Author DaQua ◦

It is always an adventure to hit the road again with that sense of anticipation and exploration that can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary at every turn. But today our hearts were heavier than usual as we drove out to Lake Tekapo. My son Aaron, and I had received news the day before, from family in Alice Springs, that Atlas, their much loved Golden Retriever, had passed away.

This was particularly distressing for them as they were caught in the SA Covid-19 lockdown, after attending an intimate wedding, held in the beautiful countryside of South Australia. Their trip home cancelled, they couldn’t return to be with him. My granddaughter Zoe, now six years old, had never known life without him. It was my youngest daughter Lowri, and her partner Corey, who lovingly cared for Atlas in his last hours. This was a sad time for our family across the ditch.

I was reflecting on this as we pulled up at the lakeside — stepping out of the car, the first thing I noticed was a sculpture of a dog — from the angle and distance it almost looked as if it was majestically standing on the top of the snow covered Southern Alps in the distance. I had to blink to refocus but there it was. It was in fact a memorial to the sheep dog — or rather to the contribution of Border Collies — who were brought to the Island by Scottish shepherds in the 19th Century. The highlands of the Mackenzie region where Lake Tekapo sparkles, just couldn’t have been farmed without them.

Sculpted by Innes Elliot and based on a sheepdog called Haig — like a good whiskey — it has stood, proudly mounted high on a rock, overlooking the lake since 1968, when the Mackenzie community decided to pay tribute to these “hardy dogs”.

“without the help of which the grazing of this mountain country would be impossible.”

Border Collies are also a familiar site in my home country of Wales, mostly working dogs on the sheep farms, but non-the-less, working dogs or family pets, the relationship and bond between man and dog is age old.

In New Zealand, public art featuring dog sculptures is not uncommon, and for dog lovers, an art trail could keep you busy for weeks – a testament perhaps to the way dogs have become a part of the history and very landscape of these islands.

A little farther along the shore of the lake stood a tiny stone church — The Church of the Good Shepherd — the air was crisp and clear with the winter sun hanging low in the sky, its rays of light stretching out in all directions, twinkling, almost like a giant star against the cloudless blue sky.

Over the years I have been blessed to come to know several beautiful and characterful dogs, some became part of my life transitions, from toddler to child (not unlike Zoe with Atlas), from teenager to young woman, newly married to mother, through to the time when my own children flew the nest, and I did too relocating with Lowri to Alice Springs, where new dogs entered my life, all of them leaving paw prints in the house and in my heart.

I was thinking about this as we headed up into the town of Tekapo, above the lake — discovering the Dark Sky Project — hop off point for many astronomy and stargazing opportunities. I had suggested, only the evening before, to Nicole, when we had had news of Atlas, that Zoe draw a picture of a star for him so that she would always know that he was looking over her and shining bright.

Stars shining bright over Tekapo are almost guaranteed (not withstanding cloudy skies of course), as light pollution is strictly controlled. In 2012, 4,300 sq km of the Mackenzie region was declared an International Dark Sky Reserve. Visitors can even experience mountaintop stargazing at the world renowned University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory that overlooks the shimmering lake. The lake is glacial fed, and as the glaciers move they grind rocks creating ‘rock flour,’ that eventually finds its way into the lake — this ‘glacial or rock flour,’ suspended in the water gives rise to the deep turquoise colour. It is quite breath-taking to see whatever the season but set against the freshly fallen snow on the Alps it was stunning.

Tekapo is situated on the inland route of State Highway 8 between Queenstown and Christchurch. It is a hugely popular tourist destination and has all the usual array of accommodation and camp sites, to suit all budgets. The parade of shops that really make up the centre of town boast several restaurants, takeaways, and coffee shops as well as gift shops aimed at the tourist market — that at the moment ‘is’ Australia — although on the day we visited Tekapo, the Trans-Tasman Bubble had been suspended for eight weeks due to increases in the number of people with Covid -19 in some Australian States. Let’s hope travel resumes again before too long because New Zealand has much to offer — including a warm welcome.

There may have been tears at Tekapo but as I thought of Atlas and my family in Australia, my heart turned from feeling heavy, to feeling full. The visit had provided the perfect back drop for reflection on that special bond so many of us enjoy with dogs over our lifetime, and one particular Aussie dog from Alice called Atlas who meant the world to my family.

They may stay a long time, or a brief time, but they bring such unconditional love and acceptance with them that we are forever in their debt. They demonstrate loyalty and love daily — they can become real companions on this journey called life and whilst we may not be able to always see them — we can always feel them.

“Our mate Atlas left us last week at the grand age of 12, after a sudden decline. He was such a gentleman. Never chewed a shoe, never chased a ball. Content always to be with his people. He was patient, protective, and loving. We will miss him forever.”

Nicole, Liam & Zoe

Written and Dedicated to the Memory of Atlas and those that came and left before him. DaQua, July 2021