Seeing in the New Year at Lake Tekapo

After a pretty chilled out Christmas in Christchurch, it was time to continue the journey and the next stop was Lake Tekapo. I had been recommended the area before leaving Wellington for the hot springs and stargazing, and when I found a way to combine both at once, the budgeter in me couldn’t resist.

I was struck by how beautiful the lake was when I arrived. I’ve seen a fair few lakes on my South Island trip, but this ranks near the top, if not taking the title. Surrounded by mountains and with calm, turquoise water, it’s a picturesque scene that’s just another reminder of how beautiful Aotearoa is.

Lake Tekapo, as seen from the pedestrian bridge leading into town
Lake Tekapo, as seen from the pedestrian bridge leading into town

Stargazing and hot springs

This was what I came here to do, and despite there being a few options to choose from, only one offered stargazing and hot springs together, and I thought it was a great way to spend the last moments of 2020 as we moved into the new year.

New Year’s Eve plans; sorted!

The first few days of my stay in Tekapo had been glorious. Clear skies, scorching sun and the like, but the nights had been cloudy. I desperately hoped for a clear sky for my tour, but the weather is out of our control.

I made my way to Tekapo Springs – which is worth visiting regardless of where/when/if you do the stargazing – for my Tekapo Stargazing experience.

It’s worth noting that on the nights where the cloud cover is too thick, there is a VR option. That would have been okay, but not what I was hoping for.

In the end, we did get a little stargazing done, looking at different constellations and stars with the naked eye before taking a closer look through the telescopes. This was a fantastic experience, but it wasn’t to last as the cloud rolled in.

We entered the hot springs and basked in the 38-degree water while looking up at the clouds, hunting for those small gaps where a few stars would peek through. It was a relaxing and amazing way to end 2020 as the we heard the countdown from nearby holiday parks.

I’d love to tell you that we had clear skies and hundreds of stars while floating but it wasn’t to be. That does disappoint me a little, but I enjoyed the night regardless. I’ll just have to come back again and hope for better weather!

Discover the Dark Sky Project

Being a small town, there isn’t a huge amount to do but a lot of the activities focus on the lake, the walking trails around it and the stars above. One thing to check out is the Dark Sky Project, which offers a range of tours and experiences, and has links to the Mt John Observatory.

Not only will you learn more about our solar system, the stars and constellations we can see on a clear night, but you’ll also get a lot of information on the Maori view of the stars, and how it connects to their wider beliefs.

This is a fascinating tour and a unique opportunity – one I can’t recommend enough.

The tours run most days, multiple times a day, so there’s plenty of chances to suit your schedule. There’s also a good café for before or after and being so close to the lake you can enjoy those coffees with a stunning view.

Enjoying the views

As mentioned, Lake Tekapo is stunning, and that’s just what you can see from the town. There are plenty of ways to find other viewpoints, such as climbing Mt John and reaching the observatory – there’s also a café up there which gets rave reviews – but plan your day as if the cloud is low enough, those views won’t be worth much!

Cowans Hill Walkway is an easy trail to follow that ends in an empty field looking down over the town and lake – definitely worth the trip.

Lake Tekapo from Conaway Hill Walkway
Lake Tekapo from Conaway Hill Walkway

You can also walk along the other side of the lake to Pine Beach, and beyond this are a large number of other walking and cycle trails, with different points to take in the view. While the town is small, and there might not be much to do compared to other places, you can find plenty to keep you occupied – and don’t forget there are things to do on the lake, too.

I’ve got a few days of travelling ahead of me before I hit another new place to explore in the south.

Until then.

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