Southern Stars Over Tekapo | June 2014

One of the great things about living in New Zealand are the dark skies. With very little light pollution, the stars are bright in the night sky. And one of the best places to see them is at Lake Tekapo, which is part of the gold-rated Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. And that is where we decided on our first Kiwi vacation.

The weekend started out absolutely perfect — without a cloud in the sky and the 2-hour drive to Lake Tekapo went by fast. The fantastic scenery of the surrounding landscape helped.

Driving through Canterbury
Mackenzie Country
Mackenzie Basin near Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is known for its colour — a brilliant blue due to “rock flour“.

Tekapo colours
Lake Tekapo
Fall colours at Tekapo
Walking along the lake

The real show started once the sun went down. The stars above were absolutely brilliant. Even from within town they were unmistakable. Two of the prominent starry landmarks were the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, easily visible in the southern sky.

Brilliant night sky right outside the house
Small and Large Magellanic Clouds

But the main show-stopper was our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It was breathtaking as it rose above the eastern sky. Especially above the Church of the Good Shepherd, a local landmark.

Galaxy-rise over Tekapo

One of the new things we encountered that night was a real Kiwi winter night. Temperatures had been relatively warm in Canterbury, but they were downright chilly in Tekapo. And the bach (vacation house) we stayed at had the usual wood-burning stove, which we fired up. It was quite nice to get a roaring fire going.

Staying warm during a Kiwi winter
Fuel for the fire

The next morning we explored the eastern shore of the lake.

Lake Tekapo panorama
Exploring the lakeshore

Our next stop was Mt. John Observatory, which sits atop, surprise, surprise, Mt. John. Brilliant 360-degree views abounded.

Mt. John views
Mt. John Observatory
Exploring the trails around Mt. John

That night I took part in one of the best activities I’ve ever experienced. I got the last spot on the 8:30pm tour of Mt. John Observatory. It was absolutely amazing — highly recommended. The astronomers who acted as our tour guides were very knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic about their work. The views were brilliant — both with and without the gigantic telescopes.

Southern Milky Way over Mt. John Observatory
Milky Way rising

Our last morning in town, we headed for a short walk to Cowan’s Hill. It was a nice little walk with some views.

Wildlife along the walk
Early morning frost
Views from higher up
Walking Cowan’s Hill

 

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