Day Twenty-Five – Aoraki and the Stars…

Up early today as we are off to see Aoraki/Mount Cook. I could tell it was going to be a beautiful day as soon as I woke up to find sun streaming into the van and lifting the blinds unveiled a stunning landscape. It had been dark when we arrived the night before so it was a wonderful surprise.

Morning View…sorry about the toes…

We headed into the National Park along some stunning roads with amazing views, but I managed to limit myself to ‘one or two’ photos so that we could make good time. The plan was to do a hike into the park following the Hooker Valley Trail.
This place is STUNNING. The views of Mount Cook are breathtaking and I find myself with camera in hand at every turn. We are both spellbound, but on top of the scenery the weather is also incredible.

Aoraki/ Mount Cook

The trail winds through the valley across suspension bridges and up steep inclines, and I was breathless, but it was worth the effort as we reached the top of a ridge to see Hooker Valley Lake before us, with the glacier at the far end, overlooked by Aoraki.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and simply sat down and stared out at the vista before me. The lake was shimmering in the sunlight and the icebergs that had formed from the glacier floated across the surface silently.

I don’t know how long we stayed there for, I lost all sense of time, but it wasn’t long enough. I don’t think it ever could be.
We sat by a river that flows out of the lake down the valley, and quietly ate some fruit, each of us lost in our own thoughts before Laura called ‘time’ and I slowly trudged away back down the valley, glancing longingly over my shoulder back at Aoraki every few metres.
Back at the van, Laura cooked up some lunch and I set about finding the next trail, which was quite short, but culminated in a view of the Tasmin Glacier, via some Blue Lakes. Sounded nice.
The Blue Lakes weren’t blue….but, they were back in the mid-1800s when they were named as they were fed by glacial meltwater. Today, the glacier has retreated to such an extent that the lakes are now fed by rainwater, which is warmer and therefore promotes green algae growth.
Unperturbed, we followed the track higher until we reached a small plateau which serves as a viewing platform and again, the view of the Tasmin glacier was amazing. The sun was due to set within the next hour or so, which we’ve come to realise is a golden hour for photos, and soon there was a steady stream of people laden with a lot of expensive looking camera equipment getting ready for the show. Feeling inadequate with my little Panasonic LUMIX, I did a few more ‘point and shoot’ photos, and scampered down the hill with Laura just behind me.

I’ve said this before on the blog, but being in this environment, surrounded by such beauty, I was feeling emotionally drained and exhausted by time I pulled into the car park in Lake Tekapo. After such a day, a good meal and bed sounded good – but as Lau and I like to take things easy, we’d already booked ourselves on the Stargazing tour at Mt. John Observatory, which started at 10.45pm!
Getting bundled into a bus in down jackets (that had been to Antarctica apparently) and woolly hats, we were driven up to the Observatory. It was so cold at the top but we all had enough layers on so it was straight into the tour, which was given by two students (one French, one Scottish) that were lucky/clever enough to be stationed there. The passion that they clearly had for the stars was infectious and we were both drawn in, looking at various stars through the large telescopes that had been set up for the group.
The observatory is the most southerly located in the world, and also houses the four biggest telescopes in New Zealand.
Laura was mesmerised by watching the Galilean moons orbit Jupiter, especially when you could see one moving across the planet surface. My favourite was seeing Alpha Centauri, which at 4.3 light years away is our closest star (after the sun), which when viewed through the telescope reveals two stars (there is a third that’s not visible) bound together by gravity….it’s a mind-blowing experience and makes you feel very, very, small, but also triggers thoughts about what other life must exist out there somewhere.
And eventually, it was back down to Earth, and a bus ride back to the town, with the soundtrack of Rocketman by Elton John and Space Oddity by David Bowie.
Tired but happy, I drove the van out to Lake MacGregor, a freedom camping site outside of the town and we eventually got into bed around 1.30am.
There was no alarm clock set that night!



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