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8 Reasons Lake Tekapo is Worth Visiting

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Things to do in Lake Tekapo: New Zealand South Island

Lake Tekapo is one of the must-see places on the South Island of New Zealand. It is a great area to stop at on your New Zealand Road Trip and believe me, Lake Tekapo is SO worth visiting!

Lake Tekapo is a massive bright blue lake which sits below the Southern Alps. These incredible mountains are often reflected in Lake Tekapo’s water.

girl standing on shoreline of Lake Tekapo in New Zealand

We stopped at Lake Tekapo and stayed for a night on our campervan road trip and were blown away by how beautiful it was there. Seeing the gorgeous lake is not the only thing to do there.

There are loads of reasons to visit Lake Tekapo and so much to do and see there! This guide will tell you everything there is to do in Lake Tekapo, as well as a few facts about the lake and places to stay.

Where is Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is located on New Zealand’s South Island. It is a 3 hour drive from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo and a 3 hour drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.

Click here to open the map in Google Maps!

How to get to Lake Tekapo

Driving From Queenstown

If you are driving from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo, you will need to head South-East on Highway 6A towards Ballarat St. At the round-a-bout, continue straight onto Highway 6.

Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Stay on Hwy 6 until you see signs for Highway 8B which will be the second exit of a round-a-bout. Yes, there are a lot of round-a-bouts in New Zealand.

Stay on Highway 8B until you see signs for Highway 8. Turn left onto State Hwy 8 (signs for Omarama/Aoraki / Mount Cook/Aoraki/Mt Cook/Christchurch)

Driving From Christchurch

If you are driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, you will need to take Highway 76 towards Akaroa/W Coast/Timaru.

Hwy 76 will turn into SH 1. Stay on this highway for about 104km and then take the exit at Rangitata onto Highway 79 towards Geraldine/Aoraki/Mount Cook.

Stay on Hwy 79 until you reach the town of Fairlie. Here you will need to turn right onto Mount Cook Rd/State Hwy 8 (signs for Lake Tekapo/Aoraki / Mount Cook/Aoraki). From here it is another 42km until you reach Lake Tekapo.

Couple standing together looking at Lake Tekapo New Zealand
Public Transport

If you need to catch public transport to Lake Tekapo, you can catch the bus that goes from Christchurch to Queenstown which takes a little over 3.5 hours.

From Queenstown, you can catch the same bus, however it takes 4 hours from Queenstown.

Take a Day Tour to Lake Tekapo

Another way to see Lake Tekapo is to take a day tour from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. On this tour, you will get to see not only Lake Tekapo, but also Lake Pukaki and Aoraki Mount Cook National Park!

Lake Pukaki is EVEN MORE BLUE than Lake Tekapo and is a must see!

If you are coming from Queenstown, you can take a tour to see Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook but the tour ends in Christchurch rather than Queenstown.

Girl at Lake Tekapo New Zealand

🛌 Places to Stay in Lake Tekapo that are SO Worth It!

Whether you are on a campervan trip or living it up in actual accommodation (and let me tell you there are some nice options here), Lake Tekapo has you covered! Please note that Freedom camping is prohibited in the Lake Tekapo area.

Lakes Edge Holiday Park This is a holiday park for campervans, tents and motorhomes and also has cabins and motel rooms that you can stay in.

Grand Suites Lake Tekapo – If you like a bit of luxury, I recommend checking out this hotel! The rooms and fitouts are gorgeous!

Galaxy Boutique Hotel – This is a beautiful 5 star hotel with options for apartments with kitchens or normal hotel rooms.

How Big is Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is an enormous 24km / 15 miles long and 6km / 3.5 miles wide. 

Why is Lake Tekapo So Blue

Lake Tekapo is a stunning turquoise blue because it is a glacial lake. The lake water gets its colour from the “glacial flour” which comes from the nearby glaciers and stays suspended in the water, giving it its brilliant colour.

girl sitting on shoreline of Lake Tekapo

How Long do You Need at Lake Tekapo

We found that one day at Lake Tekapo was enough to see the main sights, however if you want to do all of the activities on this list, you might find that 2 or 3 days will suit you better.

When is the Best Time to Visit

You can visit Lake Tekapo all-year-round. Summer is a great time to visit because you can swim in the lake, making it the most popular time to visit.

Autumn is also a beautiful time to visit when the leaves turn orange and the days become crisp. Some days you will see a thin layer of fog on top of the lake in the mornings.

Autumn at Lake Tekapo

During Spring, bright purple lupins flower around the lake which make for some really amazing photos! The time the flowers bloom can change from year to year depending on the weather, however, usually it is in mid-November.

In the Winter, Lake Tekapo transforms into a Winter wonderland with lots of snow surrounding the lake.

8 Reasons to Visit Lake Tekapo

There is so much more to Lake Tekapo than just snapping a photo of the lake. Here are 8 reasons that Lake Tekapo is worth visiting.

1. Lake Tekapo is one of the Best Places to Stargaze

You can’t visit Lake Tekapo without doing a stargazing experience! If you get good weather that is! Lake Tekapo is a dark sky reserve meaning that it is one of New Zealand’s best places for stargazing!

On this tour, you will learn how to use a telescope, enjoy hot chocolate and get an amazing astro photo taken with the stars like the one below!

Lake Tekapo Stargazing tour
Credit: Chameleon Stargazing (via GetYourGuide)

2. You can go for a swim in the lake to cool off

There’s nothing better than going for a dip in one of New Zealand’s most beautiful alpine lakes on a hot Summer’s day! Beware though, the water will be cold! It’s glacial.

Lake Tekapo is a really popular spot for recreational boating and swimming during the Summer.

One of the best swimming spots at Lake Tekapo is on the other side of the Lake Tekapo Power Boat & Water Ski Club. There is a boat ramp and a pontoon that you can swim out to and a sandy beach.

3. Lake Tekapo is one of the Best Places to see the Lupins in Spring

If you visit Lake Tekapo at the right time of year (mid-November), you might be lucky enough to be able to enjoy the beautiful purple lupins on the shore of the lake.

Loads of people visit Lake Tekapo at this time of the year especially for the photography opportunities because it is absolutely magical.

When we road tripped around the South Island, I had no idea that the lupins were even a thing and so we went in the off season in April/May. We were still able to catch some gorgeous Autumn colours though.

4. There are loads of Amazing Photo Opportunities

The New Zealand South Island is like a gold mine for photo opportunities and Lake Tekapo is no exception!

Girl on shoreline at Lake Tekapo

The best photo spots at Lake Tekapo include:

  • Church of the Good Shepherd
  • Along the shoreline to the left of the lake on the pebble beach (Tekapo Springs Carpark)
  • Mount John – hiking not required unless you want to visit outside of 9am-5pm when the vehicle gates are locked.
  • Lupins – all around the shoreline of Lake Tekapo, you will find beautiful purple lupins in November and December. There is even a specific “lupin field” pinned on google maps.

5. There are some awesome hikes to do!

It is pretty normal for people to visit Mount Cook for its scenic hikes, but not many people realise that Lake Tekapo also has a few really beautiful hiking trails!

Mount John Walkway 

Distance: 8.2km | Elevation Gain: 377m | Time: 1.5-2.5 hours

You can drive up to the observatory using the road which is open from 9am – 5pm. From there, you can walk further up to the summit. You can some incredible views of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains from the top and bonus, there’s a café at the top!

Cowans Hill Walkway

Distance: 6.3km | Elevation Gain: 123m | Time: 1.5-2 hours

This hike starts at the Church of the Good Shepherd and takes you along Tekapo River towards the Lake Tekapo Scientific Reserve. The trail has amazing views of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains.

Camp Stream Hut

Distance: 16.9km | Elevation Gain: 727m | Time: 5-7 hours

If you are up for a bit of a bigger hike, this one might be the one for you! This is a popular backpacking trip but can also be completed as a day hike.

6. There are some Great Cafes and Restaurants in Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is a pretty touristy place to visit on the New Zealand South Island, so with that, comes a great café and restaurant scene! Here are some of the best!

  • Kohan Restaurant – Japanese Food
  • Reflections Restaurant – Fancy/pub style food
  • Mackenzie’s Cafe & Restaurant – home style cooking and Coffee
  • Astro Cafe – the cafe on top of Mount John
  • Run 76 Bar & Grill – burgers and steaks
  • The Greedy Cow Café – sandwiches, burgers and quick bites.
  • Dark Sky Diner – South American influence

7. You can Soak in a Hot Spring!

Tekapo Springs is an experience worth doing! There are plunge pools, hot pools and steam and sauna rooms and you can enjoy all of these during the day or at night when the stars are out!

8. You can go on a 4WD Adventure

If you are keen for a bit more of an adventure, you could join a 4WD Wilderness Tour! This tour takes you into Lake Tekapo’s beautiful backcountry wilderness where you age-old glaciers, rivers, wild Merino Sheep and absolutely stunning landscapes.

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