What drew us to New Zealand was the beautiful scenery. We got our first taste of that after leaving coastal Christchurch and driving three hours into the interior of the South Island to Lake Tekapo. The area is famous for bright blue water, hot springs, and dark skies. It’s also the site of a new, modern hostel with wonderful views from its lakefront setting.
We spent two nights at the hostel, though some travelers we met loved the peaceful location so much that they ended up staying longer than they’d planned. During our time there, we walked along the lake, which is fed by rivers from the snow-covered Southern Alps, and took scenic drives through the surrounding hills, whose golden grasslands reminded us of California. We also spent a day soaking our (admittedly few) cares away in the hot pools and saunas of Tekapo Springs. We didn’t take photos at the pools—too busy relaxing—but you can see pictures of them at tekaposprings.co.nz.
Lake Tekapo is part of the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve, a designation given to places that are good for astronomy because they have clear skies and restrict artificial light pollution. As darkness fell outside our hostel, the skies indeed came to life, and we could see the Milky Way arching over us from horizon to horizon.
We took a stargazing tour with the Dark Sky Project and learned to identify some of the constellations in the unfamiliar Southern Hemisphere sky. Our guides helped us view far-distant nebulas and the craters of the rising moon through telescopes and taught us how to use the (surprisingly small) Southern Cross constellation to find the location of the south celestial pole for navigation. (Unlike the north celestial pole, which is located near the bright star Polaris, the southern pole is in a patch of dark sky.)
We’d planned to go from Lake Tekapo to Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. But the weather forecast was showing days of rain near the mountain, so we changed our itinerary and headed back to the South Island’s eastern coast. On the way, we passed another beautiful blue lake, called Lake Pukaki. At its far end, the Southern Alps provided a dramatic backdrop, with the distinctive triangular shape of Aoraki in the middle. If the gods and weather are willing, we’ll finally get close to that iconic mountain around Easter. But first, more adventures await.