Located in the Christchurch — Mount Cook — Queenstown corridor, one of the most beautiful areas of New Zealand, Lake Tekapo is home to mountain vistas, a slightly overrated church and some of the world’s clearest night skies. We’ve visited this place a few times over the last couple of years and can now finally bring you this list of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo (which is the name of the town and the lake — I always thought the town was just called Tekapo). I’ve written about some of these individual places / things to do in Lake Tekapo on my other site, seethesouthisland.com — check it out if you’re planning a trip to New Zealand!
The Best Things to Do In Lake Tekapo
Church of the Good Shepherd
This stone church by the shores of Lake Tekapo is a popular place to visit, and it can get overrun at times. It’s a bit overrated but the view from the church is nice and it’s worth a quick look. The best photos seem to all be taken at sunrise, so if you’re staying in Lake Tekapo it might be worth getting up early to see it at its best. We were planning on doing that, but grey skies convinced us to sleep in!
Mount John Observatory
Whether you’re stargazing or just want to have a coffee with a view, a trip up to Mount John Observatory is one of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo. The drive to the top, where there is a cafe and research centre, is a highlight and the view you get of Lake Tekapo is one of the best in the area. You can also hike to the top of Mount John — it takes an hour and is accessed at the Tekapo Springs end of town.
We were also lucky enough to be invited to do a stargazing tour by Earth and Sky. The tour started at 11.20 pm and the town was completely covered in cloud when we boarded the bus. Luckily it cleared up at the top. We saw heaps of constellations and other lights of the night sky through powerful telescopes. I love space, so this was an exciting tour for me. The tour lasts around two hours and leaves from the Earth and Sky office in town (next to the supermarket). Weather is obviously important for a stargazing tour — it’s good that you can either reschedule the tour or get a refund if the stars are covered by cloud.
Photo Credit: Chris Murphy of Earth and Sky
It’s likely that you’ll be hiking during your time in Lake Tekapo and the wider Mackenzie Basin / Mount Cook area, and there’s nothing better for tired legs than a soak in a hot pool. It’s even better if there’s a nice view! Tekapo Springs is one of the most popular things to do in Lake Tekapo and is suited to pretty much any kind of tourist. There’s a nice cafe up there (try the coffee with ice cream) and at the right time of year (winter pretty much) you can do some ice skating. You can also get various massages or burn up in the sauna or steam room.
The Peninsula Walkway
This short, easy walk is probably the best free thing to do in Lake Tekapo. It’s located close to Mount John (visit before or after you drive up to the cafe) and the views are stunning. You’ll see heaps of snow-covered hills (in winter and spring) or fields of purple lupins (in late spring / summer) as well as the calm waters of Lake Tekapo. The Peninsula Walkway is fairly easy and takes around 90 minutes to complete.
One of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo is simply walk down to the edge of the lake and admire the views. The area near the Church of the Good Shepherd is a good place to go but I’m sure there are heaps of nice bits where you can find a bit more solitude. There’s also a walkway which goes mostly above the beach, stretching from the Tekapo Springs end of town all the way along past the church.
Driving around the other side of the lake
On our latest trip to Lake Tekapo we decided to do some exploring, so we drove around the “other” side of the lake (not the Mount John side). We saw some great views and it was a peaceful drive. If you’re into mountain biking you can also tackle the Richmond Trail, which is on that side of the lake.
Cowans Hill Walkway
We only did around half of this track, which starts just off the main road (close to the church turnoff). The track takes you past some houses and up above town — it doesn’t look as good as the Peninsula Walkway but it’s still a nice walk.
You’ll pass by Fairlie on your way to or from Lake Tekapo and it’s worth a quick look. It has some of the best pies in New Zealand (Fairlie Bakehouse — try the pork belly pie), a few old buildings and a river walk. The highlight is definitely Lake Opuha, located around 15 km from town. On a crisp, clear winter (or spring) morning you’ll see a band of snow-covered hills (or possibly mountains) reflecting in the calm lake. It’s also good to drive the gravel road which meanders above the lake — some of our favourite photos of the Canterbury High Country were taken at Lake Opuha.
Driving the other direction, towards Mount Cook, will take you above the Powerade-blue waters of Lake Pukaki. It’s tough to get a really good photo of this lake as the light never seems to be right, but it does make for a scenic drive. There are several viewpoints you can stop off at to admire the views.
Mount Cook National Park
Tekapo is a great base for trips into Mount Cook National Park, one of New Zealand’s most striking mountain areas. There are several short hikes (1-3 hours), including the Hooker Valley, Tasman Glacier, Red Tarns and Kea Point or the much tougher hike up to Mueller Hut. All of those hikes have dramatic mountain views and are pretty easy (The Red Tarns Track is probably the hardest but still only takes two hours). There are some accommodation options close to these hikes, including the White Horse Hill Camping Ground. If you’re lucky you might even see a kea, a native New Zealand parrot.
Are you planning a trip to Lake Tekapo? Which places will you visit? Let me know in the comments below!
DISCLAIMER: I was hosted by Earth and Sky and Tekapo Springs during my most recent trip to Lake Tekapo. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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