Walk 21 - Tekapo/Mt John Walkway

Lake Tekapo is a long glacial lake reknowned for the purity of colour of its turquoise water and lying at the edge of a high dry plateau in the centre of New Zealand, surrounded by mountains. This is Mackenzie Country, famed for its 19th century pastoral history and our base for a planned visit to Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain. We arrived just on lunch and, having an afternoon to spare, looked about for a short walk to do. Combining part of the Tekapo Walkway around the lake and the Mt John Walkway to an astronomical observatory on a nearby hill, seemed interesting, so we set off. Unplanned and discovered by chance, it proved to be one of the best one-day walks we have done!

Church of the Good Shepherd 1935 - The chapel with a view

Monument to the Collie - hero of Mackenzie Country

Leaving our backpackers on the hill, we wandered down through the small shopping centre to join the Tekapo Walkway at the lake edge. Across the canal exiting the lake, rows of tourist buses were lined up to visit the two famous landmarks of Mackenzie country, a 1935 stone chapel with the best window view in the country and a more recent statue of a sheepdog, the unsung hero of this pastoral region. We were pleased to head west, away from the madding crowd, to follow the pebbly lakeshore around a cove where the turquoise colour of the water seemed to glow.

Mt John Observatory

At the far end of the cove, the Mt John Walkway departed to climb up through a pine and larch forest and emerge onto tussock grassland near the top of the rounded dome of Mt John. Behind us lay the endless dry grassy plateau of the Mackenzie Country. From here, the track split to form a loop around the observatory; we took the western track and, cresting the side of the dome, were rewarded with an incredible panorama of the Southern Alps, rising dark and snow-clad above the yellow tussock hillsides, to cuminate in the point of 3151m Mt Sefton.

The grasslands of Mackenzie Country

A long band of cloud banked up over the Alps from the west gave the mountains the appearance of a big breaking wave and explained why there is rainforest on their western slopes and dry tussock plains to their east.

Cloud spilling over the Southern Alps - Mt Sefton (3151m on the right)


Below, the darker waters of Lake Alexandrina beneath the tussock-covered terraces of ancient lake levels, were framed by the bare topped mountains of the Liebig Range and, behind them, barely visible stood the tip of 3754m Aoraki. As we walked around the dome, the revolving panorama opened out to superb views down the turquoise water of Lake Tekapo, framed by the Liebig and Two Thumbs ranges on each side, with a backdrop of snow-streaked 2800m Mts Sibbald and d'Archiac, 50km to the north in the main alps.

Lake Alexandrina and Lake Tekapo

We sat for a long time on a wooden bench, taking in the splendour of this 270º panorama; the golden tussock fields, the turquoise water, the white-capped dark silhouettes of the mountains, the changing play of light and shade as a cloud band moved across and a faint sheepish waft on the breeze completing the setting.

Lake Tekapo panorama under a passing band of cloud

The sun returns to Lake Tekapo

The southern end of Lake Tekapo

Eventually having to leave, we followed the walkway down the northern tussock slopes of Mt John to the lake again, where a long walk south along its open shoreline gave us many opportunities to admire the quality of the water colour and subtle variations in its intensity with wind movement on the lake and changes in sunlight.

Two days earlier we had crossed Arthur's Pass, with its many highly reputed tramping tracks, took one look at the mountains, bare under a greyish sky, and said "Nah!, let's keep going". Were we reaching the point of tramping burn-out? Perhaps, but after our unexpected and greatly rewarding stroll at Lake Tekapo we returned to the backpackers with a renewed enthusiasm.

Tomorrow Mt Cook - yes!!!

Looking towards Tekapo town