Coming out of Tekapo on your way to Burkes Pass, you a hit an unusually named bend in the road: Dog Kennel Corner. The bend’s name honours the boundary dogs that station managers chained between properties to keep flocks of sheep apart.
Scotsman James Mackenzie passed this way in 1855, on his route through the Mackenzie Basin with 1,000 sheep he’d stolen from the Rhodes brothers’ Levels station, north of Timaru. Today Mackenzie’s known as much for his rebellious spirit as for his ability as a shepherd, drover and thief. And his faithful dog Friday and other ‘canine Scots’ are immortalised in statue form on the shores of Lake Tekapo.
After my sister’s wedding at Tekapo last week, I drove my 84-year-old grandfather back to Christchurch Airport. ‘Turn here!’, Grandad yelled as we got to Dog Kennel Corner. He grew up around these parts, so I was happy for the detour. We hit the dirt road through Mackenzie Pass about 20 minutes later.
In 1942, soon before he joined the airforce, Grandad rode a 1930s 500-cc Ariel sloper motorcycle through the Mackenzie Pass in the opposite direction, west from Albury. The graded dirt road of today is a vast improvement on the pot-holed dust bowl he rode through. He flooded the bike’s motor in a ford near the summit and had to sit it out until the water dried. No one except a lone station hand was on the track that day. The station hand told Grandad he’d not seen a motorbike come through the pass before.
We stopped at the summit to admire the view back towards the Ben Ōhau Range. A memorial to Mackenzie and his captors, John Sidebottom and two Maori shepherds, also stands there. As I snapped away on the digital camera, I asked grandad if he’d taken pictures on his trip in the 40s. No he hadn’t, but he’d made some drawings in his diary, and he promised to show them to me one day.