Take a little drive (three hours south-west of Christchurch) and you will find the gorgeous, Instagram-worthy lake known as Lake Tekapo. The tranquil fluorescent blue waters of the lake, along with the backdrop of the Southern Alps, is one of the many drawcards to this part of the South Island. Picturesque by day and dazzling by night, Lake Tekapo is part of a well-known UNESCO dark sky reserve, which means nothing more than if you are after some serious stargazing, you have come to the right place.
We had the pleasure of planning a last minute mini-vaycay to this glorious part of New Zealand for a weekend getaway. Lake Tekapo is renowned for being a stop-over location for those travelling down to Queenstown or up to Christchurch.
On first sight of the lake, it is easy to be enthralled and not see much else, but I assure you there are some landmark monuments and a functioning small town along with accommodation and even hot springs to bask and enjoy the surrounding landscape views.
The first landmark is a small church situated just a few meters away from the lake. Named the Church of the Good Shepherd, and built in 1935, was a place of worship for those living in the Mackenzie region. Since it's inception the church continues to host services throughout the year and lends a hand to one of the most popular tourist attractions of the area.
It was hard to really appreciate the church, when my partner and I arrived on a sunny Saturday morning, especially with over three buses full of international tourists (particularly Chinese) flashing away with their iPhones and Nikon cameras. If you can get past this obstruction and if you have the opportunity to stay at Lake Tekapo in the summer months, when the sun goes down later in the day (and the tourists have left) you can revel in the ambiance of the church and also head in and take a seat in one of the pews for a moment of prayer. The stained glass windows provide patrons with a phenomenal view of the Southern Alps just beyond the lake.
Much of the original elements of the church remain, along with the matagouri bushes and rocks that appear around the wall line of the church. The only variation to the original foundations of this monument was the replacement of the roof (from wooden shingles to slates) in 1957.
Church of the Good Shepherd (photo by Praneel Lal)
Another iconic monument at Lake Tekapo is the Sheepdog Statue, situated just down from the Church of the Good Shepherd along the waterfront. This statue was constructed by the people of Mackenzie as a tribute to the work of the collie dog in herding cattle in this part of New Zealand. The statue was unveiled to an audience in 1968, by then Governor General of New Zealand; Sir Arthur Espie Porritt. Still standing so many years later, the Sheepdog Statue has had its fair share of attention with many tourists photographing the bronze figure.
Tekapo Springs @ Lake Tekapo (photo by Praneel Lal)
Away from iconic monuments and churches is a place of relaxation known as Tekapo Springs. A short five-minute drive from the town centre, and just down near some lakeside accommodation, is the perfect place to unwind after your drive.
Tekapo Springs is a must for tourists. The location is not only home to three tier hot pools, but a day spa and ice skating rink (operational from April - September). The pool temperatures range from a 40 degree Celsius adult pool, down to a 36 degree Celsius public pool. the pools are comfortable with benched seating and stunning views of the mountainous range and forest backdrop. Each pool varies with some providing ailment relaxation water jets, whilst another has a fountain to sit under. The area is sheltered by Douglas fir trees that go for miles, and provide a walking track for those after a physical adventure. The pools are operational all year round, with the winter months sometimes donning snow, which acts as a unique backdrop to the hot pools experience.
Lastly (but definitely not least) is a natural wonder of the region known as the Southern Lights (similar to the Northern Lights but in the Southern hemisphere). Whether it is from Mount John's Observatory (which will cost you a pretty penny of $150 per person), or purely escaping from the luminous town centre and sitting on the bonnet of your car a five minute drive away (for free), you have the opportunity to witness nature's most spectacular natural light show. It has been said that the best time to experience nature's miracle is from April - September.