We have been on the road now for three days and nights, freedom camping* on the South Island. After leaving Rotarua, we headed back to Auckland, before boarding a plane for Queenstown. After we picked up our camper van, we headed into Q-town for lunch and stopped at Devil Burger to try their version of a hamburger. Heading north to Lake Hawea, a sister lake to Lake Wanaka, we found a lakeside spot with decent toilets. The weather has been hotter than Carrie anticipated, but the van is till very comfortable at night with the cool lake breeze blowing away the sand flies and lulling us to sleep.
Every day in our Jucy camper has been an adventure, and we have worn our selves out hiking, chasing the amazing views and incredible wild lupin flowers. We mountain biked the Pukaiki Flats, hiked in a national park, and bathed in hot pools to soak sore muscles. Our second night we camped near Mt. Cook, the highest point in New Zealand and part of a national park that is home to most of the peaks in New Zealand higher than 2000 meters. Sir Edmund Hillary cut his teeth on this mountain before attempting Mount Everest. It is a place of great beauty and tragedy. Over 200 hikers have died trying to conquer the mountain, most because of the unstable glacial ice. We were content, however, to just hike the 3.5 mile Hooker trek to the glacial Hooker Lake, complete with floating mini ice bergs.
The most amazing night so far was our stargazing in Lake Tekapo, a dark sky reserve. After biking about 30km earlier in the day, we pulled into Lake Tekapo and loaded up on some supplies, and then went for a soak in the hot pools. We booked our midnight star tour, and headed out of town to find a freedom camping spot, eat dinner and watch the sun set on the mountains.. We found the most amazing site near MacGregor Lake. All of us decided to crash after dinner for an hour or so nap until 11:30 pm- mostly so I could stay awake during the stargazing.
On time at 11:30 we tried to pull out of our spot, and the camper got stuck in deep gravel- much worse than snow. We spent 20 frantic minutes, attempting to free our little home and make it to the tour by midnight. Carrie heroically dug out the wheels, John pushed and somehow we maneuvered the van out onto the road. We made it to the stargazing with moments to spare before the shuttle left- the craziness was well worth it. The Milky Way was breathtaking- most of the world’s population can no longer view the Milky Way due to light pollution. I could have stared at it all night. Orion was so brilliant, and the Southern Cross was easily spotted. The hour and a half tour seemed like 15 minutes.
We drove back to the same road we had parked on earlier but pulled off at a roadside spot that was much safer and did not have a gravel pit waiting to swallow our van. Before turning in at 3 am, we spent another 20 minutes enjoying the night sky. We decided not to set an alarm, and sleep in. The road was deserted and the night mostly silent as I fell asleep.
Unfortunately, at about 9 am we awoke to the sound of Chinese, opened the window shades and realized we had parked in a popular lupin wildflower tourist spot (that was amazing!) and were surrounded by tourist groups taking pictures. Nothing like waking up in a public space and realizing the world went ahead and woke up on time without you. That moment pretty much summed up the freedom camping experience- awesome!
* freedom camping- camping outside of designated campgrounds, on public/private property