Exploring the Lake Tekapo Environs

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May 10th 2021
Published: May 17th 2021
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We are down to the last day of our stay at Lake Tekapo and as we had hoped the dip in the hot tub on the deck at night has made our stay here very relaxing. We are pinching ourselves because we had found such a restful accommodation.

There had been a bit more rain overnight but the prospects for a reasonable day without any further rain was on the cards which will ensure we get around the three close locations to the township that we want to explore and get a feeling for the history of this unique part of New Zealand.

Heading out for some sightseeing our first location to visit were the twin lakes of Lake McGregor and Lake Alexandrina to the northwest of Tekapo township.

From Tekapo you can’t see these lakes as they are hidden behind the imposing hill that the Mt John Observatory sits on. We hadn’t included a visit to the observatory as the nights had not been clear enough to take in what is reputed to be the best night sky area in New Zealand.

Coming off the road that leads up the western side of Lake Tekapo we first drove past Lake McGregor which appeared to be an attraction to wildlife if the sight of a man standing out from the shore of the lake with waders on taking photos of geese on the water!

Shortly after that we came to Lake Alexandrina which was much larger in size than Lake McGregor and had a number of holiday baches with views out over the lake together with a caravan park with a few hardy campers eking the last of the autumn weather out before winter arrived.

The lake which had its origins from glacial movement has a good population of trout and is a popular fishing spot although today no one appeared to be out there catching their limit.

Back to the Godley Heads road running up the side of Lake Tekapo we carried on to Glenmore Station, a high country farm of some 19,000 hectares which stocks mainly merino sheep and some cattle.

The history of Glenmore goes back over 100 years and the farm has been in the Murray family all those years. Today it is not only a working high country farm but also a place that offers accommodation to tourists wanting to get a taste of high country farm living. The book Gretchen had been reading yesterday and has not quite finished today was about the history of the farm.

Back to Highway 8 and we drove east through Tekapo township and onto a locally known corner of the highway, ‘Dog Kennel Corner’(you will be able to tell that with the working collie statue back in Tekapo and this monument out of the town that dogs are a very important part of life in the Mackenzie country)

Taking a right hand turn we headed down Haldon Road towards the largest of the hydro lakes, Lake Benmore although it wasn’t our intention to go all the way down to that lake.

Instead we took a left turn onto an alternative road to leave the Mackenzie Basin to drop down to the Canterbury Plains.

Again it wasn’t the plan to go all the way along the road, rather up to the summit of the Mackenzie Pass and along the way relive some of the history and folklore that surrounds the story of the Scottish shepherd, James Mackenzie who is credited with discovering the Mackenzie Basin in 1855 when he rustled 1000 sheep from the Waitaki Valley to Tekapo. After being caught and denying the theft of the sheep he escaped his captors and headed out of the Mackenzie Basin over the Mackenzie Pass. He was again caught but escaped along with his dog Friday. Today a monument sits on a bend in the road up to the summit recognising this incident on 4th March 1855.

Mackenzie ended up walking to Lyttelton, Christchurch where he was again captured and this time tried and sentenced to 5 years hard labour for the rustling of the sheep. He escaped from road gangs twice while he was serving his sentence and was eventually pardoned at a retrial when a new judge found that the evidence against Mackenzie had flaws.

Mystery surrounds what actually happened to James Mackenzie after he was released but it is believed he returned to Australia.

Interestingly the monument is a triangle shape with the inscription written in three languages, English, Gaelic and Maori to acknowledge the different backgrounds of the people involved in this moment in history.

We carried on up to the top of the pass and looked out on the unsealed road that wound its way down the narrow valley towards Burkes Pass township and decided that we would return back to Haldon Road and drive towards Hakataramea Pass to make it two road passes in one day!

The road we started out on would have taken us to Kurow on the Waitaki River just below the last dam created on the hydro system that runs from Lake Tekapo down to Lake Waitaki.

However, a few metres onto the road and a warning sign started to ring alarm bells to us in our rental car as it talked about steep grades and fords to be crossed if we were to take this road the whole length.

However, never wanting to give us easily we carried on with the idea that if the road presented challenges that could affect our rental agreement adversely that we would turn around and head back.

Initially the road was easy to drive with good width and surface and just a very gradual climb up a valley between the Dalgety Range and the Grampian Mountains.

Then as that valley narrowed and the hills on either side came close together we encountered a stream with flowing water that was several metres across, our first ford!

We were several kilometres away from Highway 8 and we remembered as we stared at where the gravel road disappeared into the stream that we had only seen one other vehicle in the last 1 ½ hrs and just how would we get the rental car out without help if we got stuck while trying to ford the stream. And of course the warning road sign had talked about ‘ford’s ‘and this was just the first of them.

Reversing back and turning around we headed back towards Tekapo township believing this was the best option under the circumstances and we had already seen a good part of the environs that we had never seen before and our curiosity had been mostly satisfied.

Although the weather had been partly cloudy today the forecast for later tonight indicates more cloud and rain/snow tomorrow afternoon so it might be just as well we are off to Christchurch tomorrow.

But first tonight, one last time in the hot tub on the terrace.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


17th May 2021

McKenzie update
Mackenzie stole the sheep from the The Levels just north of Timaru. We cycled from Tekapo out to Alexandrina Also went right to end of that road in van to Godley Peaks Station.
17th May 2021

Check my history
Oh,will have to recheck my history reference.We did think of driving to the end of Godley Head Rd but wasn't sure there was anything else to see and the challenge of a couple of passes drew us away.

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