One thousand pounds of Sea Lion traveling at 20kph toward us would not be my idea of a good time. They fought with each other as a game just ten meters away from us as we watched. There was nothing between us and them but open beach.
Then we watched a couple of Yellow-eyed Penguins waddle out of the water and up to the bush to climb up a hill for the night. Later we climbed over to watch about a hundred Fur Seal Pups playing with one another, squawking and moving about just like a bunch of puppies, having mock battles with one another. Earlier we had seen huge Albatrosses riding the currents just over our heads. The entire excursion took about six hours, ending in a spectacularly colorful sunset. Those who took us on the tour are trying to reestablish the Penguins and Sea Lions that are critically endangered there. There are few Albatross, but the Fur Seals are making a comeback.
Today’s was an indescribably beautiful drive along the ocean, then inland to Lake Tekapo, next to Mt. Cook. I just sat in a Japanese restaurant for about an hour and a half with a wall of windows providing just about the most beautiful scene I have enjoyed, a small stone church on the edge of the lake, backed by mountains cradling a huge, thick cloud in between them.
The meal cost about a third of what it would have cost in the US, Miso soup, a good white wine, Teriyaki Salmon cooked perfectly (Wasabi as a condiment), a dessert that I had to photograph, a net made of carmelized sugar over cotton candy, crispy bananas in carmel sauce, three small scoops of homemade ice cream (each a different flavor), a small dish of raspberry sauce, a slice of pineapple and a wedge of an orange, plus a small, but very tasty cookie. The portions were small enough that my taste buds remained very receptive throughout the meal, which, by the way, concluded with some very flavorful green tea.
Tonight I chose to try a Bed and Breakfast. Last night I was a bit of an Alien among 40 twenty-year-old backpackers. I thought I would try a B&B for the first time on this trip. Wow! The cost is not much more than last night’s Backpack Stay room. The home is elegant. Peter and Jenny are a few years older than I. They are gracious and welcoming. The room has a king-sized bed, private bath, decorated for a magazine layout. There will be a breakfast in the morning that comes with the room.
I just came back from an experience I had not anticipated. I described the star-filled sky that we saw on the last night of the Kepler Trek. Tonight I joined a group that spent over two hours of the night on top of a 1000 meter mountain, looking through the telescopes of the St. John Observatory just outside Tekapo. The small town of Tekapo uses only a certain kind of lighting so that the light polution does not interfere with the Observatory. There were three or four of the researchers there to tell us what we were seeing. They used lasers that could point out things in the sky above us. Then they took us to a series of telescopes, three set up outside and two in domes.
We saw things that could only be imagined otherwise. The climax was a look at Saturn that made the rings perfectly visible, even the shadow of the rings on the planet. One of the astronomers said that in the 18 months he had been there, tonight provided the clearest atmosphere and best view of the sky he had ever experienced. All I can say is that I feel profoundly privileged have been there on this night.
My perception of the power and magnitude of the Someone who gives us each moment of life has been expanded again. The plan for tomorrow includes a flight in a small plane over Mt. Cook and some of the places in which I trekked just days ago.
The adventure continues.