With the Southern Alps as a backdrop reflecting onto the azure waters, the picturesque views at Lake Tekapo New Zealand are exceptional. Add to that the aurora australis (southern lights) dancing in skies so clearly, they are recognized as an International Dark Sky Reserve. There is no shortage of things to do in Lake Tekapo.
I am not alone in thinking that Lake Tekapo is one of the most spectacular places in New Zealand.
Whether it is a quick photo stop between Queenstown and Christchurch, or a destination of its own, you will not regret your stop here. There is plenty to keep nature lovers and stargazers busy.
Below are our suggested things to do in Lake Tekapo.
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Daytime things to do in Lake Tekapo
Capture Lake Tekapo photos
For photographers like me, just standing on the Lake Tekapo shore is the start of a great day. We last visited in springtime, when the snowcapped Southern Alps created an impressive backdrop to the reflective water.
Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog monument
Standing at the lake’s edge since 1935, the Church of the Good Shepherd is a stone structure against a backdrop of azure water and snowcapped mountains. One of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand, it is an active church with frequent weddings and services.
Nearby, the bronze sheepdog memorial statue stands in tribute to the dogs that helped shaped the surrounding farming communities. Scottish immigrants originally brought sheepdogs to New Zealand.
Lake Tekapo walks and hikes
However you explore the area, if you are visiting in summer (November to February) you will enjoy the colourful lupins growing around the lake. At sunset, they complete the colour palette.
Some of the popular walks include:
- Lake Tekapo Walkway: A one-hour easy (mostly flat) walk along the waterfront passing the church and hydro-electric outlet.
- Cowans Hill Walkway: A 1-2 hour easy hike to the top of Cowans Hill for panoramic views of Lake Tekapo.
- Mt John Summit Circuit Track: A 90-minute steep and challenging hike through exotic forest and tussock hills. Stunning views await those who make the trek. (If you don’t want the hike, you can drive to the top.)
- Check out this list of short walks in Lake Tekapo for more options.
Relax at Tekapo Springs
Lake Tekapo hot pools, filled with glacial waters, are the perfect solution to sore muscles. Alternatively, take an active approach on the water slides or in a cool pool.
Stunning views add to the fun any time of day.
Daytime hours end at 7 pm, but during winter, if you arrive late afternoon, you can enjoy the colourful sunset before the stars fill the dark sky. Check for discounts on an all-day pass for the hot pools.
Enjoy Lake Tekapo, Mt Cook, and Fox Glacier from the air
At 3,754 metres, Aoraki Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain. On the other side is the country’s longest glacier. A helicopter flight will let you enjoy it all, plus turquoise glacial lakes, unique rivers, and three massive glaciers (Fox, Franz Josef, and Tasman). In-flight commentary will help you identify the sights and you can even land on a glacier. Check helicopter flights to see the glaciers here.
Dark Sky Experience
This 45-minute indoor experience is a world-first of its kind and is a family-friendly activity.
It is described by the Dark Sky Project as “a treat for the senses. It brings science, Māori heritage and fascinating multi-media installations together in a ‘Big Bang’ of awe and inspiration.”
There are no age restrictions and under 5’s are free. See reviews on TripAdvisor or book your Dark Sky Experience.
Evening things to do in Lake Tekapo
Take in a sunset
Whether from the waters of Tekapo Springs, up a hill, or the lakeside, be sure to stop and take notice of the sunset.
Things to do in Lake Tekapo at night – Stargazing will top your list!
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve includes Lake Tekapo. It has been recognized as an area of exceptional starry nights with limited light pollution by the International Dark-Sky Association. It is New Zealand’s only Dark Sky Reserve and one of only 18 worldwide.
Needless to say, it is an ideal place for stargazing. And, if you are lucky, you will be rewarded with the Southern Lights (aurora australis).
The skies can be enjoyed on your own, or with a guided tour.
Best time for stargazing in Lake Tekapo
Impressive starry skies reward visitors all year, although crisp, clear winter or autumn nights with little humidity when the moon is at its smallest sliver (or no moon) will give you the best reward.
Note that auroras are rare and only predictable a day or two in advance. Typically, in New Zealand, nature’s light show is only seen occasionally, and only between April and September.
Summit Experience at Mt John Observatory (University of Canterbury)
A highlight for many visitors to the region is the Summit Experience at Mt John Observatory. This nearly two hour Lake Tekapo stargazing tour gives you a closer look at the stars through a variety of telescopes.
You will want to dress in warm clothing for this outdoor experience. Although the weather varies, the observatory is over 1K metres elevation in a glacial region, plus there is often wind.
A warm outer layer coat is provided, but you will thank me for encouraging warm clothing underneath, even thermals in the winter.
The outdoor experience is dependent on the weather. Clear, cloudless skies and dry nights make a big difference. While the Summit Experience operates all year, if the weather is too bad, it will move indoors to their interactive venue.
Note that cars cannot be driven to the observatory at night, and the only option for getting there is with a tour.
Booking in advance is strongly recommended:
See TripAdvisor reviews or Book your stargazing tour
Crater Experience at Cowan’s Private Observatory
The Crater Experience is another option for stargazing and learning more about the Southern Skies. It is only available on weekend nights in the winter.
The big advantage here is the giant purpose-built crater that provides wind protection with minimal light pollution.
Booking in advance is strongly recommended:
See TripAdvisor reviews or Book your Crater Experience tour
Stargazing and Hot Pool Experience
If you will be in Tekapo in the second half of a week (Wednesday to Sunday), another option is to combine stargazing with a night hot pool experience. This is the same Tekapo Springs that we discussed above, only at night.
You will want warm clothes and closed shoes for the fully guided stargazing portion of the event. Here you will look through telescopes and learn about the night sky. Your guide will even stay poolside later, to tell you more about the stars.
Best of all, depending on when you choose to go, there are often discount tickets available.
Where to stay in Tekapo
The Mackenzie Suites (Apartments): A quiet and picturesque spot quite close to Lake Tekapo village, these suites feature fantastic views and luxury accommodation. With a kitchenette, laundry facilities, and a gas fireplace, it’s spacious and comfortable.
Check price and reviews for The Mackenzie Suites.
Peppers Bluewater Resort: Another great accommodation with beautiful lake views, this 4.5-star hotel is in Lake Tekapo village. While most of the rooms don’t have cooking facilities, there is a restaurant on-site.
Check price and reviews for Peppers Bluewater Resort.
More about Lake Tekapo
- Lake Tekapo is one of four lakes in the Mackenzie Basin on the South Island. The other three are Lakes Ohau, Lake Pukaki, and Lake Alexandrina.
- It’s about halfway between the Christchurch and Queenstown Airports, making it an ideal stop to break up the six-hour drive, or a destination on its own. We have also added it as a side trip when driving along the South Island’s east coast.
- Māori were the original settlers. However, the region gets its name from a Scottish shepherd and alleged sheep thief, James Mackenzie. The area was intermittently inhabited by Māori and, in 1857, it was split into ranching stations.
- Water from the lake is used in the generation of hydroelectricity.
Save on your NZ trip with these resources
We usually start with aggregator companies as they do the work for us by providing a list of options, prices, and reviews. However, we also added a few personal NZ favourites:
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Hotels: we use Booking.com as they consistently return the best rates and their reviews are from actual guests. However, for self-contained lodging in New Zealand, we use Bookabach.
- Cars and Campervans: we use RentalCars to find the best deals and dealer ratings. Use Jucy for small campervans.
- Activity discounts: we always check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on selected tours, activities, restaurants and more.
- Travel Insurance: we start at InsureMyTrip as they are the best option to compare plans and find the right coverage for you.
Before you book the rest of your trip: Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
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Have you been to Lake Tekapo in New Zealand?
More from the South Island you might also like … or check out 18 Extraordinary Things to Do in the South Island.
So, so, so beautiful — the lake and it’s environs.
And the church looks so cute. 🙂
Wow! What a beautiful place!
The photos are amazing, I am coming to NZ in July/August wondered if there a tour one can do from Timaru to visit this lake? Thanks in advance
None of the companies I work with have tours from Timaru, but there are plenty of South Island tours that go to Lake Tekapo. You can check them all out here: Tours with Lake Tekapo
Hi Rhonda, your photos of Lake Tekapo bring back a lot of happy memories. In particular, I love the colours and subject matter in your first image. Keep up the great photography, I look forward to following more of your adventures 🙂
The colour of the water is what most impressed me and the quaint little church just made me want to get married!
You made really beautiful pictures, stunning views!! I have never been in New Zealand. I would love to see it one day.
Answering the question if we allow time to stop in a trip, I love stopping and view small villages and the nature, it is my boyfriend who likes to get as soon as possible from A to B. But if we are traveling by bike, he stops more often so I can take pictures on the way 🙂
I would think on bike you are going so much slower than via car, you would automatically get to enjoy more.
The photos are beautiful. I find gardens inspiring. Love the Japanese garden photo 🙂
What a pretty spot! There’s a beautiful mountain scape, water and a cute church! What’s not to love? 🙂
I have always wanted to visit New Zealand, after seeing your pictures of Lake Tekapo…wow stunning! Would love to stop and take the time to sit and enjoy such a magical place!
Wanaka looks really beautiful and the pictures are absolutely stunning.
We stayed overnight at Lake Tekapo in 2001 – had a lovely sail on the lake and also visited the observatory – not sure if the observatory is still there.
Beautiful shots Rhonda. They made me want to go back to NZ right now!
we truly live in a beautiful country. This is one of my favourite places to visit, I’ve been to the Otago area twice now, Queenstown to be exact – just awesome!
We spent almost 5 full winters in Wanaka, and did some touring in the surrounding areas. It is stunning.
Sean @ His and Her Hobbies
We drove by Lake Tekapo and stayed in Wanaka back in 1993. Your photos are much better than the ones I have. That area is so stunning that no picture can ever do it full justice and is a place you must visit in person. We did a 10 day tour of the South Island and one day I will make it back. We try to stop along the way on our travels and that is usually when we end up finding the coolest places by accident.
Sean at His and Her Hobbies
Wow, fantastic places to explore, I definitely would love to drive through most of these beautiful countryside and see those majestic mountains.
The South Island is so beautiful
I remember visiting with fond memories 🙂
Constance - Foreign Sanctuary
Your pictures are absolutely amazing!! I love the little church and the beautiful natural scenery featured in this post!
I love that little stone church too. I was surprised it wasn’t older than it is.
This is on our list now of the many beautiful places we want to see and experience in New Zealand the remaining 10 months we are here! Finding the whole country so very beautiful 🙂
Go Slow. New Zealand is spectacular around every turn. Let me know if you head out towards Shakespear Park.
The Southern Alps are just stunning … thanks for these pics!
Lake tekapo is one of my favorite places in NZ!! We spent the night there and the stars were incredible. Well, we also bring a “souvenir” called Liam from there 😛
And you captured images that took my breath my away as well. Bravo!
Now those are beautiful photos Rhonda so vivid and clear all that lovely contrasting blue too 🙂
Have a laketastic day Rhonda 🙂
I still haven’t been to Lake Tekapo 🙁 or much of the South Island. Dumb huh
Alex J. Cavanaugh
The snow covered mountains are amazing. So majestic. And that church just rocks. Literally!
Paul F. Pietrangelo
What a stunning photo. I wish I lived in an area with beautiful mountains. All I have is flat terrain. Thanks for showing us such beauty. See ya.
I love snow capped mountains.
Oh, Rhonda, it looks like a stunning place. I would love to go and photograph Lake Tekapo with you someday! Cheers to the Weekend Travel Inspiration Gang!
Absolutely gorgeous! Beautiful blues, I especially like the second picture.