It's been an uplifting day. I've driven exactly 1km, vertically. It's all about altitude.
For the day began by flying into the New Zealand city of Christchurch with, rather bizarrely, the Southern Alps standing clear, jagged and sugar-dusted with snow against blue sky out of the windows on one side of the aircraft, and great sausages of white cloud over the estuary of the Avon and Heathcote rivers out of the other.
Two different worlds. The Pacific Ocean rolled in regular corrugations on to the beaches of Canterbury, near the centre of the east coast of the South Island.
But soon we are driving south-west through the verdant green of the Canterbury Plains, Christchurch behind and the Southern Alps ahead.
This is farming country, with lush green fields, big dairy herds, sheep just lambed, good soil, hay cut and crops growing. We cross the braided Rangitata River and right off the highway, to stop at Geraldine and sit in the sun under a china-blue sky and sip tea and eat freshly made frittata.
Then the road starts to snake and rise, and ahead, the Southern Alps start to take on a different proportion - no longer a pretty necklace of jagged sharks' teeth on the horizon, matching the dark green lines of tall wind and snow-breaking conifers but massive rock walls topped with icing.
We pass Burke's Pass at 709m, in real alpine country, before arriving in Tekapo - about three hours easy drive from Christchurch, and a good place to aim for, to overnight on the way to Queenstown or Dunedin, or just to stay for longer.
Up on the Mackenzie Basin, the lake itself has the strong turquoise colour that comes when sun hits glacial water, with its suspended "flour". It looks like the stripe in toothpaste, under white dobs of cloud.
A good view is from the Astro Cafe on top of Mt John, here at just a smidge more than 1000m. What a difference a kilometre makes, when it's vertical.
The cafe is on the site of the Mt John University Observatory (actually in one of the old telescope buildings, with hot chocolate recommended).
Since June last year, the Mackenzie Basin has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve. It is one of only a few such reserves around the world, where light pollution is limited, and it is the biggest.
The designation of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which includes Tekapo, Mount Cook Village, Twizel and the tallest peaks of the Southern Alps is the result of a community working together towards this goal since 2006.
Indeed, the town of Tekapo has been protecting its skies since 1981, when it first turned its streetlights downwards, saving power and reducing light pollution through a "a no-spillage policy".
Mackenzie District Council had responded when a group of conservationists had the idea of creating a "park in the sky" to better protect the area's night asset. Floodlighting from sunset until 11pm is restricted, and it's "lights out" for white light after that.
As Earth and Sky head astronomy guide Chris Monson puts it: "We used to have the stars but most of us lost them. What happened in the 1980s in Lake Tekapo was a revolutionary concept."
Chris is assistant manager and one of the enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides at Earth and Sky astro tours. They offer a day visit to the Mt John Observatory, with its five telescopes, including New Zealand's biggest, which can observe 50 million stars.
But I am here on their night tour, also with guides Andrew Davies and "Fred" (yes, just "Fred"), tucked up in one of their warm Antarctic loan jackets, under the Milky Way and satellite galaxies of the Magellanic Clouds, up to 200,000 light years away, looking at the rings of Saturn and the Jewel Box cluster and 47 Tucanae.
The latter looks like one small, fuzzy star to the eye but the telescope reveals it is actually more than a million stars in a globular cluster some 100 light years across.
By day, the other way to see the country, and as far as New Zealand's highest peak, Mt Cook, is to fly with Lake Tekapo company Air Safaris, which offers a range of "flightseeing" options.
Tekapo is an interesting town of about 300 permanent residents, clearly with a strong sense of community, and with a tourism industry working together.
Karl Burtscher, who has lived in the area most of his life, wanted to not only set up a new business but to add something to the town, for locals as much as visitors. And his Tekapo Springs does that.
A series of three pools in the shape of local lakes, filled with spring water and heated to 36C, 38C and 40C using by-product heat from the site, there is also ice skating and snow tubing in winter, and during summer, tubing, the Tahr Bar and Cafe, with an outdoor deck overlooking Lake Tekapo and free wi-fi, steam and sauna rooms, and a day spa with a full range of treatments.
In providing a day out for the whole family, Tekapo Springs sales manager Claire Hector-Taylor says Tekapo Springs recently added the Trippo - the world's largest inflatable waterslide, with riders choosing from three chutes from an 11m platform. It is only the fourth in use in the world, the other three being in the US.I am staying in the Peppers Bluewater Resort, surrounded by mountains, the lake below, in a rather luxurious two-bedroom apartment, which has double and single bedrooms and a big bathroom on the ground floor, and a fully fitted kitchen, and dining and lounge areas, with vast views on two sides and a deck on the first floor.
Peppers also has one and three- bedroom apartments. All have a tranquil colour scheme inspired by the environment - the lake's turquoise and MacKenzie Basin's earthy tones.
A treat is in store at the resort's Rakinui Restaurant, with a tasting plate of local produce for entree, and then local "High Country" salmon with yams and spinach for main course. Truly delicious and $32.
Rakinui Restaurant was recently awarded the 2013 New Zealand Beef and Lamb Excellence Award for its "respectful use" of locally sourced beef and lamb. The restaurant uses free-range pork from Havoc Pork in Waimate, venison farmed at neighbours Balmoral Estate and free-range eggs from nearby Fairlie.
Breakfast at a local restaurant is equally stunning.
And so is Lake Tekapo, in the morning sun and bracing breeze, outside the window.
There's also kayaking, horseriding and trout fishing in Lake Tekapo, and nearby ski fields in winter. And it's a good base from which to explore the Mackenzie Basin region and Mt Cook.
"We are really making Lake Tekapo into a year-round destination," says Claire.
"We are a tiny community but there are some skilled tourism operators who know the importance of working together."
It's all about attitude.
Tekapo Springs: tekaposprings.co.nz and +64 3 680 6558. For summer, there's a range of entry price packages. As examples, hot pools entry is $20 for adults, $12 for children, $69 for families, and a ticket for hot pools, tubing and the slide is $52, $36 and $194 respectively.
Earth and Sky: earthandsky.co.nz and +64 3 680 6960. The two-hour night tour is $135 for adults, $80 for children, $390 for a family of two adults and two children, and $450 for two adults and three children.
Peppers Bluewater Resort: peppers.co.nz/bluewater and +64 3 680 7000. Spending tonight in a one bedroom mountain view suite would have cost $NZ312 for two adults; $NZ347 with breakfast.
·Air Safaris: airsafaris.co.nz and +64 3 680 6880. The Grand Traverse is a 50-minute flight; $NZ325 for adults, $NZ215 for children.
Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Tourism New Zealand.