In the heart of New Zealand's South Island lies one of the country's best-kept secrets, Lake Tekapo. Located in the Mackenzie Basin at the base of the Southern Alps, Lake Tekapo boasts the breath-taking scenery of the lake and surrounding mountains that impresses even the most well-travelled tourist.
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The unique, turquoise coloured lake water of Tekapo is the result of ancient glacier ice crushing mountain rock on its journey from the slopes of the Southern Alps to the rivers of the massive valleys that deliver the melted ice to the lake. The crushed rock produces a fine, flour-like powder that remains suspended in the water and, when reflecting light, produces the pale blue colour for which Lake Tekapo is renowned. Lake Tekapo is fed by two major glacial run-offs and 6 rivers. The lake is 32 km long and 120 meters deep at its deepest part.
Tekapo experiences a very high number of sunshine hours compared with the rest of the country. The area has its own microclimate, being protected from the coastal weather by the Alps and the Two Thumb Range. This contributes to sun-drenched days and the best night sky viewing in New Zealand.
A New Zealand icon is situated on the lakeshore — The Church of the Good Shepherd. It is a tiny, unassuming church that possesses the most heavenly of views. Directly behind the altar is a large window that looks over the lake and mountains. The church is built of lakeside rock and its interior is in keeping with its simplicity. This church is a "must" to visit, giving tourists the opportunity to refresh their views on the meaning of life. Also next to the church is a bronze sculpture of a dog commemorating the working collie dogs that helped to settle the high country.
Maori were the first to discover the area; they visited to hunt moa, eel and birds. The first European to venture into the area was the legendary James Mackenzie. With the help of his remarkable sheep dog, and his knowledge of the secret pass Maori had shown him to gain access to the lake area, he became a very successful sheep stealer. He was jailed for the thieving and the region was named “The Mackenzie Country” in his honour. Interestingly, Mackenzie was pardoned 12 years into his jail sentence.
The building of a hydroelectric station at the southern end of the lake began in 1938 and was finished in 1951. A village was formed and today the Tekapo township is a thriving tourist centre, being situated approximately half-way between Christchurch and Queenstown. It is a natural stop off point for South Island travellers and is also close to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook.
The permanent population of the town is less than 400 people. In both winter and summer there is an excellent variety of activities for all to enjoy; Mt John Observatory and star watching guided tours, horse trekking, scenic flights, hunting, ice skating, skiing, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, 4-wheel drive safari, golf course, mini golf, tennis, shopping and bird watching.
In terms of accommodation there is something to suit every kind of traveller. You can find budget accommodation in the backpackers or YHA. There is a camping ground on the lakeshore, also cottages and apartments to rent, motels, hotels and a selection of bed and breakfasts.
See our links page for local websites.
Earth & Sky Ltd., P.O. Box 112, Lake Tekapo 7945, New Zealand.
Phone: +64 (0)3 6806960 Fax: +64 (0)3 6806950
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