In the centre of New Zealand’s South Island lies one of the country’s best-kept secrets: Lake Tekapo.
Situated in the heart of the Mackenzie Basin at the base of the Southern Alps, the small township of Tekapo has less than 400 permanent residents and boasts the breathtaking scenery of the turquoise lake and surrounding mountains that impresses even the most well-travelled tourist.
The region has its own microclimate, being protected from the coastal weather by the Southern Alps to the west and the Two Thumb Range to the east, which is why Tekapo has a very high number of sunshine hours compared with the rest of the country and the best night sky viewing in New Zealand.
Two New Zealand icons are situated on the lakeshore: a unique church and a distinctive statue.
The tiny, unassuming Church of the Good Shepherd possesses the most heavenly of views as the large altar window looks out over the lake and mountains. Built of local rock, the church’s interior is in keeping with its simplicity. Next to the church is a bronze sculpture of a collie commemorating the working dogs that helped settle the high country.
Lake Tekapo is fed by two major glacial run-offs and six rivers, is 32 km long and reaches depths of 120 metres. The lake’s stunning turquoise colour is the result of fine, flour-like glacially crushed rock that remains suspended in the water.
Maori were the first to discover the area and they visited to hunt moa, eel and birds. The first European to venture into the area was the legendary James Mackenzie who became a very successful sheep stealer with the help of his remarkable sheep dog and a knowledge of the secret pass Maori had shown him to gain access to the lake area. Mackenzie was jailed for his thieving (though he was pardoned 12 years into his jail sentence) and the region was eventually named in his honour.