In case you missed it, we went whale watching in part one!
Kaikoura is situated on a peninsula so it is naturally an excellent place for looking at the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky. We booked a tour with Kaikoura Night Sky and headed out at 9.45pm one evening to join a group of eight others. We’d already caught a glimpse of the incredible sky the night before as we sat outside enjoying a barbecue with others at our hostel. But we were keen for an explanation of what we were seeing and the opportunity to look through a telescope.
Our guide, Hussein, drove us a bit out of town to a farm where he had set up a powerful telescope and some chairs. The first constellation we looked at was the Southern Cross, which is prominently featured on the New Zealand flag. He used a laser beam to show us the star pointers and taught us how to find this constellation, which is helpful for figuring out the direction. In the Northern Hemisphere one can use the North Star, which isn’t visible from the Southern Hemisphere. It was a clear night and we could see the Milky Way, though it might have been more spectacular with less light from the moon. We also learned about some of the ways Maori view the night sky and the relationship they have with it.
We then moved on to the other side of the sky and looked at Orion and the Pleiades. Using binoculars, we looked at the belt and could see even more stars than you can with the naked eye. Star gazing always makes me feel terribly small. While I know that I’m quite small and insignificant in the realm of the universe, nothing reminds me of it quite like star gazing. Every star you see is a sun, just like ours, which means that there is the potential for each one of those stars to have planets revolving around it. Ask me if I believe that there is other life out there besides us and I will reply with a resounding, “Absolutely!” I just think that the distances are too far for us to ever meet.
Hussein then pointed out a few of the astrological star sign constellations that we are able to see at this time of the year (you can never see all 12 in one place at the same time). We looked at a few other constellations before the telescope was turned upon the moon. Of course, I was unable to take pictures of any of the stars, but Hussein was kind enough to take photos of the moon through the telescope for everyone who brought their cameras. Just before we concluded for the evening we saw something that everyone was most excited about: Saturn through the telescope! It almost looked like a little sticker pasted on the starry background. It was just surreal to see it so perfectly, with the rings and everything, just like a photo in a textbook. I will not soon forget seeing what has always been my favourite planet!
The next evening John and I went for dinner to try the local delicacy: crayfish! Coming from North America, I’ve always known these as “lobsters,” though they aren’t technically the same thing down here in New Zealand and Australia. Kaikoura is actually named for crayfish so we had to try some while we were here. In general, we’ve been very impressed with the fish and seafood in New Zealand as one would expect being an island nation. But seafood is very dear and on our backpacker budget we can only indulge in it on special occasions this year. We thought the best value would be a seafood platter, which was served with calamari, mussels, garlic prawns, scallops, fish and a whole crayfish. After all, crayfish tails aren’t always as large as lobster tails and we didn’t want to pay a lot of money and still be hungry! The crayfish meat did not disappoint - it was sweet, rich and succulent: the perfect ending to a perfect three days in Kaikoura.
Do you enjoy star gazing? What are your favourite sights in the night sky?