South Island Lake Tekapo a Stunner


When you visit the South Island of New Zealand you find yourself saying “wow” a lot. It is hard after a while to be impressed. Places that would win most beautiful or special contests in other countries become average in New Zealand. So believe me when I tell you that you will find Lake Tekapo stunning.

As it says in the coffee table book in our hotel room:  “From the moment you cross Burkes Pass and first see the enormous, tussock-covered plain of the Mackenzie basin and encircling Southern Alps, you know you have arrived in a another world—a largely untouched world filled with wide open spaces, breathtaking scenery, and are so clear it feels, as Dame Ngaio Marsh once wrote, ‘unbreathed, newly poured out from the blue chalice of the sky.”

Pedestrian bridge links lake trail from village to Church of Good Shepherd; glacial “rock flour” turn the water vivid blue turquoise.

We landed in Christchurch around 8 a.m. and picked up our rental car. We drove south on Highway 1 then east on 79 for about 3 hours. Steadily the farmland and small towns grew in beauty and charm. Finally we pulled around a corner to be gobsmacked by Lake Tekapo and the snowy mountains that frame it.

We are still an hour from the tallest mountain in New Zealand–Mt Cook or Aoraki (the cloud piercer). We discussed driving to see it, but the weather has been rainy with low clouds and the odds are that it won’t be visible. Similarly we booked the 9:45 p.m. tour of Mount John Observatory but received a full refund from Earth and Sky tours when the cloud cover was 100%.

This statue by Innes Elliott honors all of the collies that assist shepherds–not just to James Mackenzie’s partner in sheep stealing crime: his dog Friday.

There is still so much beauty and interest.We walked to the Church of the Good Shepherd and the dog statue. This Mackenzie Country area is named for James Mackenzie, a sheep rustler with a strong constitution who also happens to be the first European to find his way to this special place. More sheep farmers flooded in from all over Scotland and England and carved out a life in this remote place. The population didn’t really reach any significance until the hydro-electric dams and facilities were constructed in the middle of last century. Now tourism rivals farming for economic eminence.

Church of Good Shepherd built by Presbyterians and Anglicans in mid 1930s. (photo: Rev. Sarah Clare)

We’ve enjoyed great coffee and toasted cheese sandwiches at Mackenzies, and a great lunch at the Tin Plate. Our hotel room at Lakeview Tekapo is super comfy with elegant and modern furnishings that all focus on the view of the lake and mountains. We are hoping for a clear night tonight because the area is protected from light pollution and the stars are rumored to be amazing. So glad this is where UK Sarah and I are spending the most time on our road trip.

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