Plan your visit to the Mackenzie Country with these amazing things to do in Tekapo.
Lake Tekapo is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous places in Aotearoa. In addition, it is one of, if not the most famous lake in New Zealand.
This incredible little town is a wealth of nature beauty and amazing sights, making it the perfect little holiday getaway.
So, grab your whānau or a buddy, take a 3-hour drive from either Christchurch or Queenstown, and prepare to be amazed.
The following 20 suggestions share the best of life in the Tekapo region – there’s sure to be something for everyone.
Welcome to Tekapo
Situated in the heart of Mackenzie Region, Lake Tekapo is known for its creamy turquoise-blue coloured water filled by the surrounding glaciers. Its exquisite waters not only attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, but it’s so influential that even the clouds above reflect its blue reflection.
This stunning lake can be enjoyed in all seasons. In summer, you’ll see colourful lupins wrapping the lakefront and in the winter, snow-capped mountains provide a beautiful backdrop.
After a long and hard day of taking pictures of yourself, and hopefully, some of the picturesque lakes too, treat yourself to a soak in the Tekapo Springs – it’s pure indulgence. And after that, if you are feeling inquisitive, why not book a stargazing tour for an eye-opening (and jaw and dropping) experience.
The Best Things to Do in Tekapo
1. Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd
Set amidst the lake and mountains, the Church of the Good Shepherd is hard to miss once you’ve locked eyes on the stunning shore of Lake Tekapo.
This Church is absolutely majestic. It’s also an icon, having the title of ‘most photographed building in New Zealand’.
Surprisingly, it also holds regular Sunday Services – should you be lucky enough to find a spot in this humble little church.
And for all you love birds, why not book a wedding package and receive a blessing by the local Christian Clergy? Tekapo’s snow-capped mountains or lupins make the most romantic backdrop – it really doesn’t get better.
2. Snap a Photo of the Sheepdog Memorial
The sheepdog Memorial was built in 1968 as a memorial to the good bois (sheep dogs, in this case) who helped run the farms of New Zealand. The statue perches beside the lake (just down from the church) and, from the right position, can be captured with the mountains and lake in the background.
Sculptor Innes Elliott of Kaikoura created this Tekapo legend based on a sheepdog named Haig – a hard-working border collie.
Border collies make fantastic sheepdogs due to their intelligence. They are also amazing companions as they are incredibly sensitive and intuitive. Thus, makes them a perfect doggo for any household.
And as is clearly seen in Tekapo, they are also undeniably photogenic as a model for bronze sculptures. I give you Exhibit A.
3. Hike Mt John Summit Track
If you are up for quite a challenge, Mt John Summit Track is what you’re looking for!
For you fit and keen, the summit track takes approximately 90 minutes, hiking through a variety of terrains including forest and tussock hills. Make sure to apply plenty of high SPF sunscreen and insect repellent along the way. You may be strong, but the New Zealand sun and our infamous sandflies are stronger still (and never to be messed with).
Once you pass the steep and zig-zagged terrains at the top of the summit, take a drink and pat yourself on that back (or high five your equally tired, huffing and puffing travel companion).
Then, reward yourself with magnificent views of Lake Tekapo from above.
And maybe coffee and a muffin from the café.
You know you deserve it.
4. Visit the Mt John University Observatory
For the folks that prefer not to work up a sweat before indulging in coffee and world-class viewers, we’ve got you covered. All you need is access to a motor vehicle, a driver’s licence, and $8 NZD in your wallet (to pay at the gate). If you’ve got those things sorted, you can take a drive up the Mt John University Observatory.
The drive is no piece of cake though – it is steep, windy, and narrow. So, take your time and put your phone away as you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take photos at the top.
Once at the summit, you’ll be able to dine in the same café that the hikers on the Mt John Summit Track enjoy.
Should you choose, you’re also able to explore the observatory (known as The Dark Sky Project). If you choose to do this in the evening, you’ll be driven in a coach (so there’s no need to pay to access the road).
Cafe hours: Open from 9.00 am – 3 pm, Thursday – Sunday.
5. Take on the Cowans Hill Walkway
If you are not into challenging hikes, not to worry. Given the nature of the region, there are several other walking trails you can embark on without suffering from aching muscles for days.
One of our favourites is the Cowans Hill Walkway.
This walkway takes around 1 – 2 hours and starts at the Lake Tekapo township, just on the eastern side of the bridge. It’s a fairly easy walk. It includes mixed terrain – both footpaths and gravel roads – that will lead you through a forest, along a riverbank and across a bridge. Eventually, the path leads you to the summit of Cowans Hill, where you will relish a 360-degree panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
It really is a beautiful spot!
6. Enjoy the Pines Beach Walk
Does Cowans Hill Walkway still sound like too much hard work? Or do have tiny toddlers or dogs? Or maybe you’re just feeling lazy? Boy, have we just got the right walk for you.
The Pines Beach Walk is probably the easiest walk in Lake Tekapo. Nonetheless, you’ll still be rewarded with magnificent scenery along the entire journey.
Start from the Church of Good Shepherd and make your way to the right, past the Sheepdog Memorial. Walk through the Lake Tekapo Reserve, past the dog park (being sure to say hello to locals – don’t be shy, they love a chat) and through the forest.
Et voilà. You’ll find yourself at the stunning Pines Beach.
See, told you it was easy.
The walk shouldn’t take more than an hour return… unless you get side-tracked chatting to locals and taking photos. In that case, bring snacks. You might get hungry.
7. Soak in the Tekapo Springs
After a busy day, soaking in the hot springs is the perfect way to wind down. The spring is only a 5-minute drive from the Church of the Good Shepherd (or 30 minutes walk).
This fantastic complex consists of 3 large outdoor hot pools. All come in different temperatures, ranging between 28 and 38.5 degrees Celsius. The water is sourced from an underground spring near Tekapo. Although it’s not geo-thermal, this soft alpine water is exceptionally pure and will leave you relaxed and rejuvenated.
On-site you will also find water slides, steam rooms and a sauna. There are also other seasonal options such as Jumpernaut and Aqua Drop in the summertime and snow tubing and ice skating in winter.
In addition, there is also a well-stocked café if you’d like a bite to eat.
We recommend visiting just before sunset to make the most of the changing sky. Sunset, coupled with the pool’s amazing views out over snow-capped mountains, really is hard to beat.
Alternatively, enjoy their magical stargazing tour at night. After all, Tekapo is also famous for being part of Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.
Did you know? The Tekapo Spring provide towel hire for a small fee if you forget your own. Lockers to keep your belongings safe are conveniently situated right outside the changing rooms and showers (though they generally aren’t required in New Zealand).
8. Stargaze in the Dark Sky Reserve
In 2012, this area region was declared the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.
This means that the region is free from light pollution.
The ability to see stars is diminishing across the world, due to light and air pollution. However, lucky for us, the Mackenzie Region is almost entirely free from light pollution.
There are only eight places in the world that hold the title of Dark Sky Reserve. We are, of course, one of them and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.
Hence, we can claim that we have one of the clearest skies in the world. Thus, making Lake Tekapo the perfect place for stargazing.
Only in the darkness can you see the stars.Martin Luther King Jr
You do not need to be an astrophotographer to navigate your way through the sky or be a pro at using the telescopes. Instead, book a local stargazing tour with professional guides and let the stars lead you on your journey.
9. Visit Lake Alexandrina
As we all know, Lake Tekapo is a top tourist destination in New Zealand and because of that, it can feel surprisingly busy over peak seasons. If you’d like a little peace and quiet whilst visiting the region, we recommend checking out the hidden gem that is Lake Alexandrina.
Lake Alexandrina is only a short 13-minute drive from Lake Tekapo, on the other side of Mt John.
Just like Lake Tekapo, it is unspoilt, but there are some key differences. The water here is dark and mysterious. It is also a smaller lake than Lake Tekapo. This tranquil and peaceful lake is gorgeous and the perfect stop for an afternoon stroll.
10. Ride a Jetboat!
This one is for all you adrenaline junkies!
Tekapo Jet offer exciting jetboat rides through this beautiful part of the country.
As exciting as they are scenic, you definitely have to go for a spin in one of these boats in New Zealand. After all, jet boats were designed and created in New Zealand first.
Where better to do that than on Lake Tekapo?
Buckle up, hold on and enjoy the ride!
At the time of writing, Tekapo Jet has closed due to COVID-19. Please check their site to check if they are open again.
11. Try Your Hand at Trout or Salmon Fishing
Trout and Salmon fishing may not be the most popular tourist attraction but it certainly is a local favourite – and you can get in on the action too!
The Tekapo region is famous for its rainbow and brown trout and, if you are lucky, you might even catch yourself a beautiful king salmon from the canal.
If you just want to fish for one day, you can get a temporary license from Kiwi Treasures (Post Shop) in the Tekapo Village for a mere $20. It is also possible to hire your own fishing gear or to join a guided tour.
You can fish all year round in the lake but the canals are only open from November to April.
12. Hop Onboard a Scenic Flight
If the Mt John summit isn’t high enough for you and you fancy a birds-eye view of the region, look no further! Tick off your bucket list and take that scenic flight you’ve always dreamed of.
Whether you take the plane or helicopter, you’ll see the most spectacular mountains and glaciers in the country.
Without a doubt, this will be the flight of a lifetime.
13. Explore the Lake Tekapo Regional Park
Right by Tekapo’s easiest walk (to Pines Beach), you’ll find Lake Tekapo Regional Park. With 165-hectares of land, this park has plenty of room for your whānau to explore!
The park has 24km of walking and cycling tracks that weave through the forest. There’s an orienteering trail to entertain those who like a little challenge or you’re welcome to have a go at disc golf – they have both family-friendly and advanced courses.
14. Have a Picnic, Lakeside
With mesmerizing sunrises or sunsets like this, how can anyone say no to setting up a picnic by the lake?
Hot coffee (make it Irish if you like), snacks, a good book and a blanket to lay on… it sounds perfect to us.
15. Dine on Delicious Fish and Chips!
Fish and chips is a favourite in New Zealand (or is that fush n chups?)
However you say it, you’ll want to bundle up a couple of pieces of blue cod and a scoop of chips (paired with a bottle of L&P) before heading to the lake. It’s the perfect (and affordable) Kiwi way to celebrate an awesome day.
Tekapo Takeaways comes highly recommended – we have it on good advice that they put together a fantastic burger and perfectly cooked chicken nuggets too!
16. Enjoy the View from the Tekapo Bridge
Near the Church of the Good Shepherd, you’ll find the Tekapo Bridge (also known as the Maclaren Footbridge).
Take your time walking over the curved bridge whilst the milky blue water flows right beneath you. The water seems as serene as it is unreal when you are standing closely above.
Be sure to stop to enjoy the views along the way – they really are beautiful from this viewpoint.
Pro tip: The bridge reflects beautifully in the lake on a still day, so have your camera at the ready.
Things to Do in Tekapo During the Summer Season
17. Marvel at the Beautiful Lupins in Tekapo
Lupin or Lupine?
However you like to spell it, you will never forget the beauty of this weed.
Yes, you read it right. Lupins are a weed in New Zealand (though probably the most beautiful one you’ll ever see). They are considered a bit of a nuisance to the environment in Aotearoa, but boy do they make your pictures pop.
Lupins are usually in season at the beginning of summer. Around Mid-November through to January. They are, however, climate dependant so the actual season will vary.
The Lupins in Lake Tekapo are typically in shades of pink, blue, violet, and white.
18. Paddle Board or Kayak on Lake Tekapo
Given that you’re visiting a lake – one of the most remarkable ones in the world – may I add, it would be a shame if you didn’t squeeze a few more water activities in.
If you are visiting in spring or summer. Have a go at either paddle boarding or kayaking. Or both!
The vibrant and turquoise coloured water of Lake Tekapo is so inviting that you’ll want dive straight in. But don’t forget, it is glacier water after all, so it is freezing!
For that reason, water activities are only available during the warmer seasons, when you’ll still want to do your best to stay dry.
Things to do in Tekapo in the Winter-Time
19. Go Skiing or Snowboarding
You may have heard about the famous South Island ski fields such as the Remarkables, Cardrona, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt. And you are aware of how crowded those ski fields can get?
But have you heard of the Roundhill or Mt Dobson ski fields? If the answer is no, then you are in for a treat.
Less than an hour from Lake Tekapo, both Roundhill and Mt Dobson are way less crowded than the big names of the Southern Alps, but are just as remarkable. You’ll get in plenty more runs with fewer people on-piste.
With countless ski trails between both ski fields, you’ll find plenty of well-groomed tracks (and some off-piste fun too). Both ski fields have an awesome intimate feel and offer terrain for a range of experience levels.
20. Ice Skate on an Outdoor Ice Rink
Fancy yourself a figure skater? From April to September (weather dependent), Tekapo Springs open their international-sized outdoor ice skating rink.
There, they host ice hockey games, ice discos, figure skating and even curling.
It is a favourite amongst tourists and locals alike and is one of the only places in New Zealand where you’ll find an outdoor ice rink.
And there you have it – 20 amazing activities to do when you next visit this incredible spot.
Given the variety of activities above, a few hours stop-over in Tekapo is simply not enough.
So, book yourself a weekend away ASAP – the only thing you’ll regret is not staying long enough.