Hola Amigos! It’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been pretty busy with your pal Sol.
I expanded my free time about a month ago by working part-time – so only Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for me. After putzing around in my new found time trail running, freediving, and online courses for about a month, my travel plans hatched. First on the docket is a tiki-tour of the South Island. I got a hookup with the director of the observatory at Lake Tekapo (run by the University of Canterburry) to do an oversight observation session with resident astronomers on the MOA telescope. Possibly the coolest science instrument in New Zealand, I planned my 3.5 day trip around it. The telescope stares at the milky way and detects differences in brightness over the course of hours to days caused by gravitational microlensing (read up on wikipedia if you’re curious). TL;DR: fog was so thick I could barely find my way to the telescope building, much less see anything. You don’t win them all.
On the otherwise non-eventful plane ride from Auckland to Christchurch, I decide to get my hair cut. It’s been growing for the better part of 16 months and was getting pretty ratty, so time for a change. Out of the plane, into the rental car, out to a cafe for brunch. By pure coincidence, I discovered a barber shop across the street while munching on my bagel sandwich. Snip, snip, and I’m headed out West via Arthur’s Pass.
Driving on the straight and flat Canterbury roads up to the mountains allows the mind to run wild. I quickly accrete stereotypes: The South Island is white, rural, and cold. In fact, I think I only saw a single Maori in my whole trip. I make a few stops and end up at Arthur’s Pass around 4pm. I stood reading a note on the only hostel in town (note: the hotel closed and the other hostel burned down) when I turned around and saw a bike tourer approaching. We hit it off, he’s Canadian and traveling for a few weeks inbetween jobs at a ski resort. I go off for a short hike in the wet thick bush and when I return, three young women are now in the dorm. One is an American from Montana on her first overseas trip and two Germans. They are all live-in-nannying for rich parents in Christchurch for gap year. I think this is a bit odd for reasons I can’t reproduce now, but I suppose it’s a win-win. The hostel (YHA) is by far the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Nice beds, clean bathrooms and an immaculate kitchen.
Summer homes (“batches” in Kiwi) in Arthur’s Pass have a distinctive pastel-metal-cladding style. They seem to be kept in good condition and despite being utilitarian, look better than many Auckland homes (there’s no accounting for bad taste).
I wake up fairly early, microwave a meat pie I saved from the other night for breakfast, and started the drive to Mt. Cook, having to backtrack slightly. The weather starts to clear and the sun pokes out around Lake Tekapo. The raw beauty of the South Island is unmatched so far. The water even looks turquoise through my color slanted vision.
But no time to waste! I still have some hiking at Mt. Cook planned for this day. Managing to avoid swerving into the opposing lane of mostly campervan while admiring the scenery, I roll into Mt. Cook Village. This is definitely a tourist area – two very nice restaurants (but that’s it!), a nice resort, a hostel, many motels, and open campground. Accommodation for all! This peak peaked my interest and due to it’s prominence I initially thought it was Mt. Cook (false! but I haven’t found the proper name yet). It looks computer generated.
The trail to Mt. Cook was fun, with three bouncy suspension bridges.
At the hostel, I meet a Portuguese IT professional who worked in Wellington but recently quit to travel in the South Island. He was very interested in Space, and a few hours after sunset I wrangled in a polish woman and french man to go out and shoot the milky way. The South Island is the land of the DSLR’s, but it’s surprising how little some people know about taking a photo with one. Maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised. Unfortunately, the shots didn’t turn out well because of the lights from the resort (lame!) and a dust that kicked up shortly after we set up our shot. The next morning, the Portuguese IT guy, a German woman, and myself did a quick trip out to Blue Lake and the Tasman Glacier. The glacial lake is beautiful and deep turquoise. The glacier is receding at over 0.5 km per year (!), though it’s not clear to me if this is natural in the lifecycle of a glacier.
I pack up, say goodbye, and start the drive back to Tekapo to the observatory. This section is very uninteresting and I only got one photo of the whole thing: