New Zealand- Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo

When I started planning my trip, I kept hearing from everyone that it was a real shame I hadn’t included a visit to Lake Tekapo in the heart of MacKenzie County of inland Canterbury. I’d originally planned to visit the coastal cities of Oamaru & Timaru on my third day. It was an e-mail from my Kiwi friend, Andy, that helped change my mind. I calculated the distances, and figured it would be possible to take a longer inland route, and if I drove a little later, and got up a little earlier, I could squeeze the visit to Tekapo in and still be in Dunedin by the middle of the next day.

So I was disappointed, to say the least, to wake up in cute, little Geraldton, where I had stayed the night before, to find grey skies and low clouds, obscuring those jaw-dropping views of the Southern Alps I had been promised. Knowing the forecast called for rain all day, I briefly debated scrapping the plans and heading back to the coast, but I had already witnessed to unreliability of weather forecasts in New Zealand during the first two days of the trip, so I decided to be optimistic and headed toward Tekapo.

It had started raining by the time I pulled into the small village on the east side of the lake. Despite the lack of sun, I was still amazed by the turquoise blue color of the lake.


When the rain began to ease, I headed over to Tekapo’s famous sheepdog statue. This gorgeous statue was erected as a tribute to the work of the Collies used as sheepdogs in mountainous MacKenzie County. Many of the first settlers of the region were from Scotland, and brought the breed with them after having success using them as herders in similar rugged environs in Scotland.

Nearby the statue is Tekapo’s other famous sight, the Church of the Good Shepherd. This beautiful, little stone chapel was built in 1935 and has become a popular place for weddings, given the natural beauty of the setting.


I had written in many of my pretrip posts about my desire to take a scenic plane flight over the mountains of the central South Island. Knowing the unpredictability of the weather, I had booked flights in an number of different locals, just hoping to find one day somewhere that would be clear enough to get up in the air. In Tekapo, I had booked with the well-reputed company Air Safaris. When I stopped in shortly before my 9AM booking, the pleasant young woman at the desk told me they were hoping for some late morning/early afternoon clearing.


I made a quick circuit around the village, stopping in the various souvenir shops and having breakfast in a small cafe while waiting for some clearance. For a 15 minute stretch, the grey clouds began to thin and some blue could be seen in the sky. I wandered down to the lakeshore to take some pictures, hopeful that I had once again lucked out with the weather.

On this day, however, it wasn’t to be. By the time I walked back up to the village from the lake, it had started raining again, and the skies were back to being a canvas of solid grey.

Mount John

When I had decided to add Tekapo to the itinerary, I had also booked a evening star-gazing tour on nearby Mount John. This advice had come from a fellow blogger I respect, Kristin of A Pair of Boots and a Backpack, who had raved about the experience during her trip to New Zealand just over a month before. Since this was a night tour, booking it meant the previously mentioned late drive and ridiculously early rise to make it to Dunedin by noon the next day, but it seemed like a worthwhile trade off. Once the weather began to deteriorate further, and the people over at Air Safaris had officially cancelled all the flights for the day, I headed over to the offices of Earth & Sky, the company that offers the Mount John star-gazing tours, to see if it might be possible to get a refund for my tour.

Although they don’t officially cancel tours until much later in the day, the nice people at Earth & Sky graciously allowed me to cancel to tour so I could get started back toward the coast. They did offer a short tour of the facilities on Mount John, and having come all this way to see it, I was grateful to at least have this option.

After driving the steep and winding road up Mount John, I met my tour guide in the cute little Astro Cafe on the summit. Mount John is the premier spot in the Southern Hemisphere for astronomy. One of the biggest reasons for this is the unpolluted skies of environmentally-conscious New Zealand.

The Mount John University Observatory has five state-of-the-art telescopes at it’s facility. The site is administered through the University of Canterbury, and astronomers from all over the world, particularly Japan, have conducted research at the site.

The newest telescope, the 1.8 meter MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics), is the largest in New Zealand. The large size of it’s lens allows the scientists to map more of the skies of the Southern Hemisphere than they ever have before. It was, that in 2008, using this telescope, scientists at Mount John were able to identify the smallest known planet outside out solar system. That discovery is just one of many made by the researchers at this world-renown facility.

After the short and informative tour, the clouds had began to cover the top of Mount John, obscuring views of Lake Tekapo below. I gave up on waiting for any clearance that day, and I spent the next couple of hours trying to run through my upcoming itinerary trying to figure out a way to squeeze another visit to Lake Tekapo in, on what would hopefully be a better weather day. (I did consider a return for a week afterward, even having a tentative plan to go there after Queenstown, but it never happened.)

Lake Pukaki (on a sunny day Mount Cook would

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon driving through a downpour that seemed to keep multiplying in intensity. I knew when I booked a trip to New Zealand in their early winter, that I would have to deal with days like this. My disappointment made even worse by the fact that, even in the pouring rain, I could tell what a remarkably beautiful area of the country this was.

I followed the path of the Waitaki River past hydroelectric plants and dams, and through a soggy Oamaru, finally stopping and camping in Moreaki. It was still raining as I went to bed, but I still was determined to get up early and hope for another glorious Pacific Ocean sunrise over the famous Moeraki Boulders. It would turn out to be another lesson in the changeability of New Zealand weather. 

NEXT: Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
Links to my photo gallery for Day Three-  Flickr  Facebook
More Links:
Mt John University Observatory
MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics)
Earth & Sky- Mount John Tours
Flickr Galley from the good people at Earth & Sky, Mount John
Air Safaris- Lake Tekapo
Church of the Good Shepherd

The New Zealand 2012 Series-
New Zealand 2012 by the Numbers
Chapter One: Christchurch in One Word: Broken
Photo Essay- Sunrise outside Christchurch
Chapter Two- The Banks Peninsula & Hector’s Dolphins
Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo
Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
Chapter Four- The Secret of Dunedin
Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
Chapter Five- The Otago Peninsula
Photo Essay- Otago Peninsula Wildlife
Chapter Six- The Edge of the World in the Catlins
Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.1)
Photo Essay- Lake Manapouri Cruise

6 Responses to “New Zealand- Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo”

  1. I just wrote about the same area today! Such a beautiful place it's a pity you didn't have better weather but NZ's is always unpredictable. I finally managed a helicopter flight in Lake Tekapo after the weather was against me in Franz Josef, it's a good idea to built in a few options just in case.

  2. Ali says:

    Sucks the weather didn't work out, but the clouds did make for some really great pictures! I love that you left yourself open to be flexible with your plans. It's taken me awhile to be more flexible when I travel, and it's so worth it.

  3. eriksmithdotcom says:

    That's just the Kiwi way- decency and kindness is a way of life for them. 

  4. eriksmithdotcom says:

    I can't tell you that, can I? It would ruin all the suspense! I will say make sure to read chapters 12 & 14, though… 🙂

  5. What a bummer about the rain!  I've never thought to book multiple excursions in different locations (dependent on the weather).  That's a great idea – did you ever get your plane ride on a clear day?

  6. Elle says:

    That church is absolutely adorable.  As always, beautiful pictures.  You lucked out with the refund,  a lot of people wouldn't have been so accommodating! 

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