The Road to Lake Tekapo

21 April 2016

We left Dunedin, making our way to Lake Tekapo where we will be spending a few days.  Our route will be following the coast north to Omaru and then heading inland toward Duntroon to see the cave paintings and the Elephant Rocks.

Anzac Day (Australia New Zealand Army Corps), a national holiday, is Monday April 25.  While in Dunedin, we watched a documentary in which Sam Neill discusses his family history and the war (WWI).  It shows him touching his grandfather’s name on a war monument.  As we drove north on Highway 1, we passed through a little town called Waikouaiti.  Lynnette said “Hey, isn’t that the war memorial Sam Neill visited?”  We turned the car around, sure enough!

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Anzac Memorial in Waikouaiti

I had been looking forward to photographing the Moraki Boulders, knowing that we would not get there in good light but hoping for the tide to be out.  The tide was indeed out but the boulders were covered with swarms of tourists.  It was hopeless!  As I stood waiting for the people on the rocks pictured below to finish with their selfies and wacky pictures, the next group approached.  I asked them to wait just a minute in order to get the picture below without people standing atop them.  You can find many beautiful pictures of the rocks on Google.  Regrettably, you will not see one here.  We had a coffee and lunch at the cafe there at the Moraki Boulders Visitors Center before continuing on our way.

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Moraki Boulders

Heading north from here our next stop was Oamaru, know for it’s steampunk festival.  We stopped briefly at “Steampunk HQ” for a look.  It was fun, the best part was “the portal”, a mirrored room, floor to ceiling, that goes dark and then flashes lights that change color.  It was a wondrous experience that gave us a bit of vertigo, but very fun!

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Traveling along Highway 83 toward Duntroon we noticed the landscape changing.  Suddenly there were the most beautiful sandstone hillsides on our left, the Waitaki River on our right.  We turned off of the Highway onto Livingstone-Duntroon road and very shortly arrived at our next stop.  There is a stairway up to a fenced off cave like cliff face.  Here there are centuries old Maori rock paintings.  Unfortunately there is also graffiti explaining the need for the fence.  Many fossils have been found in this region.

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A bit further down the road are the Elephant Rocks, located on a private farm.  They have kindly put a gate in so that people can wander through their pasture land to view these amazing rock formations that appear to go on for miles. This site was a filming location for the Chronicles of Narnia.  The pictures I took just don’t capture the wonder of this place.

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Still a long way to Tekapo we made our way back to Highway 83 and continued on our journey.  The sun started getting low in the sky making the landscape even more beautiful, illuminating it with that lovely warm light.  As we passed by Lake Benmore we had to stop to enjoy the beauty of the moment and get a few photos.  There is a bike and walking trail below where we stood with several people out enjoying the late afternoon beauty.

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We arrived at Lake Tekapo about dusk.  We contacted Chris Murphy, a friend of Lynnette’s family here in New Zealand, who was generous and kind to host two old gals for our time here.  Chris works at the Mt John Observatory.  We had an 8:00 pm tour scheduled and Chris went along with us as a special tour guide.

The Observatory is run by the University of Canterbury and is one of three in the world with “gold” status from the International Dark Sky Reserve. The little town of Tekapo has no white lights.  All of the outdoor lighting in the town is legislated to be amber which, similar to red, does not cause the same amount of light pollution. Also the lights have little “caps” on them to keep the light down on the ground where it’s needed. New Zealand’s largest telescopes are here and the view was awe inspiring.

The top three most awe inspiring sights tonight, in order of preference, were The Jewel Box (NCG 4755) AMAZING!, Saturn with it’s rings, and a star cluster that is almost as old as our universe (wow!!) The memory of this experience will stand out as one of my most cherished! It is humbling and thought provoking to be reminded of our insignificance in our ancient, vast, wondrous universe.

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