Our journey from Havelock to Lake Tekapo was doused with rain. We were one of the last vehicles through Arthur’s Pass before it was closed due to dangerous weather. The world famous views of the cavernous gorge were inhibited by the horizontal rain and the journey quickly became one of the most stressful of the entire trip. So keen were we to cross the pass before we missed our chance that we decided not to stop for fuel. We just barely limped into the petrol station in Springfield. Yes, it turns out that the station in Arthur’s Pass village really is the last chance. Those little town names on Google Maps? They’re not towns.
Looking back, it is kind of funny. For years to come, we’ll have the memories of the waterfalls pumping over the road as we stressed our way back to civilisation. We didn’t take photos, we put the Go Pro away, and our number one priority became reaching Lake Tekapo before sunset.
When we finally drove over the rise after nine hours of driving and caught our first glimpse of those gorgeous turquoise waters, I remember both of us turning gleeful. It looked like a photograph. No, better than a photograph. Finally, some of those awesome landscapes we’d heard about! And not a speck of rain, either!
Welcome to Lake Tekapo
The town of Lake Tekapo grew up out of the hydroelectric scene. It has a few small shops and appears to be getting a new Four Square very soon (the iconic Kiwi equivalent to the village shop). Although the permanent population is only a few hundred people, the attention from tourists like us has led to incremental increases in infrastructure. We took advantage of exactly none of them as we arrived fully stocked for our two-night stay.
Our accommodation: a cabin at Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park.* Situated at the back of the site on a ridge, the cabin offered superb views over the lake for a perfectly acceptable. Inside were two bunks and a double bed – far too many beds for just the two of us, but they functioned as quite nice sofas. After compiling our experimental curry together in the shared cookhouse, we took it back to the cabin where we sat on the porch watching night fall over the lake.
The next morning I was itching to get out of bed at first light. I pulled on my thermal leggings and legged it out the door, high jumping several ducklings, down to the lake front where an ethereal light was penetrating the mist over the mountains. There was a big day ahead and ever second was to be savoured. No sunrises to be missed! Already, the conclusion was that…
One full day is not enough here!
Where do you start in a new place if not with the map? They’re an amazing source of information – and not just for the location of things. According to the town map we were given after checking in, the impressive aqua hues of Lake Tekapo are caused by glacial flour. Rock particles as fine as flour – hence the name – are gouged out of the Southern Alps by glaciers. As the glaciers melt, the water travels along the Godley, Cass and Macaulay rivers to lake. Once the flour reaches the lake it remains suspended in the water causing the beautiful colour.
Hiking Mount John
After driving the length of the lake on both sides to observe the general blueness of the lake, we returned to camp. The afternoon forecast was due to be patchy so there was only one thing to be done: try and make the most of it. The plan: hike to the top of Mount John.
We followed the Mount John Summit Circuit which follows the western shore of the lake, climbs the north face off the mountain to the Mount John Observatory where the views of the lake and countryside are unparalleled. As we walked the rain began cutting across the lake like a grey veil, but it did not last long. Just as the lake walk end and we began to climb upward, the skies cleared and the sun came out; the water reacting immediately, becoming almost flourescent. We stopped to marvel.
Once you reach the top there are plenty of lovely photo points. A lot of time was spent on the rocky outcrops to the south where someone has dragged up a park bench. With the right angle, it can look like you’re sitting on top of the world.
From the observatory, the trail descends back to the start by a lovely, zig-zagging, forest path. The estimated completion time of 3 hours was spot on to return us to camp in time for dinner. Yes, we move meal time to meal time.
The Church of the Good Shepherd
Lake Tekapo is home to one of those great New Zealand icons I have always wanted to see in person: the Church of the Good Shepherd. A beautiful little church that has stood on the lake shore since 1935. We woke up on our second morning in Lake Tekapo with another day of driving before us, but I could not leave without paying a visit to this gorgeous, interdenominational icon.
My first instinct was, “This is just like that time we went to Pisa and the Leaning Tower was so small.” The Church of the Good Shepherd is chapel-esque in stature. As soon as anyone else arrived, it was a crowd. It was humorous to watch people try desperately to not get in each other’s shots, it restored my faith in humanity a little… until everyone threw in the towel and it became a photography free-for-all.
We particularly enjoyed the moment when a large contingent of Chinese wedding photographers arrived, drone in hand, to take otherworldly photos of a woman in a flowing gown. I mentioned to Tiernan that this was ‘a thing’ and we would spend the rest of the trip pointing out Chinese weddings to each other. As for the other photo seekers, well they were out of luck for a good 45 minutes.
Tip// If you’re looking for morning shots of the church, give the sun a chance to break over the mountains. This means you don’t necessarily need to be there at the crack of dawn (yay). Alternatively, try an afternoon shoot instead when the light is in the best position to highlight the brilliant stonework.
Next Time We Want To…
With only three weeks to cover the entire country, it was inevitable we would not do every single thing that crossed our path. I have already started a list of the things I want to do next time we have to make a trip to New Zealand (we’re some of the lucky ones who get to do that sort of thing).
- Go stargazing: Lake Tekapo is part of an International Dark Sky Reserve. The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve was established in 2012 and protects over 4,300 sq. km. by monitoring light pollution levels. Stargazing here is exceptionally amazing. I would love to do a night time, guided photo shoot of the stars. I am unable to describe just how massive the Milky Way looks from here.
- Take time out with a spa treatment: I am a sucker for a spa, so Tekapo Springs will be on the list, too.
- Lovely lupins: We would love to visit in November when the lupins are blooming. That would make for fantastic photos.
Have you visited Lake Tekapo before? Is it on your bucket list? Tell us about it below.
Last updated: 14 June 2017 – We travelled in January 2017. *There are affiliate links to Booking.com contained in this post. If you chose to book accommodation using one of our links, thank you, we really appreciate your support!