Lake Tekapo: A Kiwi Adventure Like No Other


Lake Tekapo boasts all the essentials for an unforgettable vacation – exquisite hotels, delectable dining options, and plenty of exciting activities to keep you entertained. Coupled with its breathtaking scenery, it’s undeniably one of the most picturesque destinations in New Zealand.

Despite its small size, Lake Tekapo offers a plethora of attractions. With a population just over 500, it’s a favoured stop on the journey between Christchurch and Queenstown.

Over the years, Lake Tekapo’s beauty has only grown, drawing visitors with its stunning visitors. Consequently, an array of activities has emerged, catering to every taste. Among my personal favourites are stargazing from the hot pools within one of the few Dark Sky Reserves in New Zealand and capturing the beauty of the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd.

From adrenaline-pumping adventures to romantic escapades and breathtaking aerial views, Lake Tekapo offers something for everyone. In this post, I outline some of the best activities in Lake Tekapo, providing a comprehensive guide to ensure an unforgettable visit to this enchanting destination!

About Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is positioned right in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, nestled on the eastern flank of the Southern Alps. Conveniently situated, it’s just a one-hour drive from Mount Cook Village and approximately three hours from the bustling town of Queenstown.

Tekapo town is nestled beside New Zealand’s famously azure lake, renowned for its striking blue hue. Despite its small  local community, Tekapo draws a significant influx of visitors, firmly establishing itself as one of NZ’s top lake destinations.

In Tekapo, you’ll discover a variety of dining options ranging from cosy cafes to charming restaurants. Additionally, there’s a convenient small supermarket, excellent hotels, and even a local hot spring. With such offerings, it’s no surprise that Lake Tekapo is frequently lauded as one of New Zealand’s premier destinations for romantic getaways!

Things to do in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

1. Visit Tekapo Springs

Photo Credit Tekapo Springs

At Tekapo Springs, you can immerse yourself in three distinct hot pools, each named after and moulded to represent popular locales in the area. Beginning with Ohau, set at a comfortable 36.5°C (97.5°F), followed by Pukaki at 37.5°C (99.5°F), and finally, Tekapo, exclusively for adults, at a luxurious 38°C (100.4°F).

For families, there’s also an Aqua Play Area featuring two cooler pools ideal for children. Personally, I found solace in their steam and sauna room before braving a (brief!) dip in the invigorating cold plunge pool. Tekapo Springs truly offers an idyllic setting for a couple of hours of relaxation.

Let’s not overlook the panoramic views of Lake Tekapo and the majestic surrounding mountains, visible from every corner of the springs. Additionally, there’s a day spa on-site offering a variety of treatments, from facials to massages, delivered by the exceptionally friendly staff.

Tekapo Springs welcomes guests from 11 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday, with an hour earlier opening time on weekends. For an extraordinary experience, I’d suggest visiting after nightfall. While you may miss the picturesque lake views, you’ll have the opportunity to gaze up and marvel at the stars.

Entrance to the pools and Aqua Play area is priced at $37 NZD per adult (16+), with discounted rates offered for children and families. Additionally, you have the option to include access to the steam room, sauna, and plunge pool for an additional $10 NZD per person.

2. Go Star Gazing 

Photo Credit Summit Experience

Lake Tekapo’s renowned night sky is truly extraordinary, offering an unparalleled opportunity to marvel at the stars and the celestial wonders above. This region stands as one of the selected Dark Sky Reserves in New Zealand and holds the distinction of being the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, known officially as the Aoraki/Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.

Therefore, Tekapo undoubtedly ranks among the premier destinations for stargazing in New Zealand!

Moreover, Tekapo is home to the Mount John Observatory, where a captivating 2-hour mountaintop stargazing experience awaits. Operated by the University of Canterbury, this observatory provides the perfect setting to delve into the science and captivating narratives of the night sky, guided by charming and knowledgeable experts.

One aspect I particularly enjoyed about this tour was the utilisation of their 16″ optical telescope, rendering the stars brilliantly clear! In the event of inclement weather, you’ll be comfortably sheltered indoors, yet still able to utilise their instruments for an awe-inspiring glimpse of the night sky.

Due to the high demand for the Mount John Observatory experience, it’s crucial to secure your tickets well in advance. Tickets are priced at approx $190 NZD per person.

Stargazing—it’s undeniably one of the top activities in Lake Tekapo!

3. Capture images of the Church of the Good Shepherd

This charming little church holds a special place in my heart as one of the South Island’s most picturesque spots. The Church of the Good Shepherd boasts a stunning setting against the backdrop of Lake Tekapo, with Mount Cook visible on clear days. It’s no wonder this church is a favourite among tourists.

For the best photo opportunities, my recommendation is to visit early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds. If possible, catching a sunrise or sunset, or even arriving after dark, offers the most magical moments for photography.

Keep in mind that photography inside the church is not permitted, and as it’s a place of worship, it’s important to be respectful. In favourable weather conditions, it also serves as a fantastic location for stargazing at night.

4. Visit Lake Alexandrina

Regarded as a well-kept secret among Tekapo locals, Lake Alexandrina lies approximately 12 kilometres (7.4 miles) from the town centre, nestled in the high country. Fed by springs, the lake boasts breathtaking scenery in every direction.

For enthusiasts of high-country fishing, Lake Alexandrina is a paradise, teeming with brown trout and salmon. With a maximum depth of 27 metres (89 ft), it’s ideal for fly-fishing. Additionally, the absence of motorised boats creates a serene atmosphere, perfect for a tranquil day or weekend of fishing.

Overnight stays are possible at the Lake Alexandrina Campground, situated right on the lake’s shores. While basic, the campground, managed by the Department of Conservation, offers a long-drop toilet facility. However, there are no showers or running water amenities available.

The campground fee is approximately $20 NZD per vehicle per night, payable at the entrance box. Nearby, Lake McGregor also has a campground managed by the DOC.

5. Go for a Coffee at Jack Rabbit

Located at the northern edge of the lake along Neil Anderson Way, one of my personal favourites is Jack Rabbit. The café features a spacious outdoor patio offering picturesque views of the lake. Serving top-notch coffee, delicious breakfast and lunch options, as well as delectable items from the cabinet, including mouthwatering pies, Jack Rabbit is a culinary gem.

It’s the perfect spot to recharge after enjoying the plethora of fantastic activities Tekapo has to offer. Jack Rabbit welcomes guests daily from 7:30 am to 4 pm, but it’s wise to arrive early to have your choice of their delightful pastries!

6. Hike Mount John Summit

Described as a moderately challenging hike, the Mount John Summit Hike is conveniently accessible directly from Tekapo town. The trail commences just before Tekapo Springs and is clearly signposted. There are two routes to reach the summit, with the quickest being the circuit track, which ascends steeply through predominantly forested terrain. It’s advisable to allocate approximately 1.5 hours to complete the circuit track.

Upon reaching the summit, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled 360-degree views of the Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo. Additionally, you’ll find the renowned Astro Cafe, a viewing platform, and the Mount John Star Gazing Observatory

From adventures on the water to stargazing in the clear skies above. With so much to explore, it’s no surprise that Lake Tekapo is a must-visit destination in New Zealand.

I hope this guide has sparked inspiration for your upcoming journey.

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