Kaikoura is known as a destination for marine activities. Fishing, whale watching, surfing and kayaking are all popular diversions. Dusky dolphins, albatross, and sperm whales are commonly seen during the tours run in the area, and nearby seal colonies provide opportunities for seal watching or you can don a wet suit and swim with them. Snow-capped mountains lead into the sea. Unfortunately, a heavy cloud cover started the day, and obscured the mountain-view during our time in town. The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway offers a 3-hour loop, but we utilized only the shoreline portion.
Departing the town, we drove alongside the black sand beaches, and then the coastal highway heads inland to rolling hills and sheep pastures. Sheep seem to be almost everywhere in New Zealand. In a country with around 4.4 million people (only around 1 million live on the South Island), we estimated there must be 50 sheep for each person. In reality there are around 30 million sheep, so still a lot of sheep. Historically, as many as 70 million sheep lived on the islands but depressed wool prices, droughts and alternate land uses, primarily dairy farming, have altered the agricultural use of the land.
Heading into Christchurch, we were dismayed to see the city is still a long way from recovering from the earthquakes which hit the city in 2010 and then again, with greater damage and the loss of 124 lives, in 2011. Substantial damage, especially in downtown, is still evident. Demolition and construction projects seem to be spread throughout the city.
Spending the night south of Christchurch, we were perfectly situated to drive westward toward the Southern Alps and the spectacular glacier lakes laying at their base.
The drive to Lake Tekapo is lovely, but arriving at the lake, we were blown away by the beauty. The turquoise water is caused by the glaciers moving over the rocks, and depositing the “rock flour” into the water. Snow-capped mountains overlooking the waters were serene and spectacular at the same time. Wildflowers along the shore and the “Church of the Good Shepherd” create a photographers dream site. The seven lakes, in the region, and hydro dams provide electricity for a substantial portion of the South Island.
|View from Mt. John|
Further along the road, there is a turn off for Mt. John Observatory. Once at the top, you have a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. A two-hour loop trail from Lake Tekapo Village will take you up to the top, but we opted for the paved road. The Astro Café provides healthy lunch options to fuel the rest of your day, as you appreciate the view.