Sometimes when travelling, you build up a high expectation of a place and when you finally arrive your past illusion is shattered by reality and you leave feeling a little let down.
We were en route to Lake Tekapo where the promise of turquoise waters and forest scenery were waiting for us. Passing through the mountainous range of Twizel and Mt Cook, we wasted driving time by singing Taylor Swift and Shania Twain into the GoPro and unfortunately running over something we think was a cat. Oops.
It was mid afternoon by the time we stopped at the southern end of Lake Pukaki for a break. We made a unanimous decision to skip Mt Cook and save more time for the north of NZ (hello wine country!) so instead of heading up towards Aoraki, we continued northwest onto Lake Tekapo.
I don’t know why I had such a built up of anticipation for Lake Tekapo. I guess the unnaturally blue waters you see in photos on Instagram have a lot to do with it, but as we drove into Tekapo I admittedly was slightly underwhelmed. It might just have been the wrong time of day and season, but the whole area was a little gloomier than I had expected. We stopped in for a walk down to the Lake to appreciate the clear, turquoise water. The photos don’t lie, it is a bright hue of blue and crystal clear. The grey stones that hugged the water were smooth and the sparse shrubs that popped up every now and then were spiky. I had envisioned rich forestry surrounding the lake but in actual fact the landscape was rather arid.
We took a drive to find a campsite for the night up near the neighbouring lake of Lake Alexandria when we saw a turn off for Mt John Observatory. Not one to miss something, K navigated Mimi up the steep and windy road until we reached the top. They weren’t kidding, there actually was a proper observatory up here – and a cafe, and we don’t say no to a cafe.
The Mt. John Observatory is New Zealand’s premier astronomical research observatory. This is due to Lake Tekapo having the most spectacular night skies in the world. The clarity and visibility of stars in this area are the reason why Mt John Observatory has made it known to astronomers universally wide.
We had a wander around the site and absorbed in the stark landscape that surrounded us. The wind was bitterly cold and the view could be seen for miles. It was such a remarkable change to greenery we saw further south. Just another reason why New Zealand is so fascinating – there is just so many different things to see. Stopping in at Astro Cafe for a sugar kick, we ordered coffee and the biggest brownie I’ve seen. Astro Cafe has been called ‘the best place on the planet for a coffee’ and I would have to agree. Not only was the view of Lake Tekapo spectacular, the coffee and brownie were pretty dang delicious – jut what we needed to keep us going to find a free camping spot for the night.
Using the Jucy app we had planned to stay at a freedom camping spot at Lake Alexandria, which was close to Mt John. However as we pulled into the sparse, ghost town-like setting, there was a chill that set over the van. It felt a bit like the beginnings of a horror movie – the decrepit, empty caravans, rubbish rolling in the breeze and not a soul in sight. We made the unanimous decision to hightail it out of there and find somewhere else with a little more life about it.
Driving out of Tekapo, I was a little sad that it wasn’t how I imagined it. For future reference I think more time is needed there, just to explore and witness the gloriously blue lake at a different time of day. While I was happy to be driving out of Tekapo, I was sad that we hadn’t given it more of a chance… But I was in no mood to be a main character in the next Saw movie.
We drove on, following a threatening dark storm cloud until we reached the small town of Fairlie. The night was definitely upon us and we were tired and eager to get out of Mimi for awhile. Flying past a sign for accommodation we did a U-turn and found ourselves at Musterers High Country Accommodation. It looked perfect – but more on that next post!