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Hackett Travels Life's about the journey, not the destination

Mountains and Lakes

NEW ZEALAND | Monday, 8 July 2013 | Views [477]

From Christchurch we drove to Twizel in the Southern Alps.  This is where the New Zealand of the adverts and Lord of the Rings began for us!  We didn't have to get far out into the countryside before we were surrounded by snow on the ground!  Luckily the roads were clear and we made it up into the Alps.  We drove via Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki - turquoise glacial melt lakes surrounded by mountains.  Its the ground up material from the glaciers that makes the water look turquoise.  We had lunch in Tekapo in a pub overlooking the lake, it was a beautiful day with the sun shining and kids playing in the snow.

The next day we planned to drive down Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook, the highest mountain in NZ which we'd glimpsed from the visitor centre on the drive.  When we got up the sun was shining again and we called the Mt John Observatory to book onto their stargazing tour as we'd been waiting to make sure the weather was ok.  However, the closer we got down the lake to Mount Cook the worse the weather got and when we arrived in the village you couldn't see the mountain for the low cloud and drizzle, not the mention the strong winds.  We went in the Hermitage Hotel to the Sir Edmund Hillary centre, had a look around at the exhibit and watched a couple of the films about space in the planetarium.  When we emerged for some lunch the weather was still terrible so we aborted the original plan to do some walking and after lunch went back into the theatre to watch a documentary about Edmind Hillary.  So having driven all the way there we didn't get to see the mountain and the weather was too bad to do any walking - at least we learnt about space and climbing!

We headed back to the motel to eat before the stargazing tour but it wasn't looking good as it was still really cloudy.  They'd suggested we call to confirm before we left Twizel as it was about half an hour drive but I couldn't get through on the phone so we went anyway.  When we got there the woman in the office explained that it was cloudy over the observatory and it would be a 'cloudy night' tour where they just show you around the facilities and tell you about the telescopes etc without seeing any stars.  We were a bit disappointed but decided to go anyway.  Just before they got back to pick up our tour there was a call to say there were breaks in the cloud and we might get to see some stars!

The area around Lake Tekapo is an international dark sky reserve, as there's so little light pollution (not many people living in the region!) it makes it perfect for an international observatory.  They also don't allow lights on the hill so the bus drove part of the way with only side lights on and we had red torches at the top.  We did get to look at some of the stars through the smaller telescopes.  The big one wasn't in use as it was too windy.  While we were up there the winds started picking up and the domes were banging in the wind so we had to cut the trip short as the winds can get very strong and it might get too dangerous to drive back down.  They had gusts of 100kph while we were up there - it was quite hard to walk upright!  The strongest wind gusts recorded in NZ were recorded here (250kph), before the gauge broke in the wind!  It was pretty cool though and we probably only lost about 15 minutes of the tour, we were just glad that the cloud cleared a bit and we got to see some stars.

Tags: lakes, mount cook, mountains, stargazing

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