Ready to leave the city and escape to one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand? Well, I don’t blame you! Lake Tekapo is such a fun destination and the truth is, getting there from Christchurch is equally as exciting.
Passing over rivers, enjoying views of the Southern Alps, and visiting various small businesses along the way are just a few of the highlights you can expect on a Christchurch to Lake Tekapo road trip.
But knowing exactly where to stop and what to do on this drive can be tricky. With two different routes to choose from and what seems like endless attractions, you’re going to have to make a few decisions.
That’s why this blog is perfect! I’ve included all of the info you need to know before you drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo including info on the routes and the best places to check out along the way. It is your ultimate road trip guide!
About the Drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
The drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is a popular one. Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and as such, many people live there as well as visit. And while there are plenty of fun things to do in Christchurch, chances are you will want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city at some point – and where better to go than the stunning town of Lake Tekapo?!
Lake Tekapo is easily one of the best places to visit on the South Island. There are plenty of exciting things to do and see in Lake Tekapo, not to mention the scenery around there is nothing short of breathtaking. Enjoy the colorful lupins, get out on the water, photograph the Church of Good Shepherd, and venture just a little farther to the bright blue waters of Lake Pukaki and even Mount Cook National Park.
So really, it is no surprise that you want to venture from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. And while you’re at it, you might as well make an epic road trip out of it with a few places to check out along the way. This blog will tell you all about these attractions on the road from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo as well as a few essential tips to know before you go.
The Scenic Route vs. the Direct Route
The first thing you need to know about driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is that there are actually two different routes you can choose between. State Highway 1 is the most direct route at 225 kilometers (140 miles) long. After renting a car in Christchurch (I use Discover Cars), driving this route should take around 3 hours without stops. There are a few fun stops along this tour including wineries and some of the attractions near Ashburton, however, it definitely isn’t as pretty of a drive as the alternative.
The second route you can choose to take from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is what I call “The Scenic Route.” This tour takes 258 kilometers (160 miles) and is only a few minutes longer than the direct route, going through Methven instead. You’ll skip Ashburton altogether and jump back on State Highway 1 at Geraldine. This scenic route actually takes you to the Rakaia Gorge (one of the best hikes on the South Island) as well as past the access road to Mt Hutt. The mountain views along the drive are incredibly scenic.
The map above outlines both of the two different routes you can choose between on the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. And below, I’ve added info about all of my favorite stops so that you can choose the right route and places to check out for you. With a little planning, this is sure to be one seriously epic road trip!
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo FAQs
Before you leave on your road trip, be sure to explore all of the fun things to do in Christchurch – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with all there is to see and do around the city,
5 Best Stops Between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo – The Scenic Route
1. Rakaia Gorge
The first stop, and arguably the best, on this epic road trip, is the stunning blue waters of the Rakaia River and Gorge. This majestic landscape is the perfect place to stretch your legs and enjoy the sunshine.
At Rakaia Gorge, you can walk the Rakaia Gorge Walkway along a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) return walking track that follows along the edge of the gorge. Most people complete the track in 2-3 hours. The walkway passes through a native forest, then climbs the historic ferryman’s track. From here, continue to a fantastic lookout point. The track then leads downhill to a gully to the site of the former Snowdon coal mines. Here you will spot several coal mine tunnels and even the remains of mining extraction equipment. There’s another lovely lookout point about a 45-minute walk from here. Further along, you may also choose to go slightly off the track and down to the river.
Swimming in the river beneath the top bridges on the Rakaia Gorge is a popular activity among locals, but, beware the water is very cold.
Rakaia Gorge is located on Highway 77 about an hour’s drive from Christchurch. This area is beautiful if you want to spend a night exploring more. Rumor has it that the nearby Washpen Falls are beautiful (I haven’t had a chance to check them out yet) and there are other attractions including jet boating around. You can stay at the highly-rated Terrace Downs Resort for a relaxing and luxurious stay only minutes from the gorge.
2. Mt Hutt
Doing this road trip from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo during the winter months? Why not add skiing to your NZ itinerary! Mt Hutt was voted New Zealand’s best ski resort from 2015 – 2019 and I personally love skiing here!
Wide-open terrain, long runs, high snowfall, and gorgeous views over the Canterbury Plains. Skiing Mt Hutt is definitely a bucket-list experience in NZ. With 364 hectares of terrain, the runs on Mt Hutt are most suitable for intermediate or advanced skiers. A 686-meter (430 feet) vertical drop means it’s also a great mountain for off-piste skiing.
There are also terrain parks making Mt Hutt ideal for freestyle ski enthusiasts and snowboarders. Featuring lots of jumps suitable for all skill levels as well as medium, large and extra-large rails – the parks here are a great place to learn some new skills in the snow. I myself do not hit the jumps but I know some crazy people read my blog!
The ski season in New Zealand runs from early June to mid-October. Mt Hutt has rentals available and the closest town to the ski resort is Methven. Spend a night or two in Methven if you’re planning for a few days of hitting the slopes.
In the summer, you can also enjoy Mt Hutt simply by driving up the access road to the ski field. The views from up here are stunning and well worth the short detour.
Note: Mt Hutt is run by the same company as The Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields in Queenstown. So if you’re skiing in Queenstown, then you can get a pass that’ll also allow you to ski at Mt Hutt for a discounted price!
Geraldine is a small town located at about the halfway point between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo. With grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes, as well as plenty of fuel stations this is an important practical stop on your road trip. Grab some food, fuel up, and get ready to hit the road again.
There are a few fun attractions to check out in Geraldine too if you want. The Geraldine Orchard Farmshop and Cafe is a great place to buy local fruit and veggies. They also have a bakery as well as a deli featuring local producers. Stop here for a bite to eat and stock up on some delicious local food.
The Geraldine Honey Shop is also worth visiting if you want to purchase some high-quality local honey – a great New Zealand souvenir if you ask me!
4. Gem Alpaca Stud
Okay, let’s be real, who doesn’t love Alpacas?! They are cute, feisty, funny animals that you can pet and feed at Gem Alpaca Stud farm in Fairlie. Here, you can join a farm tour and learn all about the different Alpacas they have. Pet them and get your picture taken.
Tour times vary by season, so be sure to check their website for the latest updates. Expect to pay $20 NZD per adult and $10 NZD per child for a tour.
Onsite they also have a large retail space where you can buy unique goods and souvenirs.
5. Lake Tekapo
Visiting Lake Tekapo is a must on any road trip around the South Island. One of the most popular activities in Lake Tekapo is to visit the tiny but stunning Church of the Good Shepherd. This Church is especially popular with photographers as the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps and the milky blue lake.
Did you know – Lake Tekapo is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve meaning it’s one of the best places in the world to go stargazing. You can stargaze from a hot tub here at Tekapo Springs – what a way to enjoy the night sky all lit up with stars! You may be lucky enough to spot the Southern Lights too (the Southern hemisphere’s equivalent of the Northern Lights). If you want to get an even better view of the stars then you should definitely join a stargazing tour where you’ll head to Mount John Observatory to see them through a high-powered telescope.
Other activities in Lake Tekapo include going jet boating on the lake, wandering the lupin fields (colorful flowers) between October and January, and going for a coffee in town. There’s also an array of restaurants in Lake Tekapo including Our Dog Friday on Motuariki Lane for excellent burgers.
In Lake Tekapo, you’ll find lots of amazing restaurants and hotels. This makes it a great place to base yourself for a night or two to explore the area.
4 BEST Stops on the Direct Route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
1. Straight 8 Estate
New Zealand is world-famous for its wine, so why not check out a boutique vineyard or two on your road trip from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.
Heading out of Christchurch on State Highway 1 (the most direct route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo) you will pass Straight 8 Estate. This boutique vineyard has a cellar door where you can sample a couple of their wines before buying a couple of bottles to-go. Straight 8 Estate is known for their Rose, Rieslings, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Expect to pay between $15-$25 NZD per bottle.
Straight 8 Estate’s cellar door is open 7-day a week from 9 am to 6:30 pm. Just pop on in!
Related Read: Wine tours are also popular in Queenstown. Around Queenstown, there are some amazing nearby wineries you should check out!
2. Skydiving Kiwis
My partner skydives as a hobby, so it never surprises me when he finds drop zones located along any of our road trip routes. This is exactly how we stumbled across Skydiving Kiwis.
Located right at the Ashburton Airport, Skydiving Kiwis is a sports skydiving center that also offers tandem jumps. Their most recent claim to fame is their heli-jumps! That’s right, instead of jumping out of a fixed-wing aircraft, you can do a tandem jump out of a helicopter – how cool is that?!
Ashburton is also the perfect place to fuel up or grab groceries you might need for the rest of the trip. There are also plenty of hotels in Ashburton if you want to spend the night here.
3. Waipuna Studio
I’m a sucker for quicky little boutique shops. You know, those locally-owned wonders where you can tell every single item for sale was made with love. Well, this is exactly what you’ll find at Waipuna Studio.
Waipuna Studio is located right off State Highway 1 on Henderson Road. Here, you can check out some very neat items for sale and pieces of art. It is seriously a unique shop to browse around for a few minutes.
Pick up from Geraldine (#3 from above)
If you’re driving the most direct route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo on State Highway 1, then once you reach Geraldine, you can follow the above scenic route itinerary. Stop at Geraldine Orchard Shop and Cafe, Valley Brewing Company, and Stud Alpaca Stud to complete your epic road trip.
Tours from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
You don’t have to drive yourself to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch, and if you want you actually join a guided tour.
You can choose between day trips or longer multi-day guided tours. This 5-day South Island Tour starts and ends both in Christchurch and visits Lake Tekapo and many other attractions along the way (Queenstown and Franz Josef – two of my favorite places)! In my opinion, even though it is a large upfront cost, what is included reflects the price fairly.
Otherwise, if you’re short on time you can book this day trip to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch. Although a long day, it comes highly rated and includes visiting some famous attractions.
Related Read: Want to continue on to Mount Cook? Check out our blog about the drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook for a few extra stops
Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo
In Tekapo town, there are lots of great hotels to choose from. For budget travels I recommend the Lakefront Lodge Backpackers – this hostel are just that good, and for how little you spend, you get a lot. They have a range of rooms from dorms to privates and although you’d think it’s for a younger crowd this hostel actually attracts a mix of age groups.
If you want something a little more upmarket the Peppers Bluewater Resort is my favorite. the hotel has magnificent views, and beautiful rooms and the best part is it isn’t that expensive! On top of the hotels, there are also lots of small B&Bs around town that you can browse on Booking.com.
Holiday home rentals are also popular in Lake Tekapo and there are many you can choose from. Holiday homes are perfect for groups or families who all want to stay together.
When it comes to picking a place to stay in Lake Tekapo you really are spoilt for choice – if you book in advance that is. Unfortunately, Lake Tekapo is another place in NZ where accommodation is hot property, especially in summer. For that reason try to book as far in advance as you can.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (QUEEN5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually purchase it as soon as we land in the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Now, you’re all ready to hit the road and drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. Be sure to check out all of my road trip blogs – believe me, there are some awesome road trips to do on the South Island! So, what are you waiting for?! It’s time to start checking out all of the best things to do on the South Island! Or check through some of my most popular reads below: