A large turquoise lake surrounded by the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps, Lake Tekapo in New Zealand’s Mackenzie district is one of the South Island’s top natural destinations to visit, and just 228 kilometres from Christchurch. According to New Zealand Tourism, the lake gets its milky blue colour from the “fine-rock flour (ground by glaciers) which is suspended in the water” – but whatever the reason, it’s rather spectacular.
The New Zealand practice of sheep herding goes back to the time of early settlers in the 1800s, and is still practised today – not surprisingly, as the country being home to more than 60 million sheep. This tradition is celebrated at the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small stone place of worship built in 1935 for families of the Mackenzie District. Near to the church is a sheepdog monument, a bronze statue of a border collie that honours the history of the sheepdog that Scottish settlers brought with them to help navigate and herd sheep across the mountainous country.
Get up close to local sheep and alpacas at one of the Lake Tekapo village farm experiences. With Lake Tekapo Farm tours, visitors adventure across the Mt John and Balmoral stations and get a taste of high-country farm life. The two-hour tour is a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of the 5,000 Merino sheep, 300 Red deer, 200 Angus cows, horses, alpaca and working dogs in the area, and ends with a chance to feed the local sheep and alpacas.
Lake Tekapo is also part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve. It’s one of the best places on the South Island to view the Southern Lights, Aurora Australis, during winter months. Book a stargazing tour or view the spectacular display from either the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory, the Church of the Good Shepherd or Cowan’s Observatory.
Situated on the eastern shores of Lake Tekapo at the Richmond station is Tekapo Springs, a sustainable water park with hot pools, an ice rink, snow tube and a plunge pool. Take in the view of the Southern Alps while soaking in one of the hot pools at roughly 750 metres above sea level. The 150-metre snow tube is open from June until September, letting thrill-seekers slide down and spin around the snowy slope on inflatable tubes.
Explore the mountain ranges around Lake Tekapo from the skies with a scenic flight over New Zealand’s highest peaks in the Mackenzie district. This air safari takes you over a region with 150 peaks higher than 2,300 metres, so you can expect some truly astonishing views. Those in the market for something a little more physical can go on a helicopter hike, culminating in two hours spent on the Tasman Glacier.
Visitors in search of an adrenaline rush should opt for a jet-boat tour – an opportunity to fly at high speed across the water’s surface. The journey starts from Pines Beach on the southern shores of the lake, continuing up the lake and around Motuariki Island, taking in views of the glacial from the water’s edge. Jet-boat drivers tell stories as you go, periodically stopping at some of the most iconic locations so that visitors can get take photographs.
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