Lake Takapō is about three hours drive south-west of Christchurch in the Mackenzie Basin. The township faces north across the remarkable turquoise coloured lake to the mountainous drama of the Southern Alps. Lake Takapō gets its intense milky-turquoise colour from the fine rock-flour (ground by glaciers) which is suspended in the water.
On the shores on the lake you'll see the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, where the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps beyond the lake. The church was built in 1935 for the pioneer families of the Mackenzie district and is still used as a place of worship. The church is a popular photo spot for visitors - please note that when you visit the church, weddings and services may be taking place, respect is needed from visitors.
Close by is the "sheepdog monument" - a bronze statue sculpted to recognise the district's debt to the sheepdog "without the help of which the grazing of the mountainous country would be impossible".
There are walking tracks following the lake shore. For huge views of the Mackenzie Basin you can hike up to Mount John Observatory (1031 metres) or Cowans Hill.
The Southern Lights
The southern hemisphere's equivalent of the Northern Lights, Lake Takapō is one of the best places in New Zealand to see this symphony of colour come to life. Best seen between April and September, Lake Takapō is known for it's clear nights and lack of light pollution, making it a great viewing destination. Head to Mount John Observatory - perched high in the mountains and south-facing - for your best chance of experiencing this spectacular natural light show.
Mackenzie Basin History
The first people to live in the Mackenzie Basin were Māori. They quarried stone for tools, fished for eel, hunted birds and established summer camps along the rivers and lakes. European settlers didn't really know about the area until the mid 1800s, when a Scottish shepherd named Jock Mackenzie was arrested for sheep stealing. He ventured into this high country to hide his stolen flock from the eyes of the law.
Functional facts: Approx. population 320, food store, fuel.