After a couple of days in Queenstown, I decided to move on even though I would have loved to stay indefinitely. There’s just so much more of the country to explore! I looked up the list of recommendations my Kiwi friends gave me. On the South Island, there was the Franz Joseph Glacier on the west coast. The weather was bad that time of the year though, so that place would wait for another day. Kaikoura was also on the South Island, and i do plan on heading there but there are a lot of places in between that I could stop by first. I considered going to Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. It had been foggy there for the past couple of days though. Next on the list was Lake Tekapo, and it’s only a short distance from Mt. Cook. It looked like such a relaxing place. I could chill there for a couple of days and then head to Mt. Cook once the weather gets better. Now I had to plan my route.
As I’ve said in a previous entry, backpackers traveling in groups usually buy a old car. Some buy passes on the Kiwi Experience. I’ve been told that hitchhiking was also a popular and easy option, but i wasn’t ready to try that out yet. What’s left would be to take public buses. If you do an online search, two bus companies would come out: Intercity and Nakedbus. You may find other bus lines, but in reality they seem to be affiliates of these two big ones. When it comes to prices of bus tickets, some say Nakedbus is usually cheaper, but in my experience the prices are mostly the same. One advantage Intercity has over Nakedbus is that it has more bus routes. In a number of places, there’s no other option. You can only take an Intercity bus. In fact when you try buying a ticket online to certain Nakedbus routes, you’ll actually be redirected to an Intercity booking site. lol. Intercity has a near monopoly of public transport in New Zealand so you can’t expect low fares especially on routes with low demand. If you buy early enough though you can score tickets for only a buck on popular routes (like Rototua to Auckland). Both companies offer flexi-passes wherein a certain amount gives you a number of hours. This is a good option for backpackers and in my opinion, it’s a better deal than buying passes from the Kiwi Experience. You can go anywhere, just take note of the number of hours you’re consuming. It’s gets confusing though since sometimes you’d buy a ticket for an Intercity bus and then a Kiwi Experience bus arrives. It also happened with my friends who bought passes from the Kiwi Experience and they were told to board an Intercity bus. Makes me wonder if they are owned by a single company.
The bus ride from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo took about 4 hours. It’s a very small town so it would be really difficult to get lost. In fact, you can go anywhere in town just by walking. It was only a short walk to the hostel, and when I checked in i saw that most of the people staying there were older than me. I wasn’t really surprised. Tekapo isn’t a party place, so a lot of young backpackers skip it. There’s a hostel catered to young backpackers by the lake but even there, there’s no party atmosphere. The town exudes such a relaxing vibe, it’s the perfect place to relax for a few days. I though it was a welcome change. I needed a couple of days off from partying.
The view of the lake is really beautiful. I just sat by the lake shore for about an hour admiring the view. Besides the lake, there are a couple of other attractions in town. The most popular one is the Church of the Good Shepherd. it’s a small church by the lake. I was really surprised at how small it was. Then combine it with the hordes of tourists— it was absolute chaos. There were so many tour buses outside and the surrounding areas were packed with people. I only stayed for a few minutes and just made a mental note to return once all the tourists are gone. it’s supposed to be a solemn place, but the crowd simply ruins it. This is just my opinion, but i believe it shouldn’t be part of a tour package. For one thing, its size can’t accommodate the hordes of tourists. Also, I feel it’s a bit disrespectful to make this small church a tourist attraction. And to think I’m not even remotely religious. There was a couple getting married that time and i doubt if they felt it was such a good decision getting married there with all the tourists looking around. It’s a quaint place though, and with the lake directly in front of it the place would be picturesque if you take away all the tourists.
A better attraction for me is the Mount John University Observatory. You can either drive or hike up to reach it. If you choose to do a hike, the trail starts near the Tekapo Hot Springs (it’s NZD 25 for a day pass at the hot springs if you’re interested) and it’s gonna take about 2 hours to reach the top. And just like most of the hikes you can do in New Zealand, this one is free!
It’s quite an easy hike, though there are several areas with quite a steep incline. The terrain on the trail is varied. It starts on a forested area, which then gives way to a grassland area. From here the trail is mainly on a straight path and you have to climb several steps. If you get tired just stop for a minute and look back— the view of the Mackenzie Basin from this part of the trail is amazing. The terrain becomes rocky as you reach the summit. There’s a bench on top and a lot of people stay here for a while just admiring the views.
Once you get tired of the it, head to the observatory where you’ll see views that are just as amazing. There’s also a coffee shop by the observatory where you can grab some refreshments. Most people leave the area by sunset, but quite a few stay by the observatory at night for stargazing— another popular activity in Tekapo. I went down at sunset though and just chose to do some stargazing by the church along with my room mates. Maybe the view of the skies from the observatory is better, but what I saw from ground level was already spectacular. I have never seen a clearer night sky in my entire life. I wish i had a better camera so i could have taken some pictures. The spectacle I witnessed that night will forever be etched in my memory.
I never got to visit Mt. Cook. I waited a couple of days and even asked other travelers who have been there and they all said it’s not the right time to go since it’s all foggy. It’s fine if i just wanted to do some hikes, but I wouldn’t be able to see much of a view. I’ve been told the weather condition in Mt. Cook is unpredictable. It was sunny the whole time i was in Tekapo yet it was cloudy during that time in Mt. Cook. If you plan on heading there regardless of visibility, it’s easy to get there from Lake Tekapo thanks to the Intercity Buses. I just chose to head elsewhere since I was getting really bored in Tekapo. There’s really nothing much to do there once you’ve done all the hikes. I highly recommend spending a day or two since it’s such a beautiful place. It’s on the middle of a major bus route (Queenstown to Christchurch) so it’s quite convenient to check out the place first before heading elsewhere.