Stargazing at Lake Tekapo – A weekend away with my camera

Last weekend was the first weekend of clear calm skies in quite some time. My boyfriend decided to take me away to a place that  we had both driven past hundreds of times on our way North, and never taken the time to visit. Mt John Observatory is one of the worlds best places to star gaze. NZ’s largest telescope, and a number of astronomical studies happen here, looking out over the aquamarine Lake Tekapo. There is very little light pollution, and NZ has incredibly clear, unpolluted skies making it perfect for checking out the unknown universe. We had chosen a cracker of a night, with no moon, and the day after a strong Southerly wind (which clears out the atmosphere apparently!), the skies were unbelievable. We departed at 9.30pm on a tour with Earth and Sky up to the Observatory.

Lake Tekapo under the Milky Way, taken with Canon 5d Mk II, 14mm 2.8, ISO 800, f2.8 for 30 seconds

I LOVE taking photos of the stars, and as soon as I could I set up to take this quick shot. 30seconds wasn’t quite enough time to capture the full extent of the sky, but this shot isn’t too bad. Shortly after taking this shot I met with Earth and Sky’s astro-photographer. He told me about the special high tech tracking mount that they use up there for taking shots of the stars. This large tripod has a machine that makes it track, so very slowly to keep up with the earths movements. If you take a long exposure of the stars, (longer than about 45 seconds) the stars start to leave trails in the sky. This is the earth moving, and how I get those photos of the star trails. It is hard to get a crisp shot of the stars, each one sharp and bright with a short shutter speed. With this machine, the camera will track with the stars, allowing you to shoot long exposures, allowing your camera to gather heaps of light leaving each star sharp.

The Milky Way with a slight Aurora. Taken with Canon 5d Mk II, 14mm 2.8, ISO 800, f4 for 5 mins

This was my first shot using the tracking mount. I was thrilled to see the red glow that you couldn’t see with the naked eye. It was a slight Aurora… I have been desperate to see and photograph the Aurora for a long time. I was so excited to be able to use this machine, but I didn’t have very long to experiment and play as our tour was leaving. The only trouble with this tracking mount is that you cannot combine shots of the sky with earth in it, as if you are following the stars, the earth will become blurry in the shot. I tried another 5 min exposure with the earth in it, trying to get more of the Aurora.

Looking South, the red glow is the Aurora. As you can see the earth silhouette is not sharp. But the stars are! The white ‘clouds’ are in fact star clusters…

The next day we took our time on the drive back to Wanaka and did a wee tiki tour past Mt Cook, Lake Ohau and the Clay Cliffs. It was such a stunning day, and it was so great to take time on this drive, to stop and take photos, and explore.

Aoraki – Mt Cook in all her glory… I will never tire of taking photos of this beauty

Mt Cook in the far distance taken from the canal roads, glassy and still

The road to Lake Ohau

Having been to Ohau many times in the winter to ski, it was wicked to drop in to the lodge in the autumn and hang out at the glassy lake. Ohau is a favorite spot of mine. The skiing, the lodge and the lake make it an awesome place to hang out.

Lake Ohau

The Clay Cliffs at Omarama – driven past SO many times and never stopped to check them out. Very cool….

Back at my boyfriends farm, the sun was setting and the light was amazing. I took some last shots of the day…

This was taken with my Leica D-Lux 5

Last shot of the day of Merino Sheep…