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Canterbury, New ZealandLake Tekapo History

Lake Tekapo | Regional Information | Activity Highlights | Scenic Highlights | History

Don't just pass through Canterbury. Stop and explore its beautiful natural history, and the story of how it became home to the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand.

Lake Tekapo History Overview

In the last ice age, Tekapo was once covered by a large glacier pushing down from the Southern Alps and reaching further than the end of the lake today. The glacier dumped large amounts of moraine at it terminal eventually resulting in the damming of valley causing it to fill with water forming the lake.

Today the glaciers still exist but as a fraction of what they once were having retreated back up the valleys passed the head of the lake. The glaciers are visible from the air and often accessible by a four wheel drive vehicle.

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Human Settlement

The Maori name for the area is "Takapo" meaning "To leave in haste at night", it is thought that the name "Tekapo" is a corruption of it.

Before European settlement, Maori used to come into the Mackenzie Basin in search of food. They hunted the Moa (a large flightless bird) in this area to extinction; they also hunted other birds and fished for eels.

The first European to arrive in this area was James Mackenzie after whom the area was named in 1885. James Mackenzie was a Scottish shepherd who had become a sheep rustler. To hide his stolen sheep he and his intellect dog called Friday drove them into this area. The authorities eventually captured Mackenzie but struggled to retake the sheep because of highly intellect Friday. It is said that Friday continued to drive the sheep even without his master and the authorities only managed to take the sheep when they disabled the dog.

Construction of the Hydro Station

During the Great Depression in the 1930s construction on a Tekapo hydro power station started. It was due for completion in 1943 but due to the disruption of the Second World War construction was halted and not finished until 1951.

Water from the lake is diverted through a 1.4-kilometre (4,600 feet) tunnel under the town to the power station. The water was originally returned to the river.

With development of the Upper Waitaki hydroelectric scheme in the 1970s, water is now fed into a 26-kilometre (16 mile) canal which leads to Tekapo B on the shores of Lake Pukaki.

Lake Tekapo Accommodation

Lake Tekapo is a popular tourist destination and offers a wide range of accommodation options:

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Useful Lake Tekapo Links

To help plan your Lake Tekapo holiday choose from the main categories below:

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Lake Tekapo Region Information

Lake Tekapo Tourism Operators

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Mainstay New Zealand Hotels

Mainstay NZ Hotels

Large collection of independent hotels.

Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels

Holiday packages for any occasion.

Distinction Hotels

Distinction Hotels

Great hotels in great NZ wide locations.