South by South Island

LakeTekapo

While I was home in Louisiana for the holidays, so many people asked me what I missed about New Zealand and what things I'll take back to the states with me when I return one day. It's difficult to come up with an answer because I can't say that I've been captivated by a particular food, custom or material item here in New Zealand...

What I missed the most while I was back in the states was the slower, more balanced pace of life, the spectacular scenery and the ability to adventure around New Zealand with relative ease. And there's no better place to experience that than on the South Island.

When I imagine New Zealand, I think of crystal blue water with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Basically this...

LakeTekapo

After driving nearly three hours with Joe, Jeff and Ashley from Christchurch south through the rolling hills and mountains of Mackenzie Country, the Southern Alps revealed themselves on the horizon.

Stop the car (in a safe place) — this calls for a photo-op!

SouthernAlps

Driving to Lake Tekapo, we were bombarded by one beautiful piece of scenery after another. The snow-capped mountains, rolling hills covered in sheep and glacial lakes were straight out of the movies. I felt like I might see Frodo Baggins at any moment.

Finally we arrived at Lake Tekapo. It was the New Zealand I'd been waiting all year to see! — and you really can only go to the South Island to see it. Before we even reached our lodge, we were once again pulling over the car to take photos. This became a regular, every 5-minute occurrence over the course of our road trip. When we searched travel times, we learned to account for an extra hour or two for detours and pulling over for photos.

LakeTekapo

Our accommodation was a quaint two-bedroom fisherman-themed lodge situated right on the lake. If you're traveling on a budget and are lucky enough to be traveling with friends, a two-bedroom or family 'bach' is a great way to split the cost and save money.

Seriously, how cute?

Seriously, how cute?

The view from the inside isn't too bad either.

The view from the inside isn't too bad either.

Lake Tekapo is known to be one of the best places for stargazing on earth. High up in the hills you'll find the Mt John Observatory, which is equipped with New Zealand's largest telescope and home of the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. With a full moon overhead, unfortunately the sky wasn't dark enough at all for good stargazing during our visit, but it was absolutely incredible watching the moon rise over the mountains and light up the sky. We ran outside in our pajamas to try to capture it on camera. Looks like I've got quite a bit to learn about night time photography, but here's the best I could do...

Full moon, clear skies, rain or shine, Mt John is well worth the hike (or drive in our case). Stunning 360° views from the top will leave you in awe of this beautiful region.

Not to mention, I always feel like I'm in New Zealand when my car has to stop at a 45-degree angle going up a mountain to let sheep cross the road.

I can literally imagine a Lord of the Rings battle happening on the plains below.

Another not-to-miss stop on your New Zealand roadtrip is the magnificent and rather spiritual view from The Church of the Good Shepherd. This tiny church, which probably seats about 40 people, is backed by an alter of God's great scenery. No need for grand mosaics and murals when you've got a window overlooking a glassy lake and snow-kissed mountains.

Upon entering the tiny chapel I was overcome with a feeling of peace and gratitude. I'm so thankful for the beauty I've experienced here. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully unspoilt New Zealand is. You can just enjoy the land for what it is — no gimmicks, no fancy-pants resorts, just good ole Earth the way God intended it to be!

Another thing I was so excited to see were the Lupins! These gorgeous pink and purple flowers are actually weeds that bloom all around the lake in the spring. I've seen so many photos in books, travel websites and on Pinterest of the fields of Lupins enveloping the shore of Lake Tekapo. It was so exciting to finally go there and snap a photo of my own. This is an absolute New Zealand must-do!

Thanks to Jeff for snapping this photo!

Thanks to Jeff for snapping this photo!

Now onto more idyllic scenery, mountains, lakes and photo-ops. Next stop: Lake Pukaki and Mt. Cook!