Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki

IMG_4474In case you missed it, we’re spending almost 7 weeks traveling New Zealand in a motorhome. For all of the posts from the trip in order, look here.

Lake Tekapo is considered one of the best stargazing spots in the world because it sits in the middle of the Aoraki Dark Sky Preserve (they have regulations to prevent light pollution). It is ranked second only to the middle of the Atacama desert in Chile, which is considered better simply because it hasn’t rained there in eleventy billion years (yes, that’s an exaggeration, but I’m writing offline, so I don’t have the luxury of checking Wikipedia), so there’s no chance of clouds. We had been keeping an eye on the weather, and initially planned to put off our stop at Lake Tekapo and catch it on our way back up the West coast because the forecast said it was going to be thick clouds and snow. The day we left, the weather shifted, so we decided to head straight over there from Christchurch. We were rewarded with crystal clear skies both nights.

The drive took us about 4 hours, including a stop in Fairlie for some baked goods (thanks for the recommendation, Hamish!). Mercifully, Xander slept almost the whole time (except for one minor meltdown, which coincided perfectly with our stop for pastries), so I got to sit up front with Kris and enjoy the scenery.IMG_4471We arrived at our campsite at Lake Tekapo, and were in absolute awe of the view. There isn’t much to do there except go for quiet walks, enjoy time disconnected from the world, and gaze in wonder at the stars…so that’s exactly what we did.IMG_1690

IMG_1696IMG_3096IMG_3286.jpgThe overnight low was 18 degrees F, so we had to experiment with how much heat we needed in the motorhome. We ended up roasting, so we turned it down in the middle of the night and woke up freezing. It was going to take some practice to get it just right.

The stars were incredible. After I got Xander to sleep, Kris stayed with him so that I could go out and try shooting them. I thought I was totally prepared, but I definitely should have used a different lens (instead of an 85mm). The Milky Way cut a spectacular band across the sky, and you could clearly see stars of different sizes and colors. I’ll have to go back out with a lens that lets me capture more than a tiny portion of the sky, but this at least shows some of the star variety.IMG_3133It was a strange feeling going out to shoot by myself. It made me realize that in LA it’s never even close to dark. I’ve become so accustomed to being able to see all the time that true darkness makes me uneasy, even in such a gorgeous place. I suspect the quiet was freaking me out a bit as well. It took about twenty minutes to settle my nerves so I could relax into the darkness and really appreciate it. I ended up so focused on the stars that I sat down in the mud while wearing my white coat without even noticing. Thankfully, the ground was so frozen it didn’t get dirty.

The next morning, we made the half hour drive over to Lake Pukaki, where they filmed Lake-town for the Hobbit movies. Lake Tekapo is a pretty color, but Pukaki is stunningly light blue.IMG_3152.jpgThat’s Mount Cook right in the middle over the lake.IMG_3192.jpgIMG_3196.jpgHaving the motorhome allowed us to park next to Pukaki and enjoy a leisurely lunch with a view. We had picked up groceries before leaving Christchurch, so we were well stocked. I selected a handful of interesting sounding local cheeses, which ended up including some of the best cheddar I’ve ever had…as well as the worst cheese I’ve ever tasted in my entire life: Whitestone Cheese Co’s Pale Ale Cheese. It was truly revolting. The first thing out of my mouth isn’t really appropriate to repeat, but if you play Cards Against Humanity, you may recognize it…I would rather [blank] a bucket of [blank] than have to taste that cheese ever again! We decided that our next stop would be the town of Oamaru, which just happened to be where Whitestone Cheese was made. I would have an opportunity to demand that they explain themselves!IMG_3202.jpgWe were already beginning to notice just how much Xander loves the outdoors. At the campsite at Tekapo he was particularly enthralled by the ducks, so we sat him at the window to watch them. We may have chucked some bread out there to lure a few more over.IMG_4576.jpgIMG_3275.jpgIMG_3277.jpgThe second night, we thought we had the heat just right, but Xander was restless. He woke up crying at about 4 am, and we discovered he had a fever. The plague family had successfully infected him on the plane. Thankfully, we had talked through this possibility with our pediatrician, so we had baby Tylenol on hand and knew what dose to give him. We had just gotten him back to sleep when the heater stopped working. Since it was well below freezing outside, this was unfortunate.

Our backup heater ran on diesel, so we started that just to stop it from dropping to freezing in the motorhome, but we only had about a quarter tank of gas, and were nowhere near civilization, so using that heater wasn’t a good long-term option. I stayed in bed with Xander, who was refusing to settle, and Kris went outside in the freezing cold to troubleshoot. It turned out, the whole place had lost power, so there was nothing he could do. At least he got to see the stars and a beautiful sunrise.IMG_1721IMG_1726.jpgThe lakes were picturesque, but it was time for us to move on to Oamaru, land of penguins, steampunk, and whisky!

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