New Zealand’s South Island is full of amazing and beautiful landscapes. With stunning mountains and crystal blue, glacially-fed lakes, there isn’t a shortage of breathtaking scenery. While Lake Tekapo may not have the notoriety that some of the more well-known spots on the South Island have, it isn’t for a lack of beauty. On the contrary, it happens to be one of the South Island’s most beautiful landscapes.
As the second-largest of three parallel lakes located along the north side of the Mackenzie Basin, Lake Tekapo, as well as the small town by the same name, are enveloped by some of the prettiest snow-capped peaks in the Southern Alps. The waters of the lake, which are fed by glaciers that originate high within the surrounding mountain peaks, is a beautiful color of blue that is a trademark of glacially-fed bodies of water.
While most visitors who come to Lake Tekapo do so to marvel at its beauty, there is also an abundance of things to do in the area. In addition to being a great place to go hiking and kayaking, the area is also one of the best places in the world to stargaze at night. In fact, Lake Tekapo is world-renown for its clear and dark nighttime skies. The lake is also just a short drive from Mount Cook National Park, which makes it a great stop on your way to the park from Christchurch.
In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Lake Tekapo on New Zealand’s South Island. I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip. In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are. With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Lake Tekapo will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.
|At A Glance|
|Top Things to See|
|How to Get There|
|Best Time to Visit|
|Where to Stay|
|Where to Eat|
|Recommended Tours and Excursions|
At a Glance
As you prepare to start planning your trip to visit Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, it is important that you understand some important information about travel to New Zealand. Please review the information below on the passport, VISA, customs, and immunizations requirements for visiting New Zealand, as well as the official languages and currency for the country.
|Passport requirements exist. See the linked article below for details.|
|Immunization recommendations in the linked article below.|
|The official languages in New Zealand are English and Māori.|
|The official currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar.|
In order to assist you in navigating the legal requirements for visiting New Zealand, I have included a link to my New Zealand Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors Guide below for you to review. This guide will give you all of the information that you will need to meet the VISA, passport, customs, and immunizations requirements and recommendations for visiting New Zealand.
|New Zealand Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors|
Top Things to See and Do
There is no shortage of amazing things to see and do in the Lake Tekapo, New Zealand area. In addition to being incredibly beautiful, there is a wide array of things for visitors to do outdoors. In order to assist you in planning some activities for your stay in the Lake Tekapo area, I have included a list of the top things to see and do in the immediate and surrounding areas for you to review below.
|Admire the Church of the Good Shepherd|
|Do Some Star Gazing|
|Take a Flight Over the Southern Alps|
|Enjoy the Hot Pools at Tekapo Springs|
|Visit Mount Cook National Park|
|Go on a Skydiving Adventure|
|Visit Arthur’s Pass National Park|
|Do a Heli-Hike on Franz Josef or Fox Glacier|
|Go Hiking in Wanaka|
Admire the Church of the Good Shepherd
One of the most popular and recognizable landmarks in the Lake Tekapo area is undoubtedly the Church of the Good Shepherd, which sits just off the shore of the lake inside the city limits of Lake Tekapo. This beautiful, stone church offers interdenominational services and is a favorite photography subject for professional and amateur photographers who visit Lake Tekapo. If you get up early, you have a good chance of being rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over the church to photograph. To give you an understanding of where the sun rises and sets in Lake Tekapo throughout the year, I have included a sunrise and sunset map for you to review below.
Do Some Star Gazing
One of the things that the Lake Tekapo area is world-renown for is the clear, dark nighttime skies that are ideal for stargazing. The area is home to the Dark Sky Project, which is a mountainside observatory that offers visitors telescope viewing and educational events. If you have the time, I would absolutely recommend taking a tour of the facility.
Another option for stargazing in the Lake Tekapo area is at the Tekapo Springs hot pools. The hot springs offer nightly stargazing sessions where you soak in the hot pools and enjoy gazing at the beautiful star-filled sky over Lake Tekapo. If you are interested in this tour, please see the section of this guide on Recommended Tours and Excursions below for tour information.
Take a Flight Over the Southern Alps
There are few mountain ranges in this world that are as beautiful as the Southern Alps of New Zealand. If you would like to get a great view of this stunning mountain range, there is no better way to do so than to take a scenic flight or helicopter ride. High above the mountains, you will be able to see all of the snow-capped peaks, deep mountain valleys, and the many large glaciers that the Southern Alps are known for. For those who are interested in taking a scenic flight in the Lake Tekapo area, please refer to the Recommended Tours and Excursions section of this guide below for tour information.
For those who are into hiking, there are a number of great hiking trails that you can explore in the Lake Tekapo area. Undoubtedly the most popular of these trails is the Mount John Circuit, which is a 5 mile (8.2 kilometers) loop track that takes hikers to the peak of nearby Mount John. From the top, you get some absolutely spectacular views of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding area. If you are interested in exploring this trail, I have included a Mount John Circuit Trail Map for you to review below.
Enjoy the Hot Pools at Tekapo Springs
After a long day hiking, kayaking, or exploring Lake Tekapo and the surrounding area, a great way to relax and recharge your batteries is to visit the hot pools at Tekapo Springs. These outdoor hot pools are located at the base of Lake John on the northwest side of the city of Tekapo and are kid-friendly. In addition to three hot pools and an Aqua Play Area with two cooler pools, the facility also has steam rooms and saunas with a cold plunge pool for visitors to enjoy as well. If you are looking for some relaxing downtime during your travels, Tekapo Springs is an excellent option.
Visit Mount Cook National Park
If you haven’t had enough of the beautiful Southern Alps after exploring Lake Tekapo and are looking for some additional hiking trails to explore, nearby Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park has some of the biggest peaks in the Southern Alps and some of the South Island’s best hiking trails. The centerpiece of this amazing national park is undoubtedly the enormously tall Mount Cook. Standing at 12,316 feet (3,754 meters), it is the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
Another popular landmark within the park that visitors can explore is the impressive Tasman Glacier, which is the largest glacier in New Zealand. Visitors have the option of hiking to a viewpoint where you can observe the glacier, or take a scenic helicopter tour to see the glacier from the air. If you are interested in hiking the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint, I have included a map for you to review below. For those who would prefer to see the glacier from the air, I would suggest referring to the Recommended Tours and Excursions section of this guide below for available helicopter tour information.
Go on a Skydiving Adventure
If doing some alpine hiking isn’t enough adventure for you, a skydiving excursion is a great way to add some additional adventure to your trip. New Zealand’s South Island is one of the best places in the world to go skydiving because it is so safe and so beautiful. There are a number of different locations to take a skydiving excursion on the South Island, with a few of those spots being relatively close to Lake Tekapo. If you would like some more information on skydiving on New Zealand’s South Island, I have included a link to my New Zealand Skydiving Guide below for you to review.
|Everything You Need to Know About Skydiving in New Zealand|
Visit Arthur’s Pass National Park
Located roughly 4 hours to the North by car from Lake Tekapo, Arthur’s Pass National Park is known for its tall mountains, steep slopes, mind-blowing vistas, and rugged hiking terrain. If you are visiting Lake Tekapo from the north side of New Zealand’s South Island, Arthur’s Pass National Park is a great place to stop on your way. If you would like to learn more about this amazing park, I have included a brochure for you to review below.
Do a Heli-Hike on Franz Josef or Fox Glacier
No visit to New Zealand’s South Island is complete without seeing one of the many amazing glaciers in the high peaks of the Southern Alps. While the Tasman Glacier in nearby Mount Cook National Park is a great option if you are going to be visiting the park, some other great options are the nearby Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, which are located closer to the coast.
Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are located very close to one another, but neither is located close enough to Lake Tekapo to be good options for day trips. Instead, if you would like to see these glaciers, I would recommend building stops into your itinerary either before or after your visit to Lake Tekapo.
One of the best ways to experience these mind-blowingly beautiful glaciers is to get on the glaciers and do some hiking. Taking a helicopter hiking excursion is a great way to get up-close-and-personal with the glaciers and to have a unique adventure while in New Zealand. If you would like to learn some more about taking a heli-hiking adventure at either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, I have included a link to my Guide to Franz Josef and Fox Glacier Helicopter Sightseeing and Hikes for you to review below.
|Guide to Franz Josef and Fox Glacier Helicopter Sightseeing and Hikes|
Go Hiking in Wanaka
For those who are hiking enthusiasts, you won’t want to miss out on the amazing hikes that are in the Wanaka area. With a seemingly countless number of alpine hiking trails with breathtaking mountain and lake vistas, many people consider Wanaka to be the crown jewel of New Zealand hiking destinations. Because Wanaka is only a few hours to the south of Lake Tekapo by car, it is also close enough to visit during the day from Lake Tekapo. If you would like to learn some more about hiking in Wanaka, I have included a link to my Wanaka, New Zealand Visitor’s Guide for you to review below.
|Wanaka, New Zealand Visitor’s Guide|
How to Get There
Lake Tekapo is located on the South Island of New Zealand, in roughly the center of the island. If you are visiting Lake Tekapo from outside of New Zealand, your best bet of getting there is to fly into the international airport in either Christchurch or Queenstown. Christchurch is 228km from Lake Tekapo, which will take you roughly 3 hours to drive. Similarly, the airport in Queenstown is 256km from Lake Tekapo and will also take you roughly 3 hours to drive. To give you an idea of where Lake Tekapo is in relation to Christchurch, Queenstown, and the rest of the South Island, I have included a map for you to review below.
The town of Lake Tekapo sits at the southern end of Lake Tekapo, as shown on the map I have included below. If you are visiting from Mount Cook National Park, the Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers, Wanaka, or Queenstown, you will take Highway 8 East to Lake Tekapo. Should you be visiting Lake Tekapo from either Christchurch or Arthur’s Pass National Park, you will take Highway 8 West to Lake Tekapo.
Best Time to Visit
Average Temperature (°F)
When you visit Lake Tekapo will depend a great deal on what you are planning on doing while visiting New Zealand’s South Island. If you are visiting New Zealand to do some skiing, then visiting during the winter months of June thru August will probably be the ideal months to visit. During these months you can expect high temperatures to be in the mid-40’s to the lower-50’s Fahrenheit (7-12 degrees Celsius).
However, if you are visiting to do some hiking, bike riding, kayaking, or other warm-weather activities, then the summer months of December thru February will probably be ideal for you. During these months you can expect high temperatures to reach the mid-60’s to lower-70’s Fahrenheit (18-23 degrees Celsius).
The autumn and fall seasons are characterized by very mild temperatures. The lows are typically just above freezing while the high temperatures don’t usually get much above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius). If you are planning on doing winter activities like skiing, then finding availability in the late autumn or early spring can be a good way to save money. The same can be said for targeting late spring or early autumn if you are visiting to do warm-weather activities.
Average Precipitation (Inches)
The winter months of July and August are far-and-away the driest months of the year in the Lake Tekapo area. Those months typically see very little precipitation. However, if you are visiting to go skiing in New Zealand, then the lack of snow may not be an advantage to you. If you are visiting during the summer months of December thru February, you should be aware that these are typically the wettest months of the year in the Lake Tekapo area. If you plan on doing some hiking in the area, I would recommend building a little flexibility into your schedule during this time of year.
Where to Stay
One of the most important decisions you are going to have to make when planning your trip to Lake Tekapo is where you will stay. The town of Lake Tekapo is built around tourism, so there are a lot of great options for places to stay. This includes hostels, hotels, and apartments and houses for rent. If you would like some assistance in finding the right place for you to stay in the Lake Tekapo area, I have included a number of recommended accommodation options at different price points for you to review below.
|Quirky Cottage ($)|
|Mountain Chalet Motels ($)|
|Lake Tekapo Cottages ($$)|
|Marie Therese B & B ($$)|
|Tekapo 1929 ($$)|
|Pukaki Air Lodge ($$)|
|Mantra Lake Tekapo ($$$)|
|Tekapo Heights ($$$)|
|Lakeview Tekapo ($$$)|
|Peppers Bluewater Resort Lake Tekapo ($$$$)|
Where to Eat
The town of Lake Tekapo isn’t very big, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t places in town to find good food. In fact, there are some really outstanding restaurants for a town its size. To assist you in finding great restaurant options for your stay in the Lake Tekapo area, I have included some of the most recommended options for you to review below.
|Blue Lake Eatery & Bar||Pizza, New Zealand, Bar||$$-$$$|
|Kohan Japanese Restaurant
||Japanese, Sushi, Asian||$$-$$$|
|Astro Cafe||Cafe, New Zealand, Veggie||$$-$$$|
|The Greedy Cow
||Cafe, New Zealand, Veggie||$$-$$$|
|Mackenzies Cafe Bar Grill
||Bar, European, New Zealand||$$-$$$|
|Lake Tekapo Rakinui Restaurant
||European, New Zealand, Veggie||$$-$$$|
Recommended Tours and Excursions
There is no shortage of fun things to do in the Lake Tekapo and surrounding areas. Whether activities to do around town or day tours outside of town, there are plenty of tours and excursions that are popular with tourists. If you are looking for some fun excursions or tours to take while you are visiting Lake Tekapo, I have included links below for tours in both the Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook areas for you to review.
Before you take out your camera and start taking pictures of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding area, I have some tips that will help you get the best pictures possible during your visit. Please review my Photography Planning for Lake Tekapo, South Island guide below for my tips on how to maximize your photography shots of the Lake Tekapo area.
|Photography Planning for Lake Tekapo, South Island|
Lake Tekapo is an absolutely beautiful area. To be honest, it is so beautiful that it is difficult to not get a lot of amazing pictures when you visit. If you are interested, I have included some of the amazing pictures I took when we visited the Lake Tekapo area in the gallery below.
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