Stargazing in Tekapo

Actual image of the sky that night**

My mom laughed at me when I said it, but it was a true and accurate descriptions so I’ll say it again, “my day in Tekapo was lovely and the evening was maybe my favorite in New Zealand.” Tekapo was an optional stop on the Stray route and I wouldn’t have hopped off it it wasn’t recommended to me earlier in my travels. I’m so glad I changed my itinerary to include a night here.

The town itself is tiny and there isn’t too much to do here except for another majestic lake (good on ya NZ) and one small strip of restaurants/shops. I even heard the one and only bar burned down a few months back. When you arrive you see why it’s not a dedicated stop on Stray – there’s not enough for the masses to enjoy. The draw of the town is actually not the lake or anything you can do, but it’s actually at night.

Tekapo is part of the Mackenzie area of New Zealand. In 2012, the region was declared an International Dark Sky Reserve. There is very limited light pollution here. This is the only Dark Sky Reserves in the Southern Hemisphere and one of eight in the world. So what does this all mean? It means that the night sky here is out of this world (pun totally intended). I’ve never seen more stars and a clearer night, but I’ll get to all that in a moment.

I totally fudged up with coming here. My bus was booked, I was telling people about how excited I was, etc. and then the night before my arrival something tells me to check my hostel booking. Well lo and behold I never booked it! I couldn’t believe it and of course everything was now booked out. I didn’t let myself panic however and calmly searched for other options. I found one hotel that had limited space available and an Airbnb. In the end I went with the hotel in a treat yo’ self moment.

The day we arrived in Tekapo there was a few hour stop for the bus even if they were driving on to the next official stop. I had lunch with my first and longest Stray friend (we had essentially been traveling the entire time together with the exception on Christmas and New Years) at The Greedy Cow. Then we said our goodbyes and I was alone again (but don’t worry not lonely). I checked into my hotel, repacked, chilled out, and so on. Sticking with the treat yo’ self theme I went out the a lovely dinner at Blue Lake Eatery & Bar. After dinner, I watched the sunset and headed back to the hotel. I still had some time to kill…

I was booked into a midnight stargazing tour. This seems super late, but the sun sets at 9:20pm here and for the sky to really darken this was an optimal time. The guided tour was at Tekapo Springs. They arranged transportation to and from the Springs. Upon arrival we had a choice of hot chocolate or green tea as it gets a bit chilly at night and then the tour started. We had great guides and the entire tour was super interesting and the group was small, around seven people plus the guides. There were lots of opportunities to ask questions and ask for clarifications.

Floating the night away

I had taken an astronomy class at UCF my freshman year and I had forgotten how interested I was with it. This may have sparked a new hobby for me. I’m really not sure how long the actual tour was, but it was meant to be an hour (I have a feeling we went a little longer than that). We were so captivated by what we were learning it seemed to fly by. After the official tour it was hot pools time. We had the hot pools to ourselves and floated around watching for shooting stars and the moon coming up. We finally wrapped up and headed back at 3am. It was late, but so worth it.

I had a 10am checkout and then a couple of ours before the bus pick up. I went for a walk and lunch at Altitude 720 Cafe. Another top thing to do, but I didn’t have the chance to, is to walk up Mount John. This was a perfect overnight stop. I would come back here again in the winter to see the difference in the sky at that time of year. On our way out of town we stopped at the Church of the Good Shepherd for a photo stop. It’s a tiny church with the views of Lake Tekapo and the Southern Alps as the backdrop. If you wanted to get married here it’s about a 6 year waitlist and holds maybe 25 people max.

Accommodation Recommendation

I didn’t get to stay at the YHA as I had originally planned to, but when I go back in the future I really want to check it out. It’s a brand new facility and I was told it may be the best hostel in New Zealand. If you are looking for a hotel I really did like where I stayed, Peppers Blue Water Resort, but it has a lofty price tag.

**Photo creds goes to a fellow traveler with an non-iPhone and an awesome long exposure function.

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