Our long-postponed (thanks, COVID!) trip has finally begun. We left on Saturday and, after 3 flights and a major time change, arrived in Christchurch on Monday.
The trip went pretty smoothly – the only hiccup was realizing on the way to the airport that we had forgotten to apply for our Electronic Travel Authority, which is required to enter New Zealand! The app said that it could take 72 hours or more to process, but we decided to pray for the best and just keep going with our plans for the moment. Thankfully, our ETAs were approved in under an hour, before we even got to the airport.
Upon arrival in Christchurch in the afternoon, we picked up our rental car (aptly described by the agent as a “cute marshmallow”), ate at the modern Moroccan chain Dubba Dubba, and got some groceries at what seems to be the New Zealand version of Aldi – called PAK’nSAVE – and a couple Asian stores. The PAK’nSAVE had fun unfamiliar items like kiwiberries, Weet-Bix, Marmite, and Tim Tams, but the real treasures for me were at the Asian stores. It was a good thing that this was our first stop instead of our last on the trip, as our upcoming flights helped me to restrain myself from buying a new suitcase-worth of snacks and ingredients. The most exciting discovery was our favorite flavor of instant noodles, which we have looked for ever since leaving China and have only found (somewhat expensively) on eBay. We adjusted to the time change amazingly well, but still went to bed at 8 PM on Day 1.
On Day 2, we drove from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. At first, the scenery was surprisingly familiar. It was pretty flat with a few hills and fields with cows, bales, and irrigators. There were just a few foreign things interspersed, like tropical plants, alpacas, and immense and immaculately maintained tree & bush fences (article abstract on them, for Dad and anyone else interested). The scenery became increasingly hillier and mountainous as we went along. We stopped for lunch at Fairlie Bakehouse on the recommendation of our host, who said it is “renowned all around the South Island and has fantastic pies and delicious slices.” We could see why they were so well known! The meal was delicious, and their shaded patio was a lovely place to eat it.
The views driving into Lake Tekapo was stunning, and they only got better from there. We stopped for a little bit at The Church of the Good Shepherd, which is a small historic church known for the surrounding views (the church itself was not open to the public).
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking up the Mount John Summit Trail and down the Lake Shore Trail. The scenery was absolutely incredible. It went from larch forests to tussock grass hillsides to a craggy summit with stunning views of the surrounding lakes. The water is so incredibly blue, it doesn’t look real! I loved this hike because the first section of it built up the anticipation with no views of the lakes but plenty of other gorgeous nature, while the second section rewarded you with an easier trail and almost nonstop views of the lakes.
A scientific explanation of the blueness of the water follows; skip this section if you’re not interested. This description comes from Tekapo Trails by Dennis Viehland (2021), which our host provided. “The glaciers that formed Lake Tekapo are also responsible for its turquoise blue colour. The glacial motion not only pushed rocks ahead of the glacier, but any rocks trapped against the bottom or sides of the glacier ground against each other. This rock-against-rock grinding action created a rock dust as fine as flour, and that is exactly what geologists call it – glacial flour. As the ice melts, this glacial flour becomes suspended in the river water that flows into Lake Tekapo, in a proportion of approximately 1 part of glacial flour per 100 parts of water. US space agency NASA explains what happens next: ‘When sunlight hits the water, these particles absorb the shortest wavelengths: the purples and indigos. Meanwhile, the water absorbs the longer wavelength reds, oranges and yellows. That leaves mainly blues and greens to get scattered back to our eyes.'”
After the hike, we ate dinner and relaxed for a bit before going on a stargazing tour with George from Chameleon Stargazing. We saw the Milky Way, the Southern Lights, Mars, the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy, a nebula, constellations such as the Southern Cross, and many shooting stars. It was absolutely incredible! Even though we had a few clouds moving across the sky throughout the 1.5 hour long tour, I was still totally blown away. One of the coolest things to me way how the stars actually twinkled – I’ve never actually seen them seem to sparkle like that, but it made the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” considering that light pollution would have been way less prevalent when the song was written.
George did a fantastic job using his high-powered laser to point things out, and his descriptions were both interesting and informative. He said that we were very lucky to see the Southern Lights when we did, as they were the strongest colors he had seen them in about a year. To us, they still looked mostly white, but he was able to detect slight pinks and oranges that aren’t usually there. The camera picks up the colors much better than our naked eyes! We also got to use two enormous telescopes to view different stars and Mars more closely, and finished the night with hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows.
Up next, Mount Cook!