Lake Tekapo is one of the famous blue lakes in New Zealand with stunning scenery. Located in the Mackenzie Region which is the middle of the South Island, visiting Lake Tekapo should be on everyones New Zealand itinerary. There are so many things to do in Lake Tekapo that you’ll never be bored. From adventure activities to romantic couple getaways or family friendly stays, Lake Tekapo offers something for everyone. We have visited Lake Tekapo in spring and we were treated with the famous colourful lupins around the lake. But also in other seasons Tekapo Lake is a fantastic destination to visit.
In this complete guide you’ll find the 20 best things to do in Lake Tekapo New Zealand including more background information about the famous blue lake.
20 BEST THINGS TO DO LAKE TEKAPO NEW ZEALAND
Hike to the summit of Mount John
The Mount John Summit Hike is considered a moderate hike and starts just before the Tekapo Springs in Tekapo town. The 5.0-mile loop trail takes about 2 – 3 hours to complete and can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
You can actually do the Mount John Summit Hike in two different ways. The fastest way is to go via the steep forest trail, but the trail with the best views is via the Lakeshore Track. This will make the trail a loop track which is highly recommended to do for either sunrise or sunset. The views are well worth it and it’s without a doubt the best hike at Lake Tekapo.
Once you reach the summit of Mount John, you will be treated to stunning 360-degree views of the Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo. Now it’s time for a treat which you can order at the Astro Cafe, coffee with a views gets a whole other meaning! At the summit you will also find a viewing platform and the Mount John Star Gazing Observatory.
Book a 4WD backcountry tour
This off road adventure in Tekapo shows you the heart of Mackenzie Country during a unique 4WD tour. Hop on board the luxurious Land Rover 4WD and explore the most beautiful landscapes of the Mackenzie backcountry. During this 3 hour scenic tour you will access private and remote High Country Stations you wouldn’t other wise be able to access on your own.
During the tour you will stop at several viewpoints overlooking Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt Cook, Mt Tasman and the surrounding mountains. Definitely one of the must-do things to do in Lake Tekapo if you love to explore off the beaten path!
Photo credit: Tekapo Adventures Viator
Go star gazing at Lake Tekapo New Zealand
Lake Tekapo is famous for its dark night sky and therefore offers the perfect opportunity to watch the stars. In fact, Lake Tekapo which lies in the Mackenzie Country is one of the only Dark Sky Reserves in New Zealand.
You can either watch the stars at night by yourself when going to a dark spot near the lake, or book a stargazing experience at The Mount John Observatory. This will give you the opportunity to watch the stars through the 16″ optical telescope.
Run by the University of Canterbury you can learn everything about the science of the night sky by an expert guide. The astronomy experience tour is 2 hours in total. Because this experience is extremely popular, booking the astronomy experience in advance is a must. Seriously, if you want to do this experience, don’t wait until you get to Lake Tekapo. It’s exactly the same price when you book through this link or when you book at the office in Tekapo. Mostly this tour is booked out weeks in advance, so secure your spot now!
Another awesome stargazing tour in Lake Tekapo is the Tekapo Springs Tour. This is the only guided stargazing tour from a hot pool in New Zealand! While relaxing in a 37.5-degree Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) hot pool you will be gazing up the dark sky and see a million stars twinkling. Meanwhile you will learn about the galaxies, planets and much more about the dark sky reserve.
In general the best time to see the Milky Way in New Zealand is in the winter months. It also helps to spot stars the best on a night with no moon, as this is the biggest ‘light pollution’ in the Dark Sky Reserve.
Relax at the Tekapo Springs
Visiting the Tekapo Springs is a great way to relax and unwind in the hot pools. From the three different hot pools you will have stunning views of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains. There is also a steam and sauna room on site together with a cold plunge pool so you can alternate between both. The hot pools vary between 36.5ºC (97.5ºF) and 38ºC (100.4º F) and there is even an Aqua Play Area with two cooler pools for kids.
If you want to have a complete pamper day then there is also a day Spa where you can book a facial, massage, or one of many other treatments. For a unique experience you can also go to the Tekapo Springs after dark for the unique stargazing experience from the pools.
The Altitude 720 Restaurant at the Tekapo Springs is also really worth it to check out for a late breakfast or lunch.
Photo credit: Tekapo Springs
Stop at Burkes Pass
The quirky Burkes Pass is a small settlement located on the SH8 from Tekapo to Christchurch. The colourful buildings show a small New Zealand town from the 1950s and therefore Burkes Pass is known for its historic significance. This area was an important route for early European settlers traveling through the Southern Alps. Today, the pass is a popular tourist destination, with several historic buildings and attractions that showcase the area’s rich cultural heritage. You can easily spend an hour or more strolling along the colourful buildings snapping photos.
The Burkes Pass Heritage Trail, a 45-minute walk, is the best way to get an insight into the area’s rich history. You will walk through the historic buildings in the area, including the old jail, schoolhouse, and blacksmith shop. The trail provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of early settlers in the area and is a must-visit for anyone interested in New Zealand’s history.
Book a scenic flight over Lake Tekapo New Zealand
Booking a scenic flight over Lake Tekapo is one of the bucket list experiences in New Zealand. From Lake Tekapo airport you’ll take off and fly high above the lake, river and mountains to enjoy the spectacular scenery. One of the most popular scenic routes is a 30 minute flight that takes you over Lake Tekapo, Mt John Observatory, Lake Alexandrina and Mt Hay. You can book this experience with Mackenzie Explorer Flight which also includes an alpine landing.
Photograph the Church of Good Shepard
The famous Church of Good Shepard along Tekapo’s lakeshore is a very scenic spot with incredible backdrop. On a clear day you can see Aoraki Mount Cook and of course the stunning turquoise Lake Tekapo surrounded by mountain ranges. It’s a very popular place for tourists so the best time to go is early in the morning. In the winter months the Church of Good Shepard is also a great place to watch and photograph the Milky Way.
The only downside is that you ca’t go inside the Church. And the Church now has a fence around it so it’s not as easy anymore to get a complete clear shot. Nevertheless, it’s a must visit place in Tekapo.
Visit Lake Tekapo in spring for the colourful lupins
One of the reasons why we choose to visit New Zealand in Spring was because of the Lupins! Only to find out that they are invasive and heavily sprayed to make them disappear… So when we were looking for Lupins around Lake Tekapo we were surprised to not find sea’s of Lupin flowers as how we saw pictures of it on internet and Instagram…
We then started to do some research on the internet and found out that Lupins are seen as weed and are invasive to the native eco system of New Zealand. So, if you come to Lake Tekapo in spring to see the Lupins, be prepared to only find little bits of them! Around the Church of Good Shepard for example which was “the hotspot” for lupins, was in 2022 nothing left. Only close by the Tekapo Springs was a patch of Lupins left where we shot this picture.
Lupin season in New Zealand runs from November to the beginning of February. However, the peak of blooming lupins is from mid-November to the end of December.
Check out the Mackenzie Sheepdog Statue
Although not the most exciting thing to do in Lake Tekapo, checking out the Mackenzie Sheepdog Statue is something you can easily do while strolling along the lake. Located about 100 meters (328 feet) from the Church of the Good Shepherd, this bronze dog statue is as a tribute to Tekapo’s founder James Mackenzie and his dog ‘Friday’. From the statue you will have beautiful views of Lake Tekapo and the mountains.
Stroll along the Pines Beach Walk
For an easy and short stroll along Lake Tekapo, away from the crowded areas, Pines Beach Walk is the answer.
Start from the Church of Good Shepherd and walk past the Sheepdog Memorial until you get to a grass area. Here you turn left where you enter Lake Tekapo Regional Park. Continue walking along the shore and enjoy the stunning views along the way. There are a few benches if you want to relax and take in the views. Or continue walking further along the shore to be more and more immersed in the beautiful forest.
Visit Lake Alexandrina
Lake Alexandrina is still a bit of a hidden gem and the perfect place if you want to escape the crowds around Lake Tekapo. The high country lake is a 12 km drive (7.4 miles) from the center of Tekapo town and you can have a walk along the lakeshore or a picnic for example. The water of Lake Alexandrina is dark and spring-fed, and besides that it is also a much smaller lake than Lake Tekapo. The stunning scenery and peaceful surroundings are the perfect setting for a morning or afternoon stroll.
Go skiing around Lake Tekapo in winter
If you visit Lake Tekapo in winter then one of the best activities to do is skiing! Tekapo offers two nearby ski resorts from which the closest ski field is Roundhill Ski area. This is only 32 kilometers (20 miles) away and is a perfect ski field for families and beginners. But there is also a mega rope tow which is the longest and steepest in the world! This makes Roundhill nowadays also a very attractive ski area for the more advanced skiers.
Ohau Ski Area is another place where you can go skiing near Tekapo in winter. The chair lift gives access to the wide flat slopes which are ideal for experienced skiers.
Kayak or Sup on Lake Tekapo New Zealand
A great way to get really close to Lake Tekapo is exploring it by kayak or SUP. You can rent kayaks and paddle boards at Paddle Tekapo or book a guided tour. Lake Tekapo is typically calm, but if it’s a windy day you might want to reschedule your plan. Be prepared that even in the summer months Lake Tekapo is absolutely freezing. So if you’re not experienced with supping you might easily fall in the water which isn’t the most comfy for a swim!
Admire the other stunning blue Lake Pukaki
About an hour drive from Lake Tekapo towards Mount Cook National Park or Wanaka, Queenstown you will pass the stunning turquoise lake Pukaki. This is also some of the most beautiful blue lakes in New Zealand with stunning views on Mount Cook. It’s a must to stop here at some of the beautiful viewpoints of Lake Pukaki. There is no town at Lake Pukaki, just some public toilets. It’s recommended to stroll along the shore and on a summer day you can eventually take a dip in the refreshing glacier water!
If you’re exploring New Zealand during spring, you might be lucky to find lupins along the lakeshore which are the perfect photo opportunity in contrast with the striking blue water of Lake Pukaki!
Enjoy the views from Tekapo bridge
Another spot to check out close to the Church of the Good Shepherd is the Tekapo Bridge, also known as the Maclaren Footbridge. From this bridge you’ll also have a beautiful vantage point of Lake Tekapo with the milky blue water right beneath you. Be sure to check out the views from this bridge as it’s just incredible!
Go Trout or Salmon fishing
Trout and Salmon fishing may not be the most popular touristy thing to do in Lake Tekapo, but it certainly is a local favourite! The Tekapo region is famous for rainbow and brown trout. And if you’re in for catching your own dinner, then you might be even lucky to catch yourself a beautiful king salmon from the canal!
If you want to go fishing in New Zealand you do need a license. A one day license can be bought from Kiwi Treasures (Post Shop) in the Tekapo Village for $20 NZD. You can also hire your own fishing gear or join a guided tour. Fishing in the lake is possible all year round, but the canals are only open from November to April.
Walk the Peninsula Walkway
Just a few minutes out of town starts the easy Peninsula Walkway Track which follows the shoreline of Lake Tekapo. Along the trail you will have stunning views of Mt John and the surrounding mountains. It takes about 2.5 hours return from the parking lot via Godley Peaks Road.
About Lake Tekapo New Zealand
The famous blue alpine Lake Tekapo lies in the Mackenzie Basin of the South Island of New Zealand and covers an area of approximately 83 square kilometers. Lake Tekapo is approximately 120 meters deep and is fed by the Godley and Macauley rivers, which carry glacial meltwater from the surrounding Southern Alps.
That is also the reason why Lake Tekapo has its striking turquoise color. Due to the presence of fine ground rock particles that are suspended in the water in combination with bright sunlight, the water appears a striking turquoise blue color.
Lake Tekapo is surrounded by picturesque mountains, including the towering Mount John, which stands at 1,031 meters tall. The lake and its surrounding area offer a range of outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing, fishing, and stargazing. In fact, the lake is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which is one of the best places in the world for stargazing due to its clear skies and low levels of light pollution.
In addition to its natural beauty, Lake Tekapo is also home to several man-made attractions, such as the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is a small stone church that is situated on the shores of the lake and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The lake is also home to a number of hot springs and spas, which offer a relaxing way to unwind after a day of outdoor adventure.
Best time to visit Lake Tekapo New Zealand
The best time to visit Lake Tekapo depends on your interests and the type of activities you plan to do.
Summer (December to February) is the most popular time to visit Lake Tekapo, as the weather is warm and the days are long. This is a great time for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, boating, and swimming. The wildflowers are also in bloom during this time, making it a great time for photography.
Autumn (March to May) is also a good time to visit Lake Tekapo, as the crowds start to thin out and the leaves change colors, creating a beautiful backdrop for outdoor activities. This is also a good time for stargazing, as the nights start to get longer and clearer.
Winter (June to August) is the best time for skiing and snowboarding, as the surrounding mountains offer some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. This is also a great time for stargazing, as the skies are clear and the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) are often visible.
Spring (September to November) is a good time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds and still enjoy mild weather. This is also a good time for outdoor activities such as hiking and fishing, and the wildflowers including the lupins start to bloom again which is great for photography.
Overall, Lake Tekapo is a year-round destination, and the best time to visit depends on your preferences and what you want to experience.
Where to stay in Lake Tekapo Town
Lake Tekapo town is a small and charming tourist destination located on the southern side of Lake Tekapo. Tekapo township has a population of around 400 people, but this number swells significantly during the peak tourist season.
Despite its small size, Lake Tekapo town has a range of facilities and amenities to cater to visitors. There are several accommodation options, including hotels, motels, and holiday homes, as well as restaurants, cafes, and shops selling souvenirs and locally made crafts.
Here are some of the best accommodations to stay in Tekapo town, ranging from luxury, budget and family friendly accommodations.
Peppers Bluewater Resort offers luxury accommodation, great views and is ideally located in Lake Tekapo. The air-conditioned suites and villa’s have a private bathroom, fully equipped kitchen and mountain or lake views. It is a 10-minute walk to the Church of the Good Shepherd and the on-site restaurant, Rakinui, is open daily for breakfast, lunch and an à la carte dinner.
How was Lake Tekapo formed?
Lake Tekapo was formed by glacial activity during the last ice age. As glaciers advanced and retreated over the Mackenzie Basin, they carved out valleys and deposited large amounts of rock and debris. As the climate warmed and the glaciers receded, meltwater filled these valleys and formed the lakes we see today.
Around 15,000 years ago was Lake Tekapo formed when a glacier that originated from the Southern Alps moved down the valley, carving out a deep basin that eventually filled with water from the surrounding mountains. The lake is fed by several rivers, including the Godley and Macauley rivers, which carry glacial meltwater from the surrounding Southern Alps.
Why is the water so blue at Lake Tekapo?
The water in Lake Tekapo appears blue due to the presence of fine rock particles in the water. These particles are carried into the lake by the rivers that flow into it, which are fed by glaciers and snowmelt from the surrounding Southern Alps.
The particles, which are called glacial flour, are created when rocks and boulders are ground up by the moving glaciers. The fine particles are suspended in the water and scatter sunlight in such a way that the water appears a striking turquoise blue color.
The color of the water can vary depending on weather conditions and the angle of the sunlight. Usually the color is most vibrant on clear, sunny days when the sun is high in the sky. The color of the water also tends to be more intense during the spring and summer months when there is more glacial meltwater flowing into the lake.
Lake Tekapo’s turquoise blue waters are one of its most distinctive and beautiful features, and it is one of the reasons why the lake is such a popular destination for tourists and nature lovers.
Is Lake Tekapo worth visiting?
Yes, Lake Tekapo is definitely worth visiting! It is a beautiful and unique destination that offers a range of activities and experiences for visitors to enjoy.
The lake’s crystal-clear turquoise waters and surrounding snow-capped mountains provide a picturesque backdrop for all sorts of outdoor activities. Whether you like to go hiking, boating, fishing, mountain biking or skiing and snowboarding in the winter months, Lake Tekapo offers it all!
Besides these activities is Lake Tekapo also renowned as one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Thanks to its location within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, Tekapo has some of the darkest skies in New Zealand. You can take guided tours or visit the observatory to learn more about the stars and planets.
Additionally, the area around Lake Tekapo is known for its hot springs and spas, which offer a range of therapeutic and relaxation treatments. You can soak in natural hot pools, enjoy a massage, and experience traditional Maori healing practices. Lake Tekapo is a special and unique destination that offers natural beauty, outdoor activities, stargazing, and cultural experiences. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re planning a trip to New Zealand.
Can you swim in Lake Tekapo?
Yes, you can swim in Lake Tekapo! During the summer months (December to February), when the water temperature is at its warmest, the lake is a perfect place for swimming and other water sport activities.
However, it’s important to note that the water in Lake Tekapo can be cold, even in the summer, due to its glacial origins. It’s recommended that you wear a wetsuit if you plan to spend a lot of time in the water, especially if you are not used to swimming in cold water.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads.
We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car! The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
An absolute unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over the highest mountain of the country. During this tour you will glide over Aoraki/Mount Cook and down the Tasman glacier. You will land in pristine snow and walk around to take in the impressive views of the snow capped mountains and glacier. A once in a lifetime experience!
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the best things to do in Lake Tekapo New Zealand. Make sure to put this beautiful destination on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides!
Mount Cook National Park
Franz Josef Glacier Country
Best Franz Josef walks – The Ultimate Guide