How To Get From Christchurch To Lake Tekapo – Scenic Drive

Last updated:

This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure

Are you wondering how to get from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo? This is the ultimate guide to visiting one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand! In fact, Lake Tekapo is easily one of my favourite places in the entire world!

But taking a Christchurch to Lake Tekapo road trip isn’t the only option for visiting this breathtaking lake town! This guide will help you plan your route from Christchurch, choose the best mode of transport for you and give you the best stops along the way too!

🤩 Only have 1 day? Check out this day trip to Lake Tekapo

lake tekapo bridge.

How To Get From Christchurch To Lake Tekapo

New Zealand’s South Island is filled with breathtaking destinations, but few can compare to the beauty of Lake Tekapo. Our visit to this stunning lake town was one of the highlights of our road trip around the South Island and the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo was pretty epic!

There’s something you will notice when you are in the South Island.

In almost every direction you look there are mountain views and that first glimpse of Lake Tekapo as you drive into town is one I won’t ever forget.

There are several ways you can travel from Christchurch to Tekapo or in reverse, from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch instead, if you are starting your route from Queenstown or the North Island first.

Star RV Motorhomes driving along the coastline

PLANNING A NZ ROAD TRIP?

Our favourite way to explore NZ is by motorhome! Check out Jucy Campervans for a budget option or for extra comfort try Star RV.

Distance From Christchurch To Lake Tekapo

The most direct route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is around 225 kilometres (140 miles) long and takes you along State Highway 1. It will take you approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes of driving time, depending on traffic conditions and the number of stops you make.

But that’s not your only option!

The Scenic Route VS The Direct Route

Alternatively, you can take the more scenic route to Tekapo.

The inland scenic route is approximately 258 kilometres (160 miles) long, taking you instead through Methven and skipping Ashburton, getting back onto State Highway 1 at Geraldine.

The best part of the scenic route is that you have the chance to visit Rakaia Gorge Walkway and it passes the access road to Mt Hutt too.

We will go into more detail below about the best stops, but the scenic route does not take drastically longer than the direct route, depending on how many stops you want to take.

In all honesty, whether you take the slightly longer route or stick with the more direct State Highway route, you’re going to get some incredible scenery because that’s what makes the South Island so incredible!

Drive From Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

The easiest way to reach Lake Tekapo from Christchurch is by driving. This is perfect if you have your own transport.

However, you can easily hire a rental car or a campervan for your South Island road trip routes instead!

We did the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo in a luxury motorhome during our 2 week NZ road trip, but you can just as easily make this a quick 2 or 3-day road trip from Christchurch if you have less time. And it really is worth the trip!

Car Vs Campervan Vs Motorhome

New Zealand is one of the best places for road tripping and you can have an amazing time no matter which option you go with.

wilderness luxury campervan new zealand.

A car is an easy option if you prefer to stay in hotels and only have a few days to explore, staying mostly on the main routes, rather than getting off the beaten track.

A campervan, like the Jucy campervans, can be an affordable alternative that incorporates accommodation and transport in one. The one downside is that budget campervans aren’t usually self-contained, so you need to stay in places with toilet facilities only.

A motorhome is perfect for longer trips, since you are fully self-contained and can enjoy being off the grid for a few days, freedom camping without the need for camping facilities.

They are more expensive but not as much as you think once you weigh up the difference in paying for accommodation or caravan parks each night.

You can hire a luxury motorhome as we did or check out the Star RV range from Jucy as a similar alternative.

Bus From Christchurch To Lake Tekapo

If you don’t have your own transport and would rather consider public transport, taking a Christchurch to Lake Tekapo bus is one of the most convenient public transport options.

InterCity operates buses from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo 5 days a week. The bus journey takes approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes.

They have bus services to Tekapo on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday and typically depart Christchurch at 8:30 AM for a midday arrival.

They also offer a return bus service departing at 12:50 PM on those same days for Tekapo to Christchurch.

Alternatively, Atomic Shuttles offer a daily bus service to Tekapo from Christchurch Airport, Christchurch, Wanaka or Queenstown. 

Lake Tekapo Day Trips From Christchurch

The third option for getting to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch is by taking a day trip. These day tours from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo are big days since you have a lot of distance to cover.

New zealand travel guide.
View of Mt Cook (Aoraki)

This is also the most expensive way to experience the stunning blue waters of Lake Tekapo.

A day tour is totally worth it if you only have a couple of days to spend in Christchurch and you really don’t want to miss your chance to see this incredibly scenic part of the South Island.

The only downside is that you don’t get a lot of time to explore the area.

The positive – you do get to see some of the other iconic attractions in the area since many of these day trips also include a visit to Mount Cook National Park. Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand!

Here are some of the best Lake Tekapo Day Tours:

Mt Cook, Tekapo & Tasman Glacier Walk Day Tour From Christchurch

See views of Mount Cook (Aoraki), Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. Wander through lavender fields (in summer), and hike through Mt Cook National Park to Tasman Glacier. The tour includes a delicious lunch with views of Mount Cook at The Hermitage Hotel. With a maximum group size of 11 people, this small group tour is much more intimate and personalised.

🤩 Check availability & book the tour here

Mt Cook & Lake Tekapo Small Group Tour from Christchurch

This alternate small group tour visits some of the best highlights in Lake Tekapo, including the Church of the Good Shepherd, and the Mt John Observatory summit. Visit Lake Pukaki for views of Mt Cook and stop at Geraldine Cheese Factory. This tour includes light refreshments but you need to buy your own meal. It ends with 2 hours at Tekapo Hot Springs before heading back to Christchurch.

🤩 Check availability & book the tour here

Mt Cook, Tekapo & Tasman Glacier Walk Day Tour

Experience the best of Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt Cook National Park, and Tasman Glacier on this fully-guided, small-group day tour. This tour gives you enough time to do part of the Hooker track as an alternative to Tasman Glacier, with 3 hours spent in Aoraki National Park. This tour includes lunch in Mt Cook village at The Hermitage Hotel.

🤩 Check availability & book the tour here

Christchurch To Lake Tekapo Stops

Now that we’ve covered how to get to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch if you are taking a road trip to this beautiful small town, you might be keen to know where to stop along the way.

We have included some of the best Christchurch to Lake Tekapo road trip stops to help you plan your adventure, depending on if you choose the scenic route or stick to the State Highway 1 route:

Christchurch

Of course, before you head to Lake Tekapo, you will want some time to explore beautiful Christchurch! It is the largest city on the South Island and there is plenty to see and do.

christchurch gondola youtube.

You could easily spend a few days here if you have the time. Yet it still feels like a big country town in ways. One of our favourite activities was riding the Christchurch Gondola and taking the tram tour around the city.

You can find our complete guide for what to do in Christchurch to help you plan your stay!

Rakaia Gorge

bridge over rakaia gorge on a sunny day.

The Rakaia Gorge is arguably one of the prettiest stops along this route and is certainly worth visiting if you aren’t in a rush.

Located southwest of Christchurch, in the Southern Alps, it’s known for its beautiful mountain views, waterfalls and great walking tracks.

The Rakaia Gorge Walkway is considered one of the best hikes on the South Island and will take you 2 or 3 hours to complete. This 10km walk takes you along the Rakaia River, through native forest, and to the former Snowdon coal mines site.

Geraldine

Geraldine is a charming small town known for its foodie scene – check out Geraldine Cheese Company! But there’s plenty more to do here too.

Visit Geraldine Historical Museum and learn about the area’s cultural heritage or if you love car history and classic cars, check out the Geraldine Vintage Car & Machinery Museum.

Take a short walk from the centre of Geraldine to find yourself at the Talbot Forest Scenic Reserve and Peel Forest for some time in nature.

Mt Hutt

Taking the scenic route means you get the chance to detour to Mt Hutt if time permits. It is part of the Southern Alps range and is extremely popular in winter for skiing and snowboarding.

snow on mt hutt mountains on a sunny day.

The ski field has a variety of different ski runs for different skill levels.

It’s definitely one of the must-do ski fields if you love winter sports! And it has been voted the best NZ ski resort several times! One for the NZ bucket list!

During the warmer months, the chair lift is a great way to enjoy the scenic views. There are also hiking trails and biking trails in the area. This is a perfect place for amazing views of the Canterbury Plains too.

Ashburton

Located on the Canterbury Plains, Ashburton is a small but vibrant town. Stop here for a spot of shopping, or explore the art gallery and local museums.

It is the largest town aside from the city of Christchurch in the Canterbury region.

Ashburton sits between two rivers – the Rakaia River and the Ashburton River. It services the local farming regions so there are many facilities here and a few interesting attractions, depending on how much time you want to spend here.

Fairlie

Fairlie is a charming small town that is worth stopping in if you have the time. It’s known for its pies, which you can sample at one of the town’s many cafes or bakeries. You can also visit the Fairlie Heritage Museum or take a walk around the town to see the historic buildings.

Fairlie also has an alpaca farm to visit. The Gem Alpaca Stud has farm tours to meet the adorable alpacas. You can feed them, pet them and get some fun selfies with them too!

There is also Skipton Animal Farm in Fairlie, with some of the cutest farm animals!

Burkes Pass

retro three creeks service station and general store in burkes pass.

Burkes Pass is a small historic village that sits around halfway between Fairlie and Lake Tekapo. The quirky town is home to one of the oldest churches in New Zealand and is a great place for taking a heritage walk.

Three Creeks is a must-visit! This retro-style general store is perfect for picking up a unique gift, with their vintage collectables, artwork and furniture. There is also a retro service station here and class cars out the front which make for some awesome photo opportunities!

Lake Tekapo

Once you reach beautiful Lake Tekapo, the first thing that will get your attention is the stunning turquoise waters. It really is that colour and it’s just total perfection! Tekapo is a great place to spend a couple of days enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of this small scenic town.

mt john lookout.
At the top of Mt John Summit

There are plenty of things to do in Tekapo. Most famous for being part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, stargazing should be at the top of your list for a visit here. It’s the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world!

Don’t miss your chance to see the epic views from the top of Mount John during the day too though, with views of Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau. There’s also the Tekapo Springs and the beautiful Chuch of Good Shepherd.

Tips For Visiting Lake Tekapo

You can read our thorough guide for visiting Lake Tekapo here but a few quick tips to note before you visit.

If you are travelling New Zealand’s South Island by motorhome, it is important to know that you can’t just pull up anywhere for freedom camping. You can only camp on an approved site.

Lake Tekapo Private Campsite Wilderness Campervan.
We found a private cattle station on Campermate to spend a night

Make sure you check out this list of New Zealand camping apps to help you find a site. When we last visited by motorhome, there were no freedom camping sites, however, you can now stay at Mackenzie Waitaki RV Camping. This is on a first-in, first-served basis though.

There are paid campsites in the Lake Tekapo region though.

Or you can find private properties that offer cheap rates for self-contained camping. We did this and had an incredible spot with no people anywhere nearby and our own little edge of the lake. We booked it via Campermate.

If you are doing the Christchurch to Lake Tekapo drive by car, you can stay at one of the many Lake Tekapo hotels or resorts.

It is also important to note that drive times are an estimate. New Zealand roads are windy and can take longer than anticipated.

Your best option is to have an early start to make sure you don’t miss any of the hidden gems along the way!

We also recommend taking motion sickness tablets if you have any family members who are prone to an upset tummy. Our youngest was sick a couple of times on the trip, which slowed us down a little for fresh air stops and clean-ups. Eww!

Lake Tekapo To Lake Pukaki Scenic Route

If you are going beyond Lake Tekapo to explore more of the South Island, rather than heading back to Christchurch afterwards, you absolutely need to take the scenic route to Lake Pukaki!

Braemer Road Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki.
Driving along Braemar Road in our motorhome

The Braemar Road and Hayman Road route is one of the most scenic drives we had during our entire South Island trip. This smooth dirt road is the back road between Tekapo and Pukaki and the scenery is beyond amazing!

The direct route between Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki via State Highway 8 is approximately 49 kilometres. The scenic drive is approximately 62 kilometres and worth the extra distance!

FAQS For Visiting Lake Tekapo From Christchurch

Is it worth visiting Lake Tekapo?

Yes, absolutely! The natural beauty of Lake Tekapo is incredible and this is easily one of the most tranquil and beautiful places in New Zealand!

What is the distance from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch?

Depending on which route you take, it is approximately 225km from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo or 258km if you take the more scenic drive via Methven.

Do I need a car to visit Lake Tekapo?

The easiest way to get to Lake Tekapo is by car or motorhome, however, there are regular buses from Christchurch also.

How many days do I need in Lake Tekapo?

You need at least 1 full day and night to experience Lake Tekapo, especially if you want to do a stargazing tour, however, a minimum of 2 nights would be ideal.

What is the closest airport to Lake Tekapo?

The closest international airport to Lake Tekapo is Christchurch International Airport. Alternatively, Queenstown International Airport is only slightly further if coming instead from Queenstown.

How long does it take to get from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo?

Queenstown is approximately 256 kilometres from Lake Tekapo and it takes around 3 hours to drive direct.

How long does it take to get from Wanaka to Lake Tekapo?

Wanaka is approximately 200 kilometres from Tekapo and takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes by car.

Getting from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is an easy and enjoyable journey that you’ll never forget. It was certainly a highlight of our New Zealand road trip and we’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for an unforgettable experience.

Read More New Zealand Travel Guides

pinterest image - text reads how to get form Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.