Lake Tekapo – It is all about the Sky!

My Journey to Lake Tekapo began with a bus ride. It was a fairly easy ride, and I arrived in Tekapo in the early afternoon.

Tekapo is a very small village, right on the bank of Lake Tekapo. The “downtown” area is a collection of shops in a strip.

I got off the bus, collected my luggage and checked into my Hostel, Tailor-Made Backpackers. The hostel was clean, quiet, and had great laundry and kitchen facilities, and even better – NO Bunk beds – which is always a great bonus in a backpackers!

It was a very, very foggy day, but I was watching the forecast very closely, because both of my activities here are weather dependent. One of my most anticipated activities in New Zealand was to go up to the University of Canterbury’s Mount John Observatory at night to see the Southern Sky. Of course, this is very weather dependent – because cloud cover will obviously impact the view. My tour was originally scheduled for Friday night, however tonight (Thursday) was looking pretty great, so I thought I would hold out for a few hours, see where things stood.

After I was checked in to the hostel, I walked back to town, where the fog was slowly beginning to lift.

My other sky dependent activity was an amazing flight experience, The Air Safari Grand Traverse, which was gifted to me by a friend who had been unable to use the voucher on a previous trip due to weather. (This friend wishes to remain anonymous, so I will just say a gigantic thank you). Unfortunately, while the fog was lifting, they were unable to get flight clearance, and asked me to check back in a few hours.

I decided to walk over to what maybe Lake Tekapo’s most iconic location, the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is literally right on the banks of Lake Tekapo – and is a gorgeous stone chapel.

The fog lifted enough for me to really just enjoy the church, the lakeside, the crystal clear water and the amazing beauty that is just so quintessentially New Zealand.

Lake Tekapo is a glacier lake, and just like the Glacial Lakes that I remember from Switzerland the color was striking.

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After exploring the waterfront, with the fog still clear, and the weather forecast looking good, I decided to go into the Earth and Sky office to see if I could change my tour to tonight, since the weather looked more favorable. The early tour was full, but they did have an opening at the 11:00 PM tour, so I took them up on it.

I left the Earth and Sky office, then grabbed a burger in a neighboring restaurant, then went back to check in at the flight office. Unfortunatly, as we were waiting the fog rolled back in – we would try again tomorrow. Having explored the town, and hoping for a late night at the observatory, I headed back to the hostel to do laundry, take a little nap and get ready for the night – it is cold on the mountain – as witnessed by this funny video they have for you on the Earth and Sky website of what to wear:

Around 10:30 I headed out, bundled up, and with my DSLR, because the astrophotographers will hook your camera up to the telescope to catch images for you for you to get your own images, which is pretty exciting!

I got to the office, checked in and waited for the tour to depart. At the office, they gave us each Antarctica tested jackets, worn by actual scientists on the US bases – which I thought was pretty cool!



We started the drive up Mt. John – which is fascinating. Lake Tekapo is in a dark sky reserve, so the street lights are a special type that will not interfere with the viewing of the night sky. It was still really, really foggy, but the tour guide said we were in to a real treat because the sky was clear above the fog which we would be above on the mountain. I will admit, at this point I started getting pretty excited – I was concerned about the fog and the uncertainty of the night sky above it.

Once we got to the mountain it got even more interesting. At a point near the summit, the tour driver had to turn off the headlights and we climbed the rest of the way in the dark – I was thankful he knew the roads well! (this was so that the headlights didn’t disrupt the researchers at using the amazing telescopes).

Y’all – I have lots of words – you read this blog – you know that – but seriously – I cannot put the amazingness that this was into words – beautiful, stunning, astounding, breathtaking, majestic – all come to mind, but don’t really do it justice.

Bad news is, my DSLR picked this night to be when it decided to finally bite the dust – it had been acting up for quite some time, so it was not a shock, but I will admit I was a little sad I couldn’t leave with my own photos.

However, the Astrophotographers always load pictures each night onto their Flickr account. I captured two of these images below from that night so you can get an idea of what I saw. (And yes – the sky did look like that!). (I was even so bundled I took off my Antarctic jacket – either it wasn’t that cold up there, I have really good thermals, or I am adjusting to a different type of winter – not sure which).

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If you want to see more images from the night, or other nights go check out: Earth and Sky Images. 

My night was May 25th – but if you want to see some stunning Aurora photos – check out the 28th as well – that is the night it surged and was flat out amazing.

The special treat our tour guide talked about truly was spectacular, and you can see it in the pictures – look at the layer of fog sitting on the lake – it looked like a blanket covering the ground – the scientists that were showing us around the sky said it was a rare sight – like once every 2-3 years.

The sky was so clear you could clearly see the Milky Way trail, and could easily pick out the southern sky constellations – I was quite thankful for my massive amounts of time in the Digital Star Lab taking every single Carmel Colt through there for the past few years, because I could really pick out lots of things.

Unexpectedly – the coolest thing was the 2 “dark spots” in the sky – which we do not see North of the equator – the Magellanic Clouds, which are actually spiral dwarf galaxies.

After a tour of the sky – where the guide used this crazy cool lightsaber-like laser pointer that shot across the sky to point out what he was talking about (I really NEED one of those), we got to look in several telescopes and look at features of the sky.

The time passed quickly – and before I knew it the tour was over and we were back in the shuttle headed to town.


Well after 2 AM – I was back at the hostel, and settled in for a quick sleep – I was meeting the flight crew at 8:00 – hopefully for a flight.

The next morning – with lots of coffee – I was ready to fly – the fog had lifted, and it was an amazing day to fly – I could not have ordered better weather!

The flight was myself and a couple with quite limited English, so I essentially had a tour guide/ pilot to myself.

I thought the Stewart Island plane was small – but this one was smaller – only 8 seats!

It was a Gippsland GA8 Airvan – specially outfitted for scenic flights with over window wings. Check out the safety info card!

The Grand Traverse took an amazing path, flying over Lake Tekapo, 4 prominent glaciers (Murchison, Franz Josef, Fox, Tasman) and the majestic Southern Alps (Including NZs two highest mountains – Mount Cook and Mount Tasman). This is another instance of the pictures saying so much more than my words ever could. Air Safaris bills this as the flight of a lifetime – and I must say – they are 100% correct.

Here is the path the flight took: 

I will stop talking now and let you enjoy the pictures – these are some of my favorite of the trip – but honestly – I am going to have a hard time deciding which pictures make the cut for printing and hanging up in my house – I think my decor may entirely change to New Zealand pictures!

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I even captured a video of us flying around Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman – and replaced the noise of the plane with music to make it easier to watch – I apologize for the shakiness – we did hit some air currents while I was filming.

What an epic experience!

After this I had some work to do – so I set off for a school visit, then decided that an afternoon/evening at the Tekapo Springs spa was the way to spend my last evening here. What a great choice!

Just check out this place:

It was freezing outside of the water – but AHHHH! What a lovely way to “chill out” – I even sprang for a manicure and pedicure at the day spa – so I was quite content when I did finally leave the spa. (side note – check out the cloud cover – I am so thankful I changed my observatory tour to last night!)

The next day I headed back to Christchurch to spend the night before catching my flight back to Wellington.

A flat white before catching my bus to leave Lake Tekapo

This time in Christchurch I stayed in a really cool hostel, the Jucy Snooze – which featured these cool pods:

It was perfect, and thankfully walking distance to the hotel for my flight the next day, as their was some sort of taxi and uber strike.

Dinner that night was not as perfect, as I decided to forgo the last pack of my soup in my backpacker kit and have dinner out – at this highly rated teppanyaki restaurant (The kiwi version of our hibachi restaurants in the USA) – when about half way through my meal I saw a mouse scurry across the floor – and with that, I was done with my dinner. But hey – with travel you take the good, the bad, the strange and the gross – it all is a part of the experience – and it is a pretty funny story – in hindsight – that in a country where rodents are not native (and their is a huge push to e”rat”icate them (see what I did there- lol!) – I see a rodent, in a “nice” restaurant!

I went back to the hostel, and got ready to fly home in the morning.

It has been a spectacular few weeks on the South Island.



Author: Merry

I am a teacher, techie, avid traveler and explorer.

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