Having arrived at Christchurch airport, delayed by 3o minutes we were worried about getting hold of our campervan (it was really a camper car: an old Toyota Estima with its backseats ripped out and replaced by a camp stove, an ice-box and some foam cushions on ply). It had been interesting to find out that you can online-book your ‘Lucky’ camper for 17:30 only to find that the depot closes at 16:30! After a little stress and some cross words with the head office, the branch thankfully agreed to stay open.
When we arrived at Lucky, they didn’t seem to mind the lateness, in fact, their payment processing suggested they had nowhere better to be. We did! Finally getting the keys to our home for the next 20 days, we rushed out of Canterbury’s flat plains and squeaked and squealed our way around Burkes Pass on 8 just in time to watch, on every turn, the lovely sunset over Mt Dobson. Arriving after dark at Lake Tekapo, we crashed (not the camper because despite its protestations it would turn out to be ultra reliable), in a car park (breaking the freedom camping rules; nb these are different for every town so drop into an i-site or read the town’s information board).
Thankfully this meant we were up early to discover this cloudy neon blue lake set amongst its Lupins and snowy mountains before the tourist buses descended. We did have to share the car park with some very friendly ducks, a feature of our campervaning experience, and finding out that the gas canister which we had been left with was completely empty stopped to pick-up another one so we could brew a flask. Driving around, we found just the spot to heat the water and contemplate how crazy lucky we are. So it was no surprise when we took the best decision of our amazing first day of campervanning: let the great café at the top of Mount John take care of making lunch. Our gastrovanning of Hokkaido had been very instructive!
We could have spent the whole day in this Astro café perched in the clouds and Canterbury University’s telescopes that at night make full use of the area’s dark sky reserve status. As it was we did stretch out our time there for a very long lunch of perfect smoked salmon bagels and great coffees. They offer guided stargazing with hot chocolate once from 9pm but our forecast was cloudy so we made do with the stunning day time views as we did the short walk around the top of the mountain (hill?). We were especially fortunate because the broom was flowering in the river valley on the far side of the lake, the result of which was an incredible river of gold (see the photo!).
We had to see this in person. We had the whole valley of gold to ourselves with Lake Tekapo in the background and I imagine this is why 2.8 million people a year come to New Zealand. I also wondered why they weren’t here, but I guess in this amazing country you can spread people pretty thin across its amazing landscape (and they’re all at the LOTR sites or on a tour bus).
So we went from deserted riverbed to the equally deserted Tekapo hydro-canal to enjoy our flask coffee, drinking the day in. We returned to the morning’s cooking spot to make some cheese sandwiches and pumpkin soup (to warm us up, it was a little chilly). We camped at the near deserted DOC campground at Lake Mcgregor, enjoyed another broody sunset and slept like babies.