Lake Tekapo | New Zealand
There’s so much more to Tekapo than its spectacular lake and little stone church.
Tekapo, (Takapō in Māori language), sits at a lofty 720 metres above sea level. The lake level varies according to snowmelt, weather conditions and controlled ‘spillage’ feeding the hydroelectric power stations along the Waitaki River.
Supplied primarily by the Godley River and relatively small Godley Glacier, the striking colour of Lake Tekapo is the result of pressure, freezing temperatures and a thaw out period. As mountainous glaciers are compacted and contributed to by heavy snow, gravity draws the ice downwards and it breaks off. Grinding its way to a lower altitude, ‘glacial flour’ is produced and remains suspended in the water resulting in a brilliant blue.
James Mackenzie was a legendary sheep rustler who, along with his trusty sheepdog Friday, drove livestock into the Tekapo basin to evade the law. In March 1855, he was caught red-handed with more than 1000 sheep and was charged. Denying the allegation, he managed to escape and trekked more than 150 kilometres on foot to Lyttleton where he was eventually recaptured. Mackenzie continued to vehemently refute the rustling charges and was eventually pardoned when a new magistrate reinvestigated his case. Subsequently, Tekapo and the surrounding high country became known as ‘Mackenzie Country’. Standing proudly aside The Church of The Good Shepherd is a sheepdog statue commemorating the importance of working dogs in the high country, particularly Mackenzie’s dog, Friday. If you stop off in Fairlie, you’ll also find a sculpture of James Mackenzie in the main street.
The Little Stone Church
The Church of The Good Shepherd was opened in 1935 as an Anglican Parish and is now an interdenominational place of worship. Swarmed by millions of tourists annually, this hallowed place has now been fenced off to encourage respect and enable a better visitor experience. Touted as the most photographed church in New Zealand, its enchanting structure remains to be a fully operational parish. Built to the Glory of God and as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country, the magnificent backdrop of snow capped peaks and turquoise water make it a sought after photo op for travellers and a dreamy wedding venue.
Imagine vistas of snow-capped peaks behind the icy blue lake while soaking away a day of adventure in some of the purest alpine water on the planet. You can at Tekapo Springs. The pools are shaped and aptly named after Mackenzie Country lakes - Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo. You can choose from a range of spa experiences including a full pamper session or soak at your leisure. A perfect winter warmer, the springs also offer variable temperatures so you can cool off in the height of summer too.
With minimal light pollution, Tekapo is home to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Renowned as one of the best stargazing sites on earth, the night sky sparkles in spectacular clarity. You can take a tour to vantage points for stargazing including astrophotography trips where you can learn to snap infinity and beyond!
Dust off your rods and reels and hit the high country lakes and canals. Abundant in both Rainbow & Brown trout, it is also highly likely that you’ll bag a salmon fishing the local canals. Lake Pukaki & Ohau are also prolific fishing lakes and further downstream, the Waitaki River. The Waitaki has a very swift flow and can be difficult to fish, however, there have been some hefty fish bagged here. You can learn more about fishing the Waitaki River from the regional experts at Fish & Game.
Lake Tekapo offers picture-perfect scenic walks and cycle trails. The world-famous Alps to Ocean trail passes right through Tekapo and segments can be walked or cycled as a day trip. If you’re short on time a scenic flight will fill you with awe, taking in magical landscapes from a birds-eye view. Walking in the high country offers a true taste of wilderness while remaining close to amenities. Experienced kayakers will enjoy paddling the high country lakes, however, entering our alpine lakes in winter can be dangerous and life-threatening should you fall overboard. The water temperature doesn’t change much between seasons, varying between 10 – 12 degrees respectively. Hiking, horse trekking, cycling & golf are safer options in the cooler months.
If you’re based in Tekapo and looking for a wondrous day walk, head for Tasman Glacier & Blue Lakes Walk in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Taking approximately 1 hour return, (allocate more time for photo op’s), you’ll view Tasman Glacier and its terminal lake while marvelling at icebergs and the mountainous surrounds. The walk has a gentle gradient and is relatively easy.
In November each year Mackenzie Country becomes a colourful spectacle with the bloom of thousands of lupins. Though incredibly beautiful, lupin are an environmental threat to our native birds. Nonetheless, photographers from all over the world congregate to get their perfect shots. The best time to see lupin in full bloom is December.
Mackenzie Country offers a wide range of accommodation options from affluent high country lodges to basic backpacker hostels. It is a truly special and beautiful place to base yourself and explore locations such as Lake Pukaki, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Lake Ohau and the sapphire hydro canals. In summer, the hills are dry, arid and barron. During winter, Mackenzie Country offers utterly incredible snowy scenery accentuating the perfect blue of the lakes.
Stay a while and soak up the striking vistas, local stories, warm hospitality and star spangled skies. When you leave you’ll long to return and even if you never do, the beauty of Mackenzie Country will live on in your memory as the perfect postcard it truly is.
Lupin image courtesy of Peggy ClintonBack to Blog