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!

 

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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: http://www.airsafaris.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Tekapo-Route-Map.pdf 

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.

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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.

 

W.O.W. – A museum with something for all tastes (fashion, art and cars!) – and an exciting journey for me!

I know that many of you are eagerly anticipating information about my school visits, however, I am working within the bounds of some ethics and privacy considerations and other logistics – I will share more general reflections soon when I have visited more schools, I promise – but my time in Nelson was fantastic. Gaye Bloomfield (@gayeblooms) Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Coffee lover and teacher extraordinaire (can you see where we would totally get along?) went out of her way to make me feel welcome, and planned a spectacular week for me visiting schools of all levels and with all unique feels. I really feel like I have “experienced” all levels of Kiwi education now, and that sets me up quite nicely for the framework of my project.

I did get a few opportunities to play as well – starting with a lovely dinner and conversation on Monday night with Gaye. We had a delicious meal and talked for hours about all sorts of things – I think given a combination of enough coffee and wine, we could solve some serious world problems!

Check out the awesome dessert we had:

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Tuesday afternoon I had some free time, and explored the National WOW Museum – a unique museum that combines the Gallery of fashion from the World of Wearable Art shows, along with this massive collection of rare and classic cars both from all over the world.

The outfits were amazing works of art, and in each and every case, someone did wear them for the show. Many are thematic, and some were quite, well, off kilter might be one way to describe it, but I was in awe of the precision and the artistry of the pieces. In some cases I have included the description next to the photo, while in others you can just use your imagination. I did have a few favorites.

At the end was a viewing room where you could watch a video of the highlights of the World of Wearable Art Show, a huge international design competition where these amazing pieces are unveiled.

After the fashion art, I wandered to the next gallery – full of classic cars, super fancy cars, engines and other mechanical type stuff. Y’all – I am way out of my wheel house here – mostly I’m like – look a shiny car – but there were some seriously cool vehicles here to see.

Look through the album for yourself – there were cars that make today’s mini cars look gargantuan, cars that were the size of tanks, and my personal favorite item of luxury – the car with recliners in the back seat (If you can afford that car, my guess is you have a chauffeur, and you are enjoying the recliner).

It was also interesting to see the cars that obviously were collected and imported (remember, they drive on the left here).  It was a cool variety – and I know some of you (I’m looking at you Tom Green) will be quite in heaven looking at these cars.

While I was at the Museum I got a rather exciting email response to something I have been working on since before I left the US – because my project is focused on the use of digital technologies in a variety of situations, I have really strived to find schools of all types, all over New Zealand to visit and connect with.  The carrot that was dangling out in front of me was the ability to visit a school with significant geographical isolation (which is hard, because these schools are very small – we are talking 20 or so students from grades 1 – 8 typically, and only one to two teachers, one of whom is a teaching principal). We had communicated a bit before I left the US, but I had been unable to schedule with school just starting here (Feb is their first month of school here), but I got a response, so in May I will be given the great opportunity to visit this school on Stewart Island (and do some programming with those students). Stewart Island, also called Rakiura is the island south of the south Island of New Zealand, an island that is home to less than 400 permanent residents. The only way to travel commercially to Stewart Island is by a small ferry across the  Foveaux Strait, or a fixed wing flight from Invercargill. At 47° South, it is likely the furthest south this girl will ever travel! If I am lucky – I might even get a chance to view the Aurora Australis – talk about a bucket list item! I am going to make an adventure of this trip, knocking out my South Island school visits during the week, and my bucket list items on the weekend. I will start by flying to Dunedin and visiting schools (and MIEE Rachel @ibpossum), then a weekend road trip through the Caitlins to Invercargill to head to Stewart Island, followed by a weekend in Te Anau and Milford Sound, then a trip to Christchurch to see some schools (and stay in a hostel that was once a jail), before checking out the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and Lake Tekapo and the Mount John Observatory before heading back to Windy Welly. (I have not forgotten about Queenstown, by the way – I am attending a conference there in April). All in all – can you tell I am excited for this? It looks like I am going to be on the road for much of April and May, with trips to schools in Auckland;  a brief vacation during term break to Australia (Sydney and Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef); Energise Conference in Queenstown, then my South Island Adventure.

After exploring the museum, and doing some work in the cafe, I headed back to the hostel, then grabbed dinner at a lovely Mexican restaurant – where I had my first truly authentic Mexican food since I have been in NZ – Fajitas for the win!

Tomorrow I have school visits and a board meeting, which I am quite excited about attending, before I head back to Wellington and the North Island on Thursday. Nelson has been good to me!