After hearing stories from friends about how amazing it is, we eagerly anticipated Lake Tekapo and were looking forward to visiting. This post takes you on our journey from Lake Wakitipu through to Christchurch, which we travelled over the week of 30th April to 7th May 2021.
The Road To Lake Tekapo
Leaving Lake Wakitipu and Mount Cook behind for this trip’s final time, on our route to Lake Tekapo, Barry noticed a ‘Hobbit’ film location. We felt compelled to stop and take a few photos. I’ve got just the one, but there’s more in Barry’s slideshow.
We also toured around the Waitaki Hydro Canals, where people can go salmon fishing near the salmon farm. It’s free to do so, so long as they only take four sports fish of which no more than two can be trout. Plus “No person shall in any one day take or be in possession of more than two salmon greater than 500mm taken from any of the McKenzie hydro canals“. Barry was in his element of course, any mention of the word ‘canal’ and his ears spark. Interstingly, I didn’t even get out of the van, never mind take a photo! But you’ll find a few at the end in the usual slideshow.
Nearing Lake Tekapo, barren land stretched for many kilometres as far as the eye could see. We discovered it was all New Zealand Defence Forces (NZDF) training ground. Closer still, Mount John Observatory appeared, sitting atop a high hill. Both sights also caused us to park up and snap memories for posterity.
Not So Amazed By Lake Tekapo
Finally arriving at Lake Tekapo late in the afternoon, we weren’t nearly as amazed as we’d expected to be. Maybe we’d been saturated by so many spectacular sights that we were overloaded and getting too choosey? Of course, during spring and summer, the prolific carpets of colourful lupins here must be stunning. I believe they’ve been spraying these recently to reduce the numbers – they’re an introduced plant that smothers natives, after all.
Despite knowing there was a free campsite close to the lake, we decided to treat ourselves to a night at Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park. With really great views, we wondered if the scenery and surroundings would improve from that perspective. Most especially though, we wanted the luxury of washing ourselves in a better supply of hot water, plus our clothes.
Another offputting view was the Wilding pine work by the Mackenzie Wilding Trust Initiative going on in many places nearby, causing parts of the campground and a few nearby walks to be closed. I suspect we just didn’t see the area in its best light …
All around the campsite planting of tussock grass had been undertaken to start a take over of natives instead of lupins. I’ve no doubt it will look far better next season when it’s finished, and in years to come.
Whilst there I managed to find a few lupins still in flower, so snapped those. A bit pathetic I realise!
Lake Tekapo Village
That night, Friday 30th April, we walked into the village on the shores of Lake Tekapo. The village has around 350 residents and is described as a ‘photographer’s dream come true’. Sadly our disappointment continued seeing the amount of rubbish strewn around the walkway next to the lake. It wouldn’t take much for someone to keep that area tidy, surely? We’d undoubtedly witnessed many other ‘photographer’s dream come true’ locations in the weeks prior to arriving here.
However, we were interested in the $26.5 million ‘Lake Tekapo Intake‘, which opened in February 2021. The aim is to protect the hydro station from alpine fault earthquakes. The 50-tonne gate is designed to stop inflows from Lake Tekapo in the advent of a serious emergency, such as a 1 in a 10,000-year earthquake (Richter scale 7+) that would potentially send up to 680 million tonnes of water surging around Lake Tekapo. There wouldn’t be much left if that happened!
We enjoyed a delicious meal in town at The Blue Lake Eatery and Bar – yet another treat! The village and venue were absolutely packed – there certainly didn’t seem to be a risk of losing money through a lack of tourism. A very friendly barman from Chile served us. The cost was well out of our budget, but we enjoyed the experience regardless. After paying the bill, however, we were reminded once again why a/ we rarely do this and b/ it’s one of the reasons most people have to work so hard to afford a regular social life!
Mount John Observatory
The following day, Saturday 1st May, we drove up to the Mount John Observatory for 360-degree views. The cafe was closed as they’d run out of food and didn’t have enough staff. So the usual $8 road fee was waived. I would have rather the cafe had been open for a coffee – but having the campervan meant I could make one regardless.
It was such a clear day the views were spectacular.
In 2012, a 4,300 square kilometre area was declared the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, with light pollution strictly controlled around the area. It promised to be clear skies that night too, and the ‘Summit Experience’ had tempted us. But at $149 each with The Dark Sky Project, the cost was prohibitive. It also didn’t start till 10.45 pm and lasts for one a half hours, which made it too tricky in a campervan to find somewhere to stay overnight, and we’d already paid $43 for one night.
Not Such Rubbish After All
A notable, for us, extremely positive aspect of Lake Tekapo, was their helpfulness for tourists to get rid of their rubbish. Unlike McKenzie District near Mount Cook, who request you ‘take it with you’!
The Church Of The Good Shepherd
Built in 1935 as a memorial to the hardy early pioneers, we’d always imagined The Church of the Good Shephard was remote and away from everything. Of course, the photos people take make it look that way. In reality, it’s actually just across the river from Lake Tekapo township, and surrounded by houses.
It’s still a quaint building – and the local rabbits seem friendly enough!
There’s a nearby collie dog monument, too, from 1968, to commemorate the work these animals have undertaken in the district.
For some reason, tourists aren’t allowed to go inside the church, sadly. Most other churches we’ve visited on the South Island welcome visitors. Maybe there’s just so many here that it becomes unwieldy and open to abuse? I suspect it’s also to encourage people to pay for a tour. You’re not supposed to take photos inside either. Well, I wasn’t inside when I took one of the interior from the back window!
All in all Lake Tekapo was an interesting and enjoyable overnight stay.
Timaru And Places On The Way
Our next destination was Timaru. We made a brief stop at a couple of places along the route – one of which was Burke’s Pass. A tiny historic village, the location was ‘discovered’ by Europeans in 1855 as a route leading into the McKenzie region. It’s rather quaint and virtually unchanged since then.
Continuing on SH8, Barry spotted a sign for a memorial at Waitohi to Richard William Pearse. Richard was a New Zealand farmer and inventor, who witnesses reported was the first man to fly on 31st March 1903 – nine months BEFORE the Wright Brothers.
As Barry had a pilot’s license at one time in the 1980-to 90s, he was keen to visit this, so we made the slight detour.
Continuing our journey, we found a fabulous free campground at Caroline Bay for the night, close to the beach, with toilets and rubbish abilities. It’s also near a public swimming bath, so you can’t camp up before 4 pm and must be out by 10 am. Sadly we didn’t get to see much more of Timaru.
On Sunday 2nd May, we parked up at a little place called Temuka, a centre for angling and pottery and Richard Pearse’s birthplace. I worked in the van while Barry took the chance to visit the Museum and took a couple of photos of the historical buildings you’ll find in his slideshow below.
Winchester Bridge to Geraldine
We discovered another awesome free campground at Winchester Bridge to stay that night. Once again, there was a place for rubbish – and a toilet. It’s so impressive when the local Council does provide facilities for tourists – and so disappointing those that don’t and give spurious reasons for not doing so.
We were on our way to Geraldine to stay with Alicia and Bill and their two gorgeous girls – our friends Kerry and Tony’s daughter and son-in-law.
Bill works for the famous NZ company ‘Barkers’ of Geraldine, which produces a vast range of delicious jams, pickles, juices, sauces, cordials, etc. We wandered around the town and visited the Barkers factory and outlet, situated on the corner where the original farm was located.
For some reason Barry didn’t take any photos of Geraldine!
We did, however, go to Peel Forest the following day and did The Big Tree Walk. Alicia and her daughters had regaled with us stories about the walk – that you think each tree must be the biggest until you finally see THE ONE! The biggest tree is a 2,000-year-old tōtara tree, native to NZ, and is amazing, measuring 8.5 m around its trunk. The surrounding bush also features other impressive NZ natives such as mataī, kahikatea and fuschia/kōtukutuku.
A Canal Under A River
The next stop was a thrill for Barry. He’d read about a nearby canal that travels UNDER a river, so of course, that was another slight detour. We camped up at a free camp spot near Mount Somers, then drove to the spot the following day to check it out. It wasn’t that easy to find but well worth a trip!
Barry was understandably fascinated and took some cool shots. Does anybody know if there’s anywhere else in the world where a canal runs underneath a river?
One of the places Barry wanted to check out on the South Island was Ashburton. He knew that he had relatives buried here from researching his family history and reading documents that others had put together. We had a walk around The Plains Railway and Historical Museum, where Barry was enthralled to hear tales of the past by one of the engineers.
Barry’s believes nearby Clarksville was named after his maternal great grandfather, Joseph Clark, which we visited a couple of weeks later.
It took a while, but we eventually found the grave of Joseph and his 18-year-old son Frank (interestingly, Barry’s dad’s name). His wife, Hannah, Barry’s great grandmother, had lived on and survived till she was 91 when she died in Northland. Damn, we’d already been there and hadn’t known that!
Our next stop for two nights was at Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere. The largest lake in Canterbury, it has no natural outlet to the sea. Valued for cultural and environmental reasons, it was opened by generations of Ngāi Tahu before Pākehā arrival. The first written settler’s record of an artificial opening between the lake and sea was in 1852, and it’s been opened over 300 times since. On the western shores is a massive magnificent free campground.
Walking around the campground on Friday 7th May, I was delighted to find the blood-red with white spots mushrooms (fly agaric) for the first time this trip. Not to be eaten – or touched – as they contain hallucinogenic poisons that will kill you if eaten. But extremely beautiful nonetheless! It was an idyllic place to sit and work and wander.
Our destination for a few weeks had been Christchurch to stay with Jamie, Barry’s daughter. We’d stayed in November when we flew down for a week. This time we came by campervan, and Jamie had sought permission from her neighbour to camp outside the adjoining garages. Sadly we forgot to take a photo of us squeezed in there with inches to spare!
There’ll be more on Christchurch and our adventures in and around it this trip in the next post …
In the meantime, check out what Barry chose to share from his lens for this section of our South Island soiree … Click on the first image to begin and enjoy.