Arrived in Lake Tekapo last night in time to catch the sun going down behind the mountains while soaking and swimming in open air hot pools at the local spa.
In the morning we went to a (fairly dull) local fair that reminded us of quaint Midsomer Murders-type countryside, complete with cheese scone competitions, terrible hot beverages, souvenir tack, and overpriced local crafts (minus the murders, we think). The lack of delectable foodstuffs got us wondering.
With some exceptions (a glorious meal with green-lipped mussels, charcoal grilled snapper and kumara mash in Russell; a great organic beef fillet, and the crayfish in Kaikoura; home-cooked meals by our amazing friends), food has been a bit of a disappointment here. The local ingredients tend to be fantastic, but somehow the food culture is not very refined or satisfying. Having said that, I had the best sushi of my life, and some mouthwatering Japanese-style dredge oysters from Bluff, in a sake bar in Epsom, Auckland just over a week ago - never mind the sake hangover that followed it. However, the national New Zealander dish appears to be fish and chips, and we had no intention to leave one nation that thinks that battering and deep frying fish is the natural way to respect the deliciousness of the sea (sorry, Great Britain, but really) to find another that practices the same religion. New Zealand: down with the Commonwealth of beer-batter! Undo the chains of culinary colonisation and embrace the wholesome ways of grilling!
This tirade on kiwi cuisine was the product of a nice trek to the top of Mount John (1029mt), where Astro cafe sits on top of the world, towering over the lake, and facing directly towards the summit of Mount Cook (3754mt). There we happily consumed soup and muffins, and entertained conversations with some exhausted German, Taiwanese and American trampers. Mt John is a UNESCO-protected starlight reserve, and the location of an astronomical observatory that belongs to the University of Canterbury’s department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and that doubles up as a night-time attraction. Great work is done here to protect the area from light and air pollution, while at the same time promoting knowledge and observation of the skies.
We walked back down and along the glacial lake and skimmed stones on its clear surface. The colour is jaw-drop beautiful, an intense turquoise with sensational transparency. In this part of the world the sky and waters are so incredibly alike and influenced by each other’s presence that you would be forgiven for thinking that the mountains are set in place to prevent them from merging.
At night you can see not only stars, planets and satellites, but whole clusters, galaxies, universes. Looking at unfamiliar constellations last night sent me into dreams worthy of Philip Pullman’s imagination - entire worlds placed alongside each other with thin, permeable borders. But once awake you realise that these lands are spaces for superhuman silence, wind, darkness: in all this sublime, vast nature, one feels small, noisy, clumsy, like a restless, messy guest.
We’re resting tonight (hence the time to write such a long post) in preparation for driving the long way to Manapouri tomorrow, where for the final leg of our stay in New Zealand beings. Looking forward to the magic of Fiordland - we’re pining for the fjords, so to speak.