Road Trip Destinations: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

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By Ben Selby

Lake Tekapo. This vast picturesque body of water is regarded by countless tourists and locals as being one of the most beautiful places to visit in the South Island. It is also a great place to take your classic for a drive in the country.

From Christchurch, Lake Tekapo is 261km away if you choose to take the inland scenic route. While there is nothing inherently wrong with going direct along SH1, the inland route is by far more picturesque and engaging.  

Leaving from central Christchurch, you start down towards Rolleston on SH1 just as you would do if you were going to Geraldine direct. When you reach Rolleston, turn right onto Hoskyns Road, follow this and turn left onto State Highway 73 towards Kirwee.

Through Kirwee, you then join the West Coast Road which also becomes the Great Alpine Highway. Follow this and you arrive in Darfield. After Darfield, heading along State Highway 77. You should start to see the Southern Alps.

A short while later of travelling along SH77, you arrive at Glentunnel. Glentunnel was once a strong mining town, which continued until the mid-1980s. Many of the old cottages used by the original miners are still standing today. The original community buildings such as the red brick library are also worth checking out.

Following this along SH77, you head past Mt Hutt. This place is always popular for Cantabrians who make the pilgrimage to the Ski Fields every winter. SH77 then becomes the famous Inland Scenic Route 72. Here you take in more breath-taking scenery.

After passing through Mt Somers, Mayfield and cross the Orari River, you arrive in Geraldine. Founded in 1854 by Samuel Hewlings, it packs a smorgasbord of activities, walks and places to eat. Talking of eats? Geraldine also sports local cheese mongers and of course, Barkers.

Barkers Geraldine is known throughout New Zealand for its sauces, juices and other culinary goodies, so its certainly worthwhile stopping here for a shop. Also take your classic to the Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery Museum open seven days a week from mid-September to Queens Birthday in June and during the winter months every weekend.

Leaving Geraldine, follow State Highway 76 further inland. This is where the road really starts to twist and climb. Anyone with a classic will find this section of tarmac between Geraldine and Fairlie an utter delight.

Soon you cross the Opihi River and enter Fairlie. Known as “the gateway to Mackenzie Country”, Fairlie has a population of 940 people and is always brimming with activity. Here you can see the monument to James Mackenzie, a Scottish sheep rustler who once lived in the area, hence the name “Mackenzie Country.” If you are also feeling a bit peckish, head to Fairlie Bakehouse on Main Street a sample one of their award-winning pies.

From Fairlie, head along State Highway 8 towards Burkes Pass. Here is another chance to let your classic unwind as you inch ever closer to your destination. The rolling hills begin to increase and before long you will see the calm blue waters of Lake Tekapo.

There is a tonne of things to do in Lake Tekapo. One we would recommend is to take your classic down to the Church of the Good Sheppard. This is probably one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand and its surrounding hills and the lake make one of the most picturesque scenes around.

Throw in a classic car and it’s pretty much perfect. Or if you prefer, grab a photo of the statue of James Mackenzie’s dog Friday.

If you fancy some time to relax, then the Lake Tekapo Hot Pools should be your next port of call. Located 3kms from the Tekapo township, the Hot Pools overlook the lake itself. You have the choice of three pools with varying temperatures. Plus, if it’s a hot day, you have the giant water slide to experience. There are also plenty of cafes and other eateries to ensure you get well fed.

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