Church of the Good Shepherd

Pioneer Drive, Tekapo

  • Church of the Good Shepherd. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Allison Bennet. Taken By: Allison Bennet. Date: 3/08/2008.
  • Church of the Good Shepherd. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Jana147. Taken By: Jana147. Date: 1/05/2010.
  • Church of the Good Shepherd. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 11/08/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 311 Date Entered 5th September 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Sec 1C Blk II Tekapo Village (CT CB440/39), Canterbury Land District and the building known as Church of the Good Shepherd thereon.

City/District Council

Mackenzie District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 1C Blk II Tekapo Village (CT CB440/39), Canterbury Land District


The Church of Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo is arguably one of the most photographed of New Zealand's buildings. A small stone church situated in a stunning landscape, it is one of a number of memorial churches built throughout South Canterbury to commemorate the original Pakeha settlers of the area.

Opened in 1935, the Church of the Good Shepherd was the first to be built in the Mackenzie Basin. The idea for a local church was first mooted by the then Vicar of Fairlie, Reverend W.E.D. Davies, and picked up by the local runholders, who saw it as an opportunity to commemorate their ancestors who braved the rigours of this harsh alpine environment to establish the runs. Land for the church was donated by the Murrays of Braemar Station and the design was based on drawings and a model by local artist Esther Hope (1885-1975) of Grampians Station. Hope was a well-known painter, who exhibited regularly at the Canterbury Society of Arts. Her sketches and model were presumably passed onto the architect, Christchurch-based R.S.D. Harman (1896-1953). Although Harman had been involved in church design before, the commission for the Church of the Good Shepherd was his first solo full church design.

Harman's design for the Church of the Good Shepherd evolved from a traditional Gothic form, suggested by Hope's drawings, to a simple and more medieval building appropriate to the bleak landscape. The church was constructed from poured concrete and faced with local boulders, carefully chosen for their size, shape and colour. These were left in their original state complete with any existing lichen. In part this restraint is linked to the economic depression of the thirties, which left the community with little money for building.

Buttresses line the sides of the church and a small belfry rises from the roofline to the left of the main entrance. A concrete cross was placed on top of the north gable. Although the church was originally roofed with Australian oak shingles these proved unable to stand up to the extreme weather conditions of the site and were replaced with slate in 1957.

The interior of the church reflects Harman's Arts and Crafts dedication to the simplicity and inherent beauty of materials, with the rough-plastered cream walls contrasting with the dark stained rimu roof timbers. Harman designed the pews, communion rail, vicar's prayer-desk and seat, but the main carvings in the church were rendered by noted Christchurch carver, Frederick Gurnsey (1868-1953). Gurnsey had taught Harman at the Canterbury School of Art and they went on to form a close working relationship, collaborating on a number of other buildings. At Tekapo Gurnsey carved a representation of the Good Shepherd on the altar and alpine flora and fauna on the Oamaru stone font. He also carved the lecturn and the stand for the Book of Remembrance, which contains a complete list of the original Mackenzie runholders. These carvings are described by art historian Mark Stocker as 'more primitive' and 'quirky' than Gurnsey's normal work. Oak was chosen as the wood for a number of fittings within the church in order to symbolise the links between the Mackenzie Basin runholders and their British forbearers.

The main feature of the interior, however, is the panorama of the lake and mountains, visible through the plate glass window above the altar. This idea, of making visible and framing the glory of God's creation, had first been successfully incorporated into St James Church (1930) at Franz Josef, on the West Coast, also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga. There the window offered the congregation a view of the bush and glacier; at Tekapo the lake and Southern Alps take the place of both a reredos and stained glass window.

As requested by the donors, the immediate surroundings of the church were left in their natural state covered with matagouri, tussock and rock. Adjoining land was also gifted to ensure the church remained in splendid isolation. Although owned by the Anglican Church, the Church of the Good Shepherd was also open to the local Methodist and Presbyterian congregations.

The Church of Good Shepherd is the most well known of Harman's works and illustrates his commitment to Arts and Crafts principles. The way in which the church is built from local materials and surrounded by indigenous plants makes it very much part of the surrounding landscape and gives it a timeless quality. It was erected to provide the local community with a church and for runholders to celebrate their ancestors. It is therefore associated with the early Pakeha settlers of the Mackenzie Basin. The church contains a significant collection of Gurnsey's carvings and features an unusual window, which offers visitors a magnificent view of the surrounding lake and mountains. Today it is a major tourist attraction.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Harman, Richard Strachan De Renzy

Not to be confused with his uncle R.D. Harman of Collins and Harman, Architects, R.S. Harman (1896-1953) was born and educated in Christchurch where he subsequently became one of the city's most competent ecclesiastical and residential architects. He served his articles with the local firm of Seager and Macleod (1914-16) and also attended classes at the Canterbury College School of Art during this time. After service in France during the First World War, he studied at the Royal College of Art, London before returning to New Zealand in 1920 to rejoin Seager's office. Between 1923 and 1926 Harman was once more in London undertaking further study as well as working for the Ancient Monuments Branch of His Majesty's Office of Works. On his return to Christchurch he entered into a short-lived partnership with Cecil Wood before establishing his own practice in 1928.

Harman was closely associated with the Anglican Church throughout his career and almost all of his church designs were commissioned by the Anglican dioceses of Canterbury and Nelson. The Church of the Good Shepherd, Tekapo (1935) and St. John's Cathedral, Napier (1953) are among his most well-known ecclesiastical works, although the latter was not erected until after his death. During the late 1940s he worked as the consulting architect for Christchurch Cathedral, designing the Chapel of St Michael and St George in the south transept in 1949 and the reredos behind the High Altar in 1950. Harman was also an active member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, becoming president of that organisation in 1949.

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Register of original sheep runs, their owners and employees.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1935 - 1935
Foundation stone laid January 1935. Dedicated August 1935

1933 - 1934

1957 -
Original wooden shingles replaced with slate.

Completion Date

4th October 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Christchurch Press

29 July 1985, p.29

Lochead, 1995

Ian Lochead (ed.) Papers and Proceedings SAHANZ Annual Conference, Christchurch 6-8 July 1991: Regional Responses, Christchurch, 1995

Ruth M Helms, 'The Church of the Good Shepherd: A Response to its Site and Environment', in Ian Lochhead, ed., Regional Responses: Papers and Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand, Christchurch, New Zealand, 6-8 July 1991, Christchurch, 1995, pp.112-117

McGill, 1997

David McGill and Grant Sheehan, Landmarks: Notable Historic Buildings of New Zealand, Auckland, 1997


Stocker, 1997

Mark Stocker, Angels and Roses: the art of Frederick George Gurnsey, Christchurch, 1997


University of Canterbury

University of Canterbury

'Arts and Crafts churches of Canterbury: School of Fine Arts Gallery, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 12 to 30 August 1996, (exhibition catalogue)', Christchurch, School of Fine Arts, 1996, Tessa Molloy, '8 Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, 1935', pp.13-14

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.