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10 BEST Stops on the Drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

10 BEST Stops on the Drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

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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 just as exciting.

Passing over rivers, enjoying views of the Southern Alps, and visiting family-run 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!

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! This discount is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before Dec 21, 2204. You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

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 lots 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. And we’re just getting started!

So really, it is no surprise that you want to venture from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. And if you’re making the journey, you might as well make an epic road trip out of it, as there are a few cool 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

my hutt ski field views
The scenic route takes you past Mt Hutt – one of the best ski fields in NZ.

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 route, including wineries, as well as 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 route is about 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. 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!

Related Read: For another really epic road trip, consider driving from Christchurch to Hokitika which takes you through the epic Arthur’s Pass!

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo FAQs

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary sits on a rock at Lake Tekapo during Lupin season
Lupins are flowers that bloom in the late spring near Lake Tekapo – so beautiful!

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

Views of Rakaia Gorge, NZ
What a view!

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 right along the edge of the gorge. It took me around 2 hours to complete the track, and most people complete the track in 2 to 3 hours. 

The walkway passes through a native forest, and then climbs the historic ferryman’s track. From here, you’ll continue on to a fantastic lookout point (don’t forget to snap some photos!). The track then leads downhill to a gully to the site of the former Snowdon coal mines.

Here you’ll spot several coal mine tunnels and even the remains of mining extraction equipment. There’s also 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 extremely 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.

If you’re starting your journey at the end of a long day, or just fancy sticking around Rakaia Gorge a little longer, Terrace Downs Resort is only minutes from the gorge and offers a relaxing and luxurious stay.

2. Mt Hutt

Mt Hutt Ski Field, New Zealand
It’s one of the best ski fields in New Zealand

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 to 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 (900 acres) of terrain, the runs on Mt Hutt are most suitable for intermediate or advanced skiers. A 686-meter (430-foot) 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 don’t hit the jumps, but I know some crazy people read my blog!

Still, for first-time skiers, there’s the single-day “First Timers” package or the 3-day “Intro to Snow”, both of which include rentals, lessons, and lots of support as you become more comfortable in the snow. 

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. I love to spend a night or two in Methven whenever I’m planning to ski here, as you’re literally right around the corner from the ski slopes!

Lift passes for Mt Hutt start at $159 NZD for adults aged 16 and over, or you can get consecutive day passes, which go up to $545 NZD for a 5-day pass. You can learn more over on their website.

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!

3. Geraldine

the outside of Geraldine orchard Farmshop and Cafe on the scenic drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
A great stop to stock up on local food and do a little shopping. Photo Credit: Geraldine Orchard Farmshop and Café

Geraldine is a small town located at about the halfway point between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo. With grocery stores, restaurants, and cafés, 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 Café is a great place to buy local fruit and veggies. They also have a bakery as well as a deli also stocked with fresh local produce. Stop here for a bite to eat and grab yourself some delicious local food!

The Geraldine Orchard Farmshop and Café is open Friday to Monday from 8 am to 5 pm, and closes half an hour later from Tuesday through to Thursday.

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

white young alpaca
Alpacas are seriously the cutest!

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. You’ll also get to pet them and get your picture taken! I can easily see this being a great stop for families with kids, (or if you simply can’t resist these cute faces, like me).

Tour times vary by season, so be sure to check their website for the latest updates. You can expect to pay $25 NZD per adult and $15 NZD per child (5 to 15) for a 1-hour farm tour.

They also have a large retail space on-site where you can buy unique goods and souvenirs. I’m talking about super cozy alpaca-wool gloves and hats, as well as alpaca plushies and much more!

Gem Alpaca Stud farm is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm on Weekdays and closes an hour earlier on the weekends.

Once you’re all kitted out (or should I say “knitted out”), with your cozy new clothes, it’s time to hit the road as we drive on to our stunning final destination, Lake Tekapo.

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5. Lake Tekapo

The Church of the Good Shepard at night with the Milky Way
Getting this classic shot is a bucket list photo for photographers!

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. 

My advice is to get here early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds. Even better if you can manage to get here for sunrise or sunset or after dark for the best photo opp.

It’s also important to note that you cannot take photos inside the church. And of course, seeing as it is a place of worship, please be respectful. In the right weather conditions, it’s also a great spot to watch the starry skies at night.

Lake Tekapo is also 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 here (the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent of the Northern Lights). The best way to enjoy the stars is on a guided tour either to Mt John Observatory or at Tekapo Springs.

In my opinion, nothing really beats learning from an expert on a guided tour, using state-of-the-art technology to get the best views of the night sky! This magical experience lasts around 2 hours and can be booked online here.

There’s also an array of restaurants in Lake Tekapo including TLV Restaurant & Bar on Motuariki Lane for excellent burgers (open from 12 pm to 8:30 pm). Or for amazing views, a visit to the Dark Sky Diner is a must. I love going at sunset!

There are a lot more things to do here, so be sure to read my guide on the best things to do in Lake Tekapo. It includes hikes, tours, and tons of free activities to get stuck into.

Staying Overnight in Lake Tekapo

If you have the time, then staying a night or two at Lake Tekapo would be my recommendation! This place is just too beautiful to simply pass by. Plus, it’ll give you the chance to really get stuck into all the fun things there are to do here.

One place I always love to stay is the Lakes Edge Lodge. It’s perfect for budget travelers, and it’s also conveniently located just a 3-minute drive from the town center. There are also shared laundry services, perfect for if you’re combining multiple New Zealand South Island road trips. A bed in a dorm here starts at around $48 NZD per night.

If you have a higher budget, then consider staying at the Mantra Lake Tekapo. The great reviews here really do speak for themselves – and these apartments also enjoy outdoor pool and hot tub access! With one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments available, this is a great option no matter the size of your group. Apartments here start at around $284 NZD in the low season, but this does rise come high season.

Want to continue on to Mount Cook? Check out my guide to driving from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook!

4 BEST Stops on the Direct Route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

1. Straight 8 Estate

wine for sale at Straight 8 Estate
Which one would you choose? Photo Credit: Straight 8 Estate

Although I love taking the scenic route when it comes to visiting Lake Tekapo from Christchurch, there are still lots of fun things to do on the direct route!

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 now been around for over 30 years and has a cellar door where you can sample some of their delicious wines.

If you’re traveling as a couple, one romantic idea is to buy a bottle or two of your favorite wines and enjoy them once you reach Lake Tekapo. They also do personalized wine labels – can you imagine the Instagram photo showing a bottle with your names on?

Speaking of wines, Straight 8 Estate is known for their Rose, Rieslings, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, and you can expect to pay around $20 to $35 NZD per bottle. They also offer walk-in wine-tasting experiences, although if you’re traveling as a larger group, it’s best to contact them in advance.

Straight 8 Estate’s cellar door is open 7-days 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

person practicing skydiving at Skydiving Kiwis in Ashburton
My partner doing a refresher course before he jumps solo at 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?!

There are a few different skydiving packages you can opt for, with the option to do a 6,000 ft (1,828 m), 9,000 ft (2,743 m), and 13,000 ft (3,962 m) jump. Prices for this start at $249 NZD per person, and you can also add on optional extras like photos and footage of your jump.

Skydiving is easily one of the best things to do in New Zealand, so you might as well get it over with now (it’ll be fun, I promise, I’ve done it twice!).

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

inside of Waipuna Studio along the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Ready to do some shopping? Photo Credit: 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 a super unique shop to browse around for a few minutes, and I’m sure kids will love exploring it too!

They’re open Monday to Thursday from 9 am to 6 pm, are closed on Fridays, and open an hour later on the weekends.

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 and Stud Alpaca Stud to complete your epic road trip.

Tours from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Views of Lake Tekapo from the Church of the Good Shepard
Lake Tekapo is a lake and town that’s definitely worth check out.

I love the flexibility that comes with driving from place to place, but there’s also something to be said for visiting iconic spots as part of an organized tour. Not only do you not have to worry about transport, but a professional tour will help you make the most of your time and provide expert local guidance.

When it comes to tours, you can choose between day trips or opt for longer, multi-day guided tours. If you’re still in the planning stage for your trip, then a multi-day experience like this 5-day South Island tour might be just what you’re looking for.

It starts and ends both in Christchurch and visits Lake Tekapo, as well as 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, plus you don’t have to worry anymore about painstakingly putting together an itinerary.

Tickets for this tour cost $1,995 NZD, which also includes all accommodation and transport. With cruises, guided tours, and more all included, it’s easy to see why this tour has received lots of great reviews! You can book it online here.

If you’re a little shorter on time, or just fancy sprinkling in an organized day tour in your vacation, then this day trip to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch is worth a look. Although a long day, it comes highly rated and includes visiting some famous attractions. With stops at Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo, and Tasman Glacier, I’m sure your camera will be bursting by the end of the day.

It costs just $220 NZD per person for this 13-hour day of fun activities, which includes all transport, as well as professional commentary. I also love that it’s limited to just 11 people per tour, no big bus tours here! This is a popular tour, though, so make sure to check your dates and book in advance to avoid missing out.

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.

Things to do in Christchurch Before You Go

A tram travels down New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand
A tram travels down New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand

While I’m sure you can’t wait to get out there and start this epic roadtrip, before you set off I wanted to let you know about some awesome activities you might have missed out on in Christchurch! If you’ve got time before you leave, definitely see if you can check out a few of these:

  • Ride the gondola – The Christchurch Gondola is famous both for sightseeing and as a way to transport hikers up to one of the many walking tracks on Mount Cavendish. So whether you’re in it for the views or are looking to pick a track to walk along, this is a must-do while in Christchurch for just about anyone!
  • Tramway City Tour – This is perfect for seeing all the key landmarks, including the Botanic Gardens, Avon River, and New Regent Street! Just sit back and gaze out your window. Since it’s a hop-on hop-off style tour you can choose to get out and explore any of the sights!
  • The International Antarctic Center – Take a glimpse into life in Antarctica! There are a lot of unique experiences here, from learning about and snuggling with Huskies to seeing blue penguins in the rescue center before stepping inside the Storm Dome for a feel of the extremely cold Antarctic weather this place will have all your senses stimulated.

Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo

an outdoor pool with patio furniture and apartments around it at the Matra hotel in Lake Tekapo
This pool is perfect in the summer! Photo Credit: Mantra Lake Tekapo

When it comes to picking a place to stay in Lake Tekapo you really are spoiled for choice – if you book in advance that is. 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!

Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Lake Tekapo:

Lakes Edge Lodge – $

One place I always love to stay is the Lakes Edge Lodge. It’s perfect for budget travelers, and it’s also conveniently located just a 3-minute drive from the town center. If you’re feeling hungry, they also have BBQ facilities – honestly, whipping up some tasty meals is one of the best ways to make new friends if you ask me!

There are also shared laundry services, perfect for if you’re combining multiple New Zealand South Island road trips. A bed in a dorm here starts at around $48 NZD per night. You can browse availability and reserve your bed here on Booking.com.

Mantra Lake Tekapo – $$

If you have a higher budget, then consider staying at the Mantra Lake Tekapo. The great reviews here really do speak for themselves – and these apartments also enjoy outdoor pool and hot tub access! With one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments available, this is a great option no matter the size of your group.

Apartments here start at around $284 NZD in the low season, but this does rise come high season! You can check which apartments are available and book your room online here.

The Mackenzie Suites – $$$

Just 600 meters (1,969 feet) from Lake Tekapo, The Mackenzie Suites offers luxurious accommodation options with stunning lakeside views. If you’re looking to splash out a little, or simply can’t get enough of those views, then these suites are well worth considering. Every luxury suite features a kitchenette, with many also offering balcony access as well as a fireplace to keep you warm and toasty in the winter.

Accommodation at the Mackenzie Suites starts at around $400 NZD per night in the low season, however this is a super popular place to stay, often booking out months in advance. For the best deals and dates, I recommend checking online and reserving your room early.

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.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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’s what most budget travelers use 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…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey poses for a photo at Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout
Thanks for reading!

Now you’re all ready to hit the road and enjoy the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. Whether you decide to stop off for some tasty wine at Straight 8 Estate, drop by Gem Alpaca Stud farm, or all of the above, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

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:

15 BEST Hikes in Queenstown, New Zealand

17 Absolute BEST Things to do in Te Anau, New Zealand

13 Best Places to Stop on the Drive from Christchurch to Dunedin