After Queenstown, I nearly melted on a very hot 4 hour bus ride to Lake Tekapo.
Stargazing is why people are drawn to this little town, along with a relatively close transfer to Mt. Cook. Unfortunately, these few days were not my personal highlights while touring the South, but I was surrounded by beautiful scenery.
After arriving at Lake Tekapo, I reserved a spot on the Cowen's Observatory Tour for an evening of stargazing with highly recommended Earth and Sky Tours. We'll revisit this in a second.
First, a lesson in patience and perseverance. The Church of the Good Shepherd, is the main/only tourist attraction, so snapping a pic of the most photographed church in NZ without people is no small feat. Eventually, I managed a few people-free shots.
Relief from the heat came from a swim in the cold lake, a spectacular setting for cooling down.
Now for the Cowan's Observatory Tour, beginning at 10:15pm. The short, dark drive took us to the "place with the telescopes;" otherwise, there's no need to go anywhere to see the unadulterated night sky. $90 gave us a lecture on stars, lasers pointing here and there, and 3 star-cluster viewings through relatively small telescopes. I scrambled to make sense of where my money had gone, but sadly, couldn't. Unfortunately, I have no lasting memory to show for it, aside from disappointment and hindsight.
After the take-my-money-and-run Sky Tour, along with failed attempts at night shots of the church and sky, I eventually conceded a loss for the day. Returning to the hot hostel, I slept for a quick 4 hours, forced my shredded duffel bag wheels down the gravel drive and hopped on the Mt. Cook Connection, at 7am.
Mt. Cook is 2 hours away, and I was eager to begin walking Hooker Valley Track. After 2 failed attempts later (and asking for directions initially), I finally found what I call "The Hottest Walk of My Life." And so my 14-mile round trip journey to the base of Mt. Cook eventually began.
About half way down, I had to soak my feet in the glacial water to cool off. Spending a good 30 min. there, eventually I was ready to continue.
Seeing tiny kids being dragged by their parents to do this walk added a little pep to my step and encouraged me to get my act together. Finally, I arrived at the basin of the mountain, and enjoyed my packed lunch and view, with a huge sigh of relief.
Upon return to the Hermitage Hotel, I downed a liter of water, and waited for the shuttle and our 2 hour return journey to Lake Tekapo. Forcing my bag up the hill to a new hostel, I put up my feet and met some new travelers who joined me at the lake for some free stargazing. It was spectacular!
While it was a rough day on little sleep, very hot weather, false starts up steep hills and other frustrations, I'm glad I made the trip and saw Mt. Cook up-close. And I can leave with photos that remind me of the beauty around me, even when life wasn't feeling quite so beautiful at the time.
On a side note: Because of the logistical difficulties with 2 hostels, a shuttle and new Kiwi Experience bus, my initial driver helped to arrange my bag drop at the Hermitage Hotel. Speak to your driver as they may be able to offer helpful options. Be sure to say thank you and treat everyone you travel with in a kind way. You're all in it together, and little gestures of help go a long way on a tough day.
One more hot day to go in Christchurch, where I found solace in new friends that I made through networking.
Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook links and recommendations:
Map from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo, and up to Mt. Cook.
Lake Tekapo has a wonderfully dark sky for viewing the stars.
Earth and Sky is expensive and not necessarily worth it. Some people I know loved it.
Church of the Good Shepherd is the most photographed church in NZ.
Mt. Cook Connection will take you to the Hermitage Hotel at Mt. Cook.
Hooker Valley Track is great in cooler weather, I'm sure!
Hermitage Hotel has incredible views and is the meeting spot for the Mt. Cook Connection.
Tailor Made Tekapo Backpackers is a nice hostel in the area and part of the BBH network.