High on the Mackenzie sits Lake Tekapo and its township. For many years the turquoise waters have attracted locals and those from further afield to enjoy the magnificent scenery and the activities the lake provides. Many guidebooks describe the area as the jewel of the Mackenzie Region but I beg to differ and here's why.
Most international visitors are "passers through" just stopping to pay homage to the border collie statue and the Church of the Good Shepherd (reputed to be the most photographed landmark in the country) before they top up with fuel for car and people and continue onto Mt. Cook National Park or the metropolis of Queenstown (metropolis compared to Tekapo anyhow).
Each time I see this happen a little part of me sighs with relief and a little part of me thinks they don't know what they are missing. Relief comes from knowing the tranquil place I'm going to tell you about might just remain so.
Sitting to the west of Lake Tekapo are 2 small freshwater lakes, Lake Alexandrina and Lake Mcgregor. A trip to the top of Mt. John will put the area into a wonderful 360 degree visual perspective. These 2 lakes sit within a protected wildlife refuge and as such are free of motor boats, jet skis and yachts and therefore beautifully quiet. The only way you can enjoy these two lakes is under your own steam. Swim, row or kayak you choose. Or simply do what most do here and find a spot to sit and listen to the true sound of the Mackenzie. Sit long enough and you will be introduced to many of the birds who live here such as teal, crested grebes, shags and black swans.
Lake Alexandrina is the larger of the two lakes and there are around two hundred very lucky people who happen to have a bach (holiday home) located at the North End, the Outlet or the South End. Most have been in families for many years and it's the sort of place that everyone knows everyone (and their business) or they know their father or their mother. Most of the bach's are simple affairs (as they should be) and only the Outlet has the luxury of electricity. None of this matters though as the whole reason to come here is to escape everything that accompanies modern life and convenience. At this point I sound a little hypocritical as I look across the lake typing this on an iPad but you get the picture I'm sure.
The lakes also attract trout fishermen and many of the bach's here are almost shrines to the sport displaying stuffed and mounted prize catches, retired fishing rods and nets and any manner of fishing regalia and kitsch. The owners of these bach's simply using them as a base for their early morning and late evening forays to catch 'the big one'.
Regular 9 lb trout are caught (sometimes bigger depending on how much beer has been consumed by the story teller) but don't expect to get any tips on where or how from the locals. Come here for 25 years on the trot and you might just be considered a local and then you might be lucky enough to glean at least a little insider info if haven't already figured it out.
There are walking paths that circumnavigate the lakes but it's a whole day to get around Lake Alexandrina so it's a case of walk until you need to around.
I'm one of the lucky ones. My wife's family has had one of the posh bach's here for nearly 3 decades (it has electricity). As a child she would spend time here swimming and kayaking and row boating and generally doing what kids are supposed to. So it was no surprise we chose to get married here right outside the Bach and then fire up the BBQ for our 'after-match function'. A little swimming, a little fishing and the occasional drink finished the day. A few years later our first daughter was born. We named her Alex after the lake. 18 months later our son was born and he was named Daniel Mcgregor after the smaller lake.
This is the sort of place you come to when you need to regain a sense of what's important. There is nothing here to clutter your mind, only to inspire it. So for me and others I am sure Tekapo isn't the jewel in the crown. Tekapo is the crown and Lakes Alexandrina and Mcgregor are the jewels. Just make sure the crown is worn back to front so not too many people get to see the jewels otherwise the shine might just fade.