope there, called the Jewel Box. Someone there told me that the biggest observatory in New Zealand is in LakeTekapo 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 that’s where I am, at the moment. And my God was it worth it! I did the Nightsky tour on the summit of Mt John, here in Lake Tekapo and the sky was as clear as anything. The nightsky was spread out before us and it was absolutely gorgeous. The Earth and Sky Observatory had 3 guides up there, waiting for us.
I had a look at the Jewel Box through a nine and a quarter inch telescope. I looked at it three times and to me, it got clearer and better every time. But the crowning glory, was when I saw it from the 16 inch telescope. 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. We saw other constellations and galaxies and stars but for me, that was the best. That’s my favourite.
I did a daytour of the observatory today on the summit of Mt John too and that was really interesting. And the scenery from there is just fabulous, even on a cloudy day. To do the daytour, you do need your own transport. But as I didn’t, the Earth and Sky team, (for a small fee) very kindly, drove me up there and brought me back. The whole team are excellent guides and astronomers and very informative. Check out their website: www.newzealandsky.com
Lake Tekapo itself is an idyllic little Alpine spot, at the foot of Mt. John and only 40km away from Aoraki Mt. Cook. What’s extraordinary about it, is the colour of the water in the lake. It’s a beautiful turquoise blue, created by rock “flour” from the glaciers. The glaciers in the headwaters of Lake Tekapo grind rock into fine dust, on their journey down towards the lake. This rock “flour” is suspended in the water and it’s this “flour” that gives the water it’s colour.
I was extremely lucky with the weather, because when I arrived, it was pretty warm, with blue skies. It might have been my only chance to do the Nightsky tour, as they were expecting bad weather to come in over the next few days. I wandered over to the Church of the Good Sheperd. This is a cute little stone church, jutting out into the lake. It was built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie country. There are hotpools in the area too, about half an hour’s walk from the town, where you can take a dip outdoors, while admiring the views of Lake Tekapo. I didn’t make use of these pools, as I wanted to wait till I got to Rotorua.