We had unfinished business from our last trip in December 2019 as road closures due to New Zealand's worst flood in 2 decades had obliterated swathes of our travel plans. We were determined to complete the scenic route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo this time, and I'm glad we did.
We began our drive at 0845 hrs on 22 December 2022, travelling along Highways 73 and 77 to get to Rakaia Gorge. The route was less direct than using Highway 1, but was definitely more scenic. Enroute, we stopped to watch a man being hoisted up a helicopter, take pictures at the Southern Alps Lookout Point, and marvel at the verdant green of the South Island's fertile farmlands.
We took our time and arrived at Rakaia Gorge an hour and a half later. The area was completely different from what we had witnessed 3 years back. Flood waters had turned the usually calm waters of Rakaia River into a raging muddy mess complete with uprooted trees and floating debris. Both times the river took our breath away. The first time it knocked the wind out of us when the frightening sight of the angry river rattling the creaky wooden bridge under our feet made us turn on our heels and run for our lives. This time, the crystal clear, azure blue waters of the river made us widen our eyes and suck in our breath in delight.
My brother-in-law taught the kids to skim stones at Rakaia River, and we went for a walk to the Lower Gorge Lookout Point. The walk was supposed to be 1.7km long and take 30 mins one way, but there were no signs along the way for us to know if we had made it to the finish line. We spent close to 90 mins exploring the area before continuing with our drive.
Our lunch stop for the day was at Geraldine Orchard Farm Shop & Cafe. They had a big jumping castle and outdoor games on the lawn, which kept the kids entertained whilst we waited for our food.
After lunch, we stopped briefly at the town of Geraldine to visit St Mary's Anglican Church, a church consecrated in 1883 with beautiful stained glass windows.
We also went to Barker's of Geraldine to buy some of their famous jams and syrup. There was a free tasting corner where we could sample all their products. Pity the glass bottles were difficult to transport, otherwise we would have bought more. The syrups when mixed with cold soda water were fragrant, light and refreshing. Highly recommended!
A little further along at Fairlie, we made another pitstop at Fairlie Bakehouse, renowned for serving New Zealand's best pies. A batch of their signature pork belly and apple sauce pie with pork crackling was fresh out of the oven when we got there, and we promptly loaded up on them, along with some of their bacon and salmon, smoked chicken and mushroom, and traditional mince and cheese pies. We had them for dinner that night and the fight for pork crackling nearly sparked off World War Three!
It was close to 1700 hrs when we rolled into Tekapo. The town's supermarket, Four Square, was opened till 2000 hrs which gave us plenty of time to pick up our groceries for making our Christmas Dinner and other meals.
Our final stop for the day was our Airbnb, a brand new 5-bedroom 4.5-bathroom house named Lupin Faves located at 8 Jimmys Lane. We paid a total of S$2,166.91 for the 4 nights, which worked out to S$108.35 per room per night. The spacious house was perfect for our family, with communal areas for the family to hang out in and our own corners to retreat to for privacy. There was an outdoor deck for stargazing, a well-equipped kitchen, and washer/dryer.
Not every room in the house was air-conditioned, but it was cool enough to do without air-conditioning anyway. In summer, the temperature in Tekapo typically peaks at around 19 degrees celsius in the day and falls to as low as around 7 degrees celsius during the night. In fact, at times, we found the need to use the heaters in the rooms and bathrooms.
The sun didn't set till 9.21 pm on 22 December 2022 and we were too tired to stay up for the sky to turn dark enough for stargazing. A day of driving, exploring and food coma hastened our retreat to our rooms for an early night. A much needed recharge for the following day's adventure in MacKenzie Country.