TEKAPO (MAORI: TAKA-PO): ABOUT & HISTORY
Picturesque by day and dazzling by night, Lake Tekapo is nestled in the heart of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making Lake Tekapo one of the best destinations in New Zealand to see the night sky.Located just three hours from Christchurch in the Mackenzie Basin, Lake Tekapo is a spectacular destination for travellers chasing stunning scenery.
The first humans in the region were the Maori, who called the area ‘Takapo’, meaning "To leave in haste at night". They used the region to hunt the giant Moa as well as eels.
In 1855, James McKenzie, a Scottish sheep stealer on the run from the law was the first European in the region. With him was a herd of stolen sheep and his famous dog, Friday. Friday has a unique story. After McKenzie’s capture, the pup continued to elude the authorities herding the stolen sheep further into the wilderness. Friday, and other sheep dogs like him, have been immortalized with a bronze statue down on the shores of Lake Tekapo.
TEKAPO ACTIVITIES: THINGS TO DO IN TEKAPO
Your first port-of-call when you arrive at Lake Tekapo is to head down to one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand – The Church of the Good Shepherd. Built in 1935 as a memorial to the early pioneers of Mackenzie Country, this tiny chapel was built using only locally gathered stones and building materials. The church is multi-denominational and the perfect place to snap one of the most spectacular pictures of your trip.
If photography is right up your alley, then all shutterbugs need to check out Air Safaris scenic flights. Their 50 minute Grand Traverse scenic flights transport you over two World Heritage Listed National Parks, including the spectacular Aoraki Mount Cook National Park with its permanently snow-capped mountain ranges.All the seats in the plane are positioned beneath the wings to allow an unobstructed view of the Tolkien-esque landscape below. Tickets cost $340NZD.
For those who’d prefer to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground, make your way to theTekapo Springs complex at the base of Mt John. With a focus on relaxation and recreation, a visitor to Tekapo Springs can do just about anything from soaking in the hot outdoor pools, to receiving a revitalizing massage. Likewise, those seeking something with a little more octane can strap on the skates at the Tekapo Springs ice skate rink or jump in a giant tube and slide down a 150 metre man-made ski slope.
There are a number of combo packages for Tekapo Springs depending on what you want to do. Most range around $40NZD p/adult
For a cheap thrill, take the walk up to the summit of Mt John via the Mt John Walkway. The three hour loop track is free and offers some stunning views over Tekpo Lake and surrounding mountain ranges. When you reach the summit, pay a visit to the Earth and Sky Observatory (also known as the Mt John Observatory). It is here where you will discover the biggest draw card for visitors to the Tekapo region – the night sky.
As the sun descends beneath the distant snowcapped mountain ranges, prepare for a cosmic show that is literally out of this world. Explore the wonder of the southern night sky with an Earth & Sky Observatory night tour ($135NZD per adult). The resident astronomers will point out the visible planets in our solar system as well as some of the more amazing cosmic curiosities via the Observatory’s 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector telescope.
If you are strapped for cash but still want to experience the clear night sky in all its glory, take a walk down to the Lake and find a position not exposed to the light pollution of the town. Lie on your back and stare up at the Milky Way above you. It truly is one of those wondrous experiences that will stay with you forever.
Here are some of our recommended places to stay in Lake Tekapo:
Situated just 5 minutes’ drive from the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of the Lake, the Lakefront Backpackers Lodge has private suites as well as dorms sleeping four and six persons. The Lodge also has BBQ facilities and bike hire available. Room prices start from around 27NZD per night and all Kiwi Experience hop-on/hop-off bus tours in the area stop here to pick up passengers.
Kiwi Experience guarantees that, your first nights’ accommodation is guaranteed in Tekapo.
*Prices quoted as of September 2014