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Lake Tekapo Area Guide

Church of the Good Shepherd - © Edwin Hayward
The beautiful turquoise Lake Tekapo lies in the magnificent high altitude inland basin of the Mackenzie Country, an expanse of tussock grassland surrounded by mountains, the snow-capped Southern Alps to the west and the Two Thumb Range to the east.

Three hours drive south west of Christchurch, the village of Tekapo, at the southern edge of the lake, has only 300 or so permanent residents but many visitors use the town as a base for ski-ing in the winter, or for exploring nearby Mount Cook. The unique high country terrain is beautiful at any time of the year, and it's a treat to visit the webcam and watch as the area is transformed through the seasons, its brown and gold summer tones giving way to winter white.

Tekapo derives its name from the Maori words, taka (sleeping mat) and po (night), and the area has some of the clearest night skies in the southern hemisphere, making it a great place for amateur and professional stargazing (the University of Canterbury has its observatory on the summit of Mount John overlooking Tekapo).

The lake itself has a beautiful turquoise opaqueness, caused by fine particles of rock suspended in the water. On the edge of the lake, by the mouth of the Tekapo River, lies the Church of the Good Shepherd, built of lakeside rock in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country. A square window behind the altar gives a perfect view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Just to the east of the church is the Collie Dog Monument, commissioned in 1968 by local sheep farmers as a mark of respect for the hardy sheepdogs that help them work their huge merino sheep farms.

For mountain-high views of the Mackenzie Basin, Lake Tekapo and the Southern Alps, take the three-hour return hike through larch forest to the lookout at the summit of Mount John above the lake. Or take a scenic helicopter or fixed wing aircraft flight from Tekapo up to the snowy peaks and glaciers of the Southern Alps.

In summer, explore the countryside with a horse trek through the tussock grassland, try trout or salmon fishing in the rivers and canals, or go mountain biking. In winter, use Lake Tekapo as a base for ski-ing at the nearby Mount Dobson, Roundhill or Ohau ski areas, or go skating at the open-air ice skating rink at the base of Mount John.


Air Safaris

Grand Traverse flight that overflies the Mackenzie Basin, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and around Mt Cook. Charter flights can be arranged.