When many people think of Lake Tekapo, they think of a brilliantly azure lake that is unlike any other. The next thing they probably think of is the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small stone building that stands on the lakeshore and provides wonderfully scenic shots from both the inside and the outside. The church, first built in the Mackenzie Basin, lives up to its billing — it truly is a stunning location, and I certainly felt like I could have spent hours taking photos of it from every angle, framing it with golden tussock and the blue waters beyond.
There is one problem with the church though — everyone else wants to take these photos too. Tekapo is situated almost perfectly halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown, so it provides a very convenient stop for nearly every bus that passes through. This means that the area is swarming with bus passengers from morning to evening.
This was most obvious when I went inside the church. I couldn’t wait until the busloads of people left because I arrived 15 minutes before closing time, so I squeezed into the main aisle with at least 20 other people. There were signs around the church asking people to take care and be respectful because this is a place of worship, and for the most part, the crowds took this to heart. However, they didn’t seem to be respectful of the other people around them, because I was elbowed and had multiple people shove in front of me so they could get a photo of the altar standing before the glittering lake. I’m happy I went inside, but I wish I’d had the time and space to be a bit more contemplative.
Outside of the church, I felt a bit less claustrophobic. I spent quite some time just ambling around, taking in the beauty of the place…and snapping a few photos when there was a break in the flow of people.
Only a short walk away stands the statue of the working dog, which was built in honour of all of the sheep dogs that work so hard on the surrounding high country stations. One such dog, Friday, was owned by James Mackenzie, the notorious sheep thief after whom the area was named. Apparently, long after authorities had captured Mackenzie, they had trouble rounding up all of his sheep because Friday had continued herding them. Such is the dedication of the sheep dogs that the farmers felt they deserved a memorial statue…and what a view that statue gets to look out on each day.
I found the waterfront area around the working dog was much quieter even though it was only an amble away from the church, but I was lucky enough to find an even quieter time to visit when I popped over before breakfast on the morning of my departure. The parking lot was dotted with only a few cars, and the people wandering around the church were quiet enough that we could hear the vacuuming that was happening inside. Everyone was respectful of other people’s space and got out of the way so other people could have unobscured photos.
Just as importantly, it was early enough that the morning light hadn’t lost its golden tinge and steam was still rising from the lake slightly to the east. The grass was coated in a fine layer of crystals left by the frost from the chilly night before. It was an almost magical scene at which I couldn’t help but stop and stare. Seeing this, I understood why so many people flocked to the church. However, I also felt sorry that they couldn’t experience it in this way because, by the time they got there, the frost would have melted, the sun would be much higher in the sky, and the buses would have arrived.
So do I recommend going to the Church of the Good Shepherd? Absolutely — it’s one of the can’t miss spots in Tekapo. If you can, though, try to pick a time when it’s a bit quieter — early in the morning like I did, or late on a moonlit night — so you get to experience the site as it truly should be.
The Church of the Good Shepherd is located on Pioneer Drive in Lake Tekapo. The church is open to visitors from 9am-5pm in the summer and from 10am-4pm in the winter, but the grounds are open at all hours. Worship services are held every fourth Sunday from 11.30am-12.30pm.