There’s a place, rightfully world famous for unbeatable views from the top…. alpine landscapes during the day, and huge wide open dark starry skies at night. Here’s Mt John, near Tekapo, in the Mackenzie region of New Zealand’s South Island.
Travellers visit, from near and far, for those views, night and day. And could there be a better spot in the world for a morning thermos stop, or even cafe visit? Stunning.
For big skies and food spots…
At the top of Mt John, you can’t miss the observatory, six telescopes in all, including the country’s biggest….we’re told it can spy 50 million stars each night. This is New Zealand’s main astronomical research centre, operated by the University of Canterbury, with research astronomers who come here from all over.
It’s all because around here you’ll find clear nights and not much light pollution, so it’s a great viewing destination for this hemisphere's equivalent of the northern lights. That makes sense, for a star-gazing observatory too, a spectacular natural light show.
Daytime, there are walks to be done, trigs to be summited, and picnic tables to be used - time for a thermos stop all right. And what a pleasing surprise, to find a mountain top cafe, with tremendous all around views of the Mackenzie.
We’re always keen for excellent and spectacular coffee stops. You could be fully enclosed inside the cafe, behind glass. Or take on the elements and sit outside, even closer to that alpine environment. Invigorating, for sure.
Morning coffee done, take on a walk and breathe that alpine air, before descending to the beautiful lakeside town you can see from atop the summit. Head down into Tekapo and its picturesque lake.
For good shepherds…
On the shores on the lake, you can’t miss the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, one of New Zealand’s most picturesque, and pictured, spots. You can see why, the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps beyond the lake.
The church was built by the pioneers of the Mackenzie, to provide a place of worship and gathering. Since 1935 families of the district have gathered here for weddings, baptisms and funerals. And not just locals, they come from far and wide to this worship place, it’s been the setting for thousands of weddings, a really popular photo spot….
And for sheep, and sheepdogs
The first inhabitants of the Mackenzie were Māori, fishing for eel, hunting birds and exploring the rivers and lakes. European settlers didn't really know about the area until a Scottish shepherd (a Jock Mackenzie - yes, Mackenzie country) was arrested for sheep stealing in the mid 19th century. He’d travelled into the high country, to hide a stolen flock of sheep. So it’s been sheep country for a while now.
Only fitting then, close by, alongside the church on lakeside, visit the collie “sheepdog monument”, a bronze statue recognising the high country district's debt to the sheepdog. For just on 50 years the bronze dog has stood guard. Surely, without these dogs, grazing of the mountainous high country couldn’t happen.
So our thanks to those lovely and hardworking dogs, what a special part of our New Zealand life. And our memories of fabulous picnic places and coffee stops along this beautiful way…
There’s a fair bit of salmon around these parts. For inspiration back at home base, if you’ve picked up salmon on your road trip, check out our salmon ideas here. And, we have to say it, of course there’s lamb. More inspiration, from another part of this sheep country, check out our lamb ideas here
And for more…
To find more on The FoodPath NZ’s handpicked eateries and food producers, for our collection of spot on New Zealand food moments to check out on your next road trip, including around the Tekapo and Mt John area, download our New Zealand Food Trail Guides app here.