Lake Tekapo has everything you need for a great vacation – beautiful hotels, yummy restaurants, and a ton of awesome activities so you’ll never be bored. Plus, the scenery is epic! It truly is one of the prettiest towns (and lakes) in New Zealand.
For such a tiny town there are so many things to do in Lake Tekapo. This gorgeously photogenic town has a population of just over 500 but it’s one of the most popular stops on the road between Christchurch and Queenstown. Lake Tekapo is also picture-perfect, so, over the years it has grown into a very popular vacation spot. And as a result, more and more activities in Tekapo have popped up. Some of my favorite things to do in Tekapo include star gazing from a hot pool in one of the only Dark Sky Reserves in New Zealand and photographing the most beautiful Church you will ever lay your eyes on.
I have personally visited Lake Tekapo more times than I can count. It’s one of my favorite places to visit on the South Island and every year I come to witness the famous lupin flowering season – arguably one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
But the adventure doesn’t stop there! For thrill-seekers, romantics, and those seeking views from above, there’s also plenty to do. In this blog, I list 21 of the very best things to do in Lake Tekapo (also called simply “Tekapo”.) This blog will surely help you plan an amazing visit to Tekapo!
About Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is located almost smack bang in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island on the eastern side of the Southern Alps. For visitors it is conveniently located only 1 hour from Mount Cook Village and from the popular town of Queenstown (my hometown), you can reach Lake Tekapo in around 3 hours. For many, it’s either one of their first or last stops on a South Island road trip with the majority of visitors either flying in or out of Christchurch (which is conveniently under 3 hours away.)
The town of Tekapo sits on the shore of what is known as the bluest lake in New Zealand and is only home to an extremely small local population. Despite this, Tekapo sees plenty of visitors and is easily one of the most popular lake destinations in NZ. Within Tekapo town, you’ll find a small supermarket, lots of restaurants and cafes, as well as hotels and even its own hot springs.
You can visit Lake Tekapo all year round, however, it is most popular in the summer months (December to February) when it’s warm enough to swim in the lake. Another very popular time to visit Lake Tekapo is in mid-November when the lupins that grow around the lake are in full bloom. This bloom usually lasts until the end of December but mid to end of November is the most ideal time.
Because Lake Tekapo is so popular it is very important to book your accommodation during the summer months well in advance. The best value options certainly book up fast as well as holiday parks for campervans and motorhomes. In the winter you can usually book hotels last minute without any worries.
After countless visits to Lake Tekapo, I still haven’t had enough. For me, relaxing by the lake and enjoying the views with a coffee in hand is still one of my favorites past times. The best part is, it will likely be yours too!
Related read: Visiting Lake Tekapo from Wanaka? Check out all the best stops between Wanaka and Christchurch which includes the best stops between Wanaka and Lake Tekapo.
Lake Tekapo FAQs
Things to do in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
1. Go stargazing
Lake Tekapo’s famed night sky is phenomenal and offers the perfect opportunity to spot the stars and the wonders of the night sky. The area is in fact one of the only Dark Sky Reserves in New Zealand and is the largest one in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also named the Aoraki/Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. So, Tekapo is without a doubt one of the best places to go stargazing in New Zealand.
The Mount John Observatory is the ultimate mountaintop stargazing experience. Run by the University of Canterbury, indulge in the science and stories of the night sky by your charming and knowledgeable guide. The tour is 105 minutes total. You can spot the stars through the 16″ optical telescope. In the case of bad weather, your tour can learn inside the purpose-built technological and interactive venue. Worth noting is this is an extremely popular activity so advance booking is essential. An adult (18 years & over) is priced from $195 NZD.
Another cool tour is the Stargazing and Tekapo Springs tour. This is the only guided hot pool and stargazing tour in New Zealand. Imagine that – soaking in a 37.5-degree celsius hot pool while gazing up at the dark sky reserve with a loved one. On the two-hour tour at Tekapo Springs, you will learn all about stars, planets, and galaxies. This tour costs $99 NZD per adult. If by any chance there’s poor weather you can still experience an indoor virtual reality tour of the Tekapo Dark Sky Reserve.
If you don’t want to do a tour then simply head out to the lake after dark and stare up at the night sky. Once your eyes adjust you’ll be able to see the galaxy with the naked eye. With that said, it helps to go on a day with no light from the moon, and in winter, the Milky Way is easier to see.
Stargazing is easily one of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo, so don’t miss it!
2. Visit the Tekapo Springs
At Tekapo Springs you can indulge in 3 different hot pools, which, interestingly are named after popular areas in the region because they are shaped like these areas. Firstly, there’s Ohau at 36.5º C, second is Pukaki at 37.5º C, and Tekapo which is adults-only at 38 º C. There’s also an Aqua Play Area with two cooler pools that are great for kids. you’ll also find a steam and sauna room and a cold plunge pool. Tekapo Springs really is the perfect place to relax for a couple of hours.
Not forgetting the stunning views of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains that can be seen from every part of the Springs. There’s a Day Spa on site too if you’re after a facial, massage, or one of many other treatments on offer there. For a cool experience go after dark. Although you’ll miss the views of the lake you’ll be able to stare up and see the stars!
Access to the pools and Aqua Play area costs $29 NZD per adult with discounts available for children and families. The rate is more if you wish to use the sauna and steam rooms. In winter, the area is transformed and you can enjoy ice skating on the outdoor rink or ride on a snow tube!
3. Photograph the Church of Good Shepard
This adorable little church is one of my favorite places to photograph on the South Island. The Church of the Good Shepard is incredibly scenic with a backdrop of Lake Tekapo, and on a clear day, Mount Cook. It is for this reason that this church is incredibly popular with tourists. 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.
Important to note is 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.
4. Enjoy the colorful lupins
Lupin season in New Zealand is a huge tourism booster to many areas of the country. One of the most famous spots to photograph the lupins is on the shores of Lake Tekapo. Thanks to the popularity of social media, thousands of tourists flock to Lake Tekapo in lupin season just to photograph these gorgeously colorful flowers.
Thousands of lupins grow along the shore of Lake Tekapo so this a great place to photograph them. However, a great secret spot is a lupin field just a 2-minute drive from Tekapo town on the road to Christchurch. You can’t miss it as there’s likely to be lots of cars parked on the road next to this field.
Lupin season in Tekapo runs from November to the beginning of February, however the best time to see them is from mid November to the end of December.
Little known fact – Lupins are in fact considered an invasive species in New Zealand and need to be kept under control.
5. Visit Lake Alexandrina
Considered a hidden gem by Tekapo locals, Lake Alexandrina is a high country lake about a 12 km drive (7.4 miles) from the center of town. The lake is spring-fed with stunningly gorgeous scenery.
If you’re into high country fishing then there’s no better place for you as the lake is filled-to-the-brim with brown trout and salmon. It’s a considerably deep lake too so it’s also popular for fly-fishing. There are also no motorized boats allowed so it’s a serene place to spend the day or the weekend fishing.
You can spend the night here at the Lake Alexandrina Campground. The campground is basic but located right on the shores of the lake. The campground is operated by the Department of Conservation and doesn’t have any shower or running water facilities. There is a long-drop toilet. It costs about $20 per vehicle per night which is to be paid into the box at the entrance. There is also a campground at Lake Mcgregor nearby which is also run by the DOC.
6. Check out the Mackenzie Sheepdog Statue
Located about 100 meters from the Church of the Good Shepherd, this bronze statue was erected in 1968 as a tribute to Tekapo’s founding father. In 1855 James Mackenzie, a Scottish shepherd, found the area with the help of his dog “Friday”. This statue is supposed to represent Friday.
From the statue is a gorgeous vantage point over the milky blue waters of Lake Tekapo and the mountains beyond.
Although only a short stop, visiting is considered one of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo and with the stunning views, why wouldn’t you!
7. Hit the slopes
If you’re visiting Lake Tekapo in the winter then one of the best activities you can do is go skiing. Although most tend to think skiing can only be done in Queenstown and Wanaka, Lake Tekapo actually offers two nearby ski resorts you can visit!
The closest ski field to Tekapo is Roundhill or “Tekapo Ski Field” at just 32 kilometers (20 miles) away. It’s ideal for families or beginners thanks to the large beginner’s area which features 3 surface lifts and two rope tows. The recently introduced mega rope tow (the longest and steepest in the world) makes Roundhill very attractive to advanced skiers. Australasia’s biggest vertical drop (783m) is a huge selling point for this family-run ski resort. There’s also plenty of super wide, perfectly groomed intermediate trails here.
Ohau Ski Area is also not too far from Tekapo. It is 94 kilometers (54.4 miles) to the entrance at Lake Ohau Lodge and then a further 9.6 km to the ski area. Ohau is known as a mountain for all abilities. There’s a chair lift to access the wide flat slopes at the top that are ideal for intermediates or advanced skiers. You can hike from the top to more difficult off-piste runs that are great for powder lovers or experienced skiers.
8. Check out the blue water at Lake Pukaki
Over an hour’s drive in the direction of Queenstown will take you to the Gatorade-blue waters of Lake Pukaki – easily one of the most photogenic places to visit on the South Island. Unlike Tekapo, there is no town and no facilities (just toilets) at Lake Pukaki. Here, you have the opportunity to explore the lake’s shore and take lots of photos. On a fine day, you can spot Mount Cook in the distance. In lupin season (late November to early February) you can spot thousands of these gorgeous flowers along the edge of the lake.
If you want to stretch your legs, take a walk along the short Lake Pukaki Shoreline Walk. This beautiful trail takes you to a viewpoint over the lake which is perfect for viewing the water and Mount Cook.
Another really cool thing about this spot is the freedom camping area on the lake. Here you can camp completely free in a self-contained campervan or motorhome. It’s first come first serve so be sure to arrive early to secure a spot!
9. Go Jet Boating
For the more adventurous travelers, a jet boat ride is a fun and unique way to explore the Tekapo region. Tekapo Jet’s trip takes you down Lake Tekapo and up to Motuariki Island. It’s a great way to see this stunning region in an exciting way.
Your driver will stop during the tour so you can photograph the many scenic viewpoints. Learn all about the history of the area as you cruise up the Lake. And of course, experience 360 degree spins once it’s safe to do so. This tour costs $95 NZD per adult with reduces rates for children available.
10. Drink coffee at Jack Rabbit
Those that know me, know that I love coffee. In fact, there as so many cafes in Queenstown that I visit almost every week! Lake Tekapo also offers its fair share of beautiful and delicious cafes.
Situated at the Northern end of the lake on Neil Anderson Way is another favorite of mine called Jack Rabbit. At the cafe, there’s a large outdoor patio to enjoy views of the lake. Serving up excellent coffee, a yummy breakfast, and lunch menu as well as smaller items from the cabinet. I love their tasty pies! This is a great spot to refuel after indulging in one of the many fantastic activities in Tekapo.
11. Hike Mount John Summit
Considered a moderate hike, the Mount John Summit Hike is accessible directly from Tekapo town. The track starts just before Tekapo Springs and is well sign-posted. There are in fact two routes to get to the top. The fastest route is the circuit track which takes you steeply up through mostly forested areas. Allow 1.5 hours to complete this track.
The second route, and my favorite, is the Mount John Track via Lakeshore Track. This is a looped track that can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise. I personally prefer to start with the short track to the summit up to Mount John and then return via the lakeshore track (which is well signposted at the top). This will take about 3 hours but offers much better views.
Once you reach the top, you will be treated to 360-degree views of the Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo. You will also find the popular Astro Cafe, a viewing platform, and the Mount John Star Gazing Observatory at the summit.
12. Join a 4WD Tour
This activity in Lake Tekapo allows you to explore the heart of Mackenzie Country on a unique 4WD tour. You will be driven through the high country surrounding Tekapo, spotting sheep stations and the pure wilderness of the backcountry as you go. All in a luxurious Land Rover 4WD vehicle.
Stop off at the several viewpoints over Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt Cook, Mt Tasman, and the surrounding mountain ranges. Spot wild sheep and red deer on your way to a Musterers Hut which is only accessible by 4WD. Here, you will have some tea and snacks. It’s the only tour of its kind in the Tekapo area and definitely one of the must-do things to do in Lake Tekapo.
13. Dinner and sunset drinks at Dark Sky Diner
Located at the Dark Sky Project on Motuariki Lane, this is the perfect place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the breathtaking lakeside views. It opens from 4 pm on Thursday and 12 pm on the weekends and has an excellent food menu serving up everything from toasties to fajitas to cheese boards. Make sure to get here for sunset and try to get a seat by the window as it’s the perfect vantage point to watch the sunset over the lake.
If you head there after you you can also view the stars from the comfort of a heated building. In winter, this will certainly save your fingers and toes from Lake Tekapo’s cold weather.
14. Walk the Peninsula Walkway
Just a couple of minutes‘ drive from town is the easy Peninsula Walkway Track, which should take you 2.5 hours return. From the parking lot, the track follows the shoreline around the peninsula. Return via Godley Peaks Road. There are lovely views of the lake, Mt John, and surrounding mountains.
I personally love this trail simply for the views of Lake Tekapo. From a slightly higher elevation, the lake’s color really pops and the above photo is not edited to make the lake appear blue – it’s really is that blue!
To get here – head west on State Highway 8 and take a right turn onto Godley Peaks Road. A few minutes down this road and you will come to the Peninsula Walkway parking lot. It’s really easy to find and the trail’s easy difficulty makes it perfect for the entire family.
15. SUP and kayaking on the lake
Operating during the summer months, this is a great way to explore Lake Tekapo. Paddle Tekapo rent kayaks and paddleboards at affordable prices so you can experience New Zealand’s bluest lake up close and personal. The Lake is typically quite calm so it’s a pretty easy introduction to paddle-boarding or kayaking if it’s your first time.
You can choose a guided tour with an experienced guide or just go out on your own, provided you’re confident in the water. There’s a good range of quality paddleboards on offer as well as single and double kayaks. Operating hours are typically from 10 am to 6 pm.
I do have to warn you though, even in the summer Lake Tekapo is freezing and I have yet to take a full dip in the lake. Crazy I know! Next time I swear I’ll jump in (although, I’m not making any promises…)
Related read: Traveling New Zealand in summer? Check out my guide on the best things to do in Queenstown in summer!
16. Enjoy a scenic flight
This bucket-list-worthy activity isn’t the cheapest thing to do in Lake Tekapo, but it sure is amazing. From Lake Tekapo airport you’ll fly high above the lake and mountains to enjoy some pretty spectacular scenery. The ‘Mackenzie Explorer’ flight is one of the most popular scenic flight routes in the area. A 30-minute flight takes you over Lake Tekapo, Mt John Observatory, Mt Hay, Lake Alexandrina, and more. It even includes a stop at a remote sheep station with stunning views and in the winter months, you will instead be treated to a snow landing!
I must admit I have never done a scenic flight from Lake Tekapo but I have done one from Mount Cook Village. It’s still one of the most amazing activities I’ve had in my life and the picture above was from the tour. Flying high above the mountains in a helicopter is such a surreal experience that I really believe everyone should have at least once.
17. Visit Farlie and Lake Opuha
The small town of Fairlie is just over a 30-minute drive from Lake Tekapo. It’s home to the “best pies in New Zealand” which can be purchased from the super popular Fairlie Bakehouse on Main Street. Given its fame, it is very popular especially at lunchtime, so expect to queue. My favorite pies here are the pork belly or smoked chicken options, but there are many more options, and they’re all baked fresh daily. There are also yummy cakes and coffee on offer.
Also worth visiting in town is the Fairlie Museum and the Mabel Binney Cottage.
Boating and fishing are popular activities in Lake Opuha – a 45-minute drive from Tekapo and just 15 minutes from Fairlie. The lake is a 700-hectare man-made lake with an abundance of brown and rainbow trout as well as salmon. You will often see small powerboats, kayaks, water skis, and jet skis on the lake. There’s also a campground, several picnic areas, and toilets.
This part of NZ remains off the typical tourist trail so it’s a great thing to do in Lake Tekapo for those looking for a more local experience.
18. Step back in time at Burkes Pass
As you drive from Tekapo to Christchurch via SH8 you can’t miss this colorful collection of buildings. Just a 15-minute drive from Lake Tekapo, Burkes Pass mimics a small New Zealand town from the 1950s. You can easily spend an hour or more getting lost among the treasures and snapping photos.
The quirky St Patrick’s Church (the oldest union church in New Zealand) was in fact the catalyst for the local residents to turn this tiny town into a tourist destination. Realizing the town’s potential in 2000, they purchased the church and set about restoring it and all the old buildings in the area into what they are today.
The Burkes Pass Heritage Walk is the best way to get an insight into the area’s rich history. The walk takes you past the church, gallery, musterer’s hut, the many stone houses and cob cottages, and the old schoolhouse. You can purchase some quirky souvenirs at the Three Creeks Arts and Craft Store before returning back to Lake Tekapo.
19. Go golfing
The Cairns Golf Course on Sibbald Drive is a fun golf course. It’s designed in a similar way to old Scottish golf courses – where golf is said to have originated. You will be treated to stunning views of the Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo from almost every hole. Pay your green fees and off you go – 9 holes is a very reasonable $20 NZD and 18 holes just $30. They also have gear rentals if you need them.
Mackenzie Golf Club is 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Tekapo town on SH8. It is the highest elevation 9-hole course golf course in New Zealand and stands at 2,608 feet above sea level. The scenery surrounding the course is spectacular and you may even spot Mt Cook in the distance on a clear day.
I’m not going to lie, I do not golf and have never been able to hit a ball straight in my short career. For that reason, you should check reviews of both courses before going to get a golfer’s opinion.
20. Go mountain biking
With the surrounding mountain landscape, Lake Tekapo is a great place to go mountain biking. In fact, the famous Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail passes through Tekapo.
The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is one of the most beautiful cycle trails in the world. Cyclists can choose to start this trail at either Mount Cook or in Tekapo. The route incorporates Lake Pukaki, Twizel, Lake Ohau, Omarama, through the Waitaki Valley, and eventually into Oamaru – which is your finishing point. As you can imagine it’s quite a long trail at over 300 kilometers (186 miles) so allow 5-7 days to complete the entire trail. Or of course, you may choose to just complete a small section of the trail e.g. Tekapo to Lake Pukaki which is 54 km each way. The trail is graded as easy to intermediate and is suitable for all ages.
Other highly recommended cycle trails near Tekapo include within Lake Tekapo Regional Park which has over 24 kilometers of cycle tracks all of varying grades. The 13 kilometer-long Richmond Trail is very popular with mountain bikers and begins from the car park on Roundhill Ski Road. Cowans Hill starts from the Northern end of town and boasts stunning scenery like glacial features and tarns. This trail is just 3.2 kilometers and is classed as easy – intermediate. You can also walk both these trails so even trampers (what we call hikers in New Zealand) can enjoy them!
21. Visit Mount Cook National Park
The road from Tekapo to Mount Cook is worth the journey in itself. It’s a one-hour and 15-minute drive and is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and easily one of the most epic road trips on the South Island. On a clear day, this winding road reveals majestic Mount Cook in the distance. The road follows the shoreline of Lake Pukaki and there are some great photo ops along this road. Just make sure to pull in safely if you wish to snap some photos.
Not only is Mount Cook the tallest mountain in New Zealand, but there’s so much to do here. There’s a huge variety of hikes in Mount Cook with my personal favorite being the Hooker Valley Track – which is 10 km return. It’s an easy, flat track with stunning views of the Hooker Valley and Hooker River as well as three picturesque suspension bridges. Some other scenic and relatively short walks in Mount Cook include Sealy Tarns (4.5 km return) and Tasman Glacier Lookout (1 km return).
If you want a real adventure consider hiking to the Mueller Hut and spending the night. In the summer the hut must be booked in advance but in the winter it’s first come first serve. I will note that it is a technical climb in winter and crampons and an ice ax are required. I myself hiked the trail in winter and had a fantastic time. You do have to be aware of weather conditions though and check the avalanche risk before you go.
In the small town of Mount Cook (Mount Cook Village), there’s a number of restaurants and accommodation options making it the ideal place to spend the night. For budget travelers, the YHA Mount Cook Hostel is the best option and although cheap, the faculties are really clean and comfortable. For those with a larger budget, The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook is beautiful. If you do stay here get a room with a view, you won’t regret it! There are only six hotels in Mount Cook Village so be sure to book in advance.
Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo
In Tekapo town, there are lots of great hotels to choose from. For budget travels I recommend the YHA Lake Tekapo – these hostels 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, beautiful rooms and the best part is it isn’t actually 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.
Thanks for reading!
There’s certainly no shortage of amazing things to do in Lake Tekapo. From the lake to the sky you’re spoiled for choice. It’s no wonder Lake Tekapo is such a bucket-list place to visit in NZ.
I certainly hope this guide helped inspire your upcoming trip. If it did then you don’t have to say goodbye just yet. Stay and browse around I have many more in-depth blogs like these about Queenstown and other destinations around NZ!