I’m a hopeless romantic, when it comes to people and places. I can fall in love with an idea or experience as much a person. The thought of working from my laptop in a cozy coffeeshop in Williamsburg is just as romantic a concept to me as a picnic with [Chris Evans and his six pack] a guy. So, when I discovered Tekapo Stargazing – a guided stargazing and hot spring tour overlooking the idyllic Lake Tekapo and surrounded by mountains – it was love-at-first-Google. Who wouldn’t want to float in a hot pool whilst gazing up at a star studded sky? Fools maybe, or you know…people who don’t like water or stars.
But I digress.
I booked it straight away
Lake Tekapo is best known for tourist draw-card Church of the Good Shepherd. Which is genuinely idyllic, if not put off by the masses (tourists I mean, not church services, though it does those too).
Gacial Lake Tekapo is nestled in the heart of the Southern Alps, between Mt John and Two Thumb Range. The township is the highest alpine village in New Zealand. More suited to a Jane Austen novel – all quaint English countryside with colourful wild lupins – than New Zealand. There are picture postcard scenes everywhere you look.
But what makes Lake Tekapo so great for stargazing is that its in the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. Go anywhere dark on a clear night - preferably among the lupins or overlooking the lake - and look up at the sky. You can’t miss them! There’s a mystical quality to the area in the still of the night.
Tour with Tekapo Stargazing
Tekapo Stargazing is the only company I’ve ever heard of that mixes stargazing with a float in a hot spring, and in the chill of the night (when I visited it was actually snowing!) there’s nothing better.
There’s three main parts to the tour;
1) Arrival and Introduction
2) Skydeck and/or VR Experience
3) Hot springs
Arrival and Introduction:
You can either drive or use the complimentary shuttle to get to Tekapo springs. I used the shuttle, and got picked up from their office in the main village. David Bowie’s Starman played softly in the van, from a perfectly curated playlist. They dimmed the headlights to keep light pollution down as we approached the springs.
On arrival we were given hot chocolate or tea, and the room was cleverly kitted out in red light to give us better night vision. Our awesome guide hooked us from the start with his impressive knack for the pure art of storytelling; weaving Maori legend with astronomy in a fascinating way.
Telescopes and/or VR Experience:
Our guide led us outside to the stardeck with a Maori Putatara – or conch shell trumpet – in hand. Here, four powerful (looking…I ain’t no scientist) telescopes were set up to get a closer look at the planets. He used a laser pointer to show us where everything was. Unfortunately due to the snow that day, we didn’t have the clearest night.
While bad weather can leave other stargazing tours cancelled, Tekapo Stargazing operates as an indoor/outdoor thing. If it’s not clear, they’ll take you back inside to do a quality Virtual Reality tour of the galaxy instead. The VR is out of this world, as close as most of us will ever come to being an astronaut. With a headset on and remote in hand, we were transported into space as our guide narrated with his phenomenal knowledge and gift for storytelling. It’s another reason that Tekapo Stargazing is a great choice if you only have a short time there.
After a day of playing in the snow (loads of fun) and getting my feet soaking wet, I was totally ready for the next part; a relaxing soak in toasty 38c hot pools.
We changed, then tip toed into the freezing night to retrieve a pool hammock. Entering the steamy, warm man-made springs, the guide announced that we’d come into some luck, the sky had cleared enough to see more detail. But there was some competition for my attention as I floated along; the stunning glossy lake in the night – black in the night – the glowing snowcapped mountains, or the twinkling sky. The sky won out.
We were immersed, gently drifting under a dazzling blanket of stars to soothing music.
Our Tekapo Stargazing guide recounted Maori tales of how Aoraki Mount Cook was formed. Of how New Zealand’s first people had used the stars to navigate their waka (Maori wooden canoe). We heard of demigods, and the creation of the earth. Between that and the view, I had stars in my eyes.
Before long, it was time to get out, and fight off literal-but-actually-metaphorical pneumonia (or, the cold) as we darted back into the change rooms.
At the end of tour, because we’d not had a clear night, they gave us another opportunity to look through the telescopes. Then we hopped back into the shuttle and were dropped off at our accomodation, ready to fall asleep with an almost celestial calm. The Tekapo Stargazing tour was completely surreal and one of my absolute favourite activities in New Zealand, be sure to check it out on your next visit to the South Island!
-Price: $99 NZD (Adult)
-Duration: 2 Hours
-Indoor/Outdoor tour: Operates regardless of weather or visibility
-What to bring: Warm clothes / Towel / Bathers
-Headlights: If you decide to drive to the springs, do try and dim or turn off your headlights (check the regulations with Tekapo Stargazing beforehand) so as to avoid light pollution.
-Don’t stare at your phone: Avoid contact with white light – like a smartphone or tablet – as much as possible before and during the tour to as to maximise your night vision.
-Cameras are allowed: But there’s not a lot of time, so have it prepped and ready to go with the right lens, so you just need to flick it on when you have an opportunity.