Lake Tekapo is a must-visit destination in New Zealand and a perfect place to escape for a couple of days. In this guide, we will cover the following:
Getting to Lake Tekapo
Where to stay in Lake Tekapo
Best Lake Tekapo activities and attractions
What to do in Lake Tekapo with kids
Lake Tekapo winter activities
2-day itinerary for Lake Tekapo
How To Get To Lake Tekapo
There are a few different ways to get to Lake Tekapo, depending on where you’re coming from.
If you’re coming from Christchurch, Queenstown or other parts of the South Island, the best way to get to Tekapo is by car.
Wanaka To Lake Tekapo – 201km
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo – 226km
Queenstown To Lake Tekapo – 256km
If you have the time, consider taking the scenic route between Lake Tekapo and Christchurch. The scenic route to Tekapo is 275km along State Highway 77, rather than State Highway 1 and will take you roughly 3 1/2 hours from start to finish.
There’s a good chance it might even take you less time despite the longer distance, as the road is much less busy.
If you’re coming from other parts of New Zealand or from other countries, you can fly into Christchurch International Airport and then make your way up to Lake Tekapo from there.
Where is Lake Tekapo?
Lake Tekapo is located in the centre of New Zealand’s South Island. The lake is the second largest of 3 glacial lakes in the Mackenzie Basin region, lying at the foot of the Southern Alps.
How Do I Get To Lake Tekapo?
Lake Tekapo is located approximately 3 hours from both Christchurch and Queenstown by road. The easiest way to reach Lake Tekapo is by hiring a car or campervan and making your way there.
Alternatively, there are regular bus services operating in New Zealand’s South Island that will take you to Lake Tekapo from major cities.
This is one of the most popular scenic drives on the South Island.
Once in Tekapo, you can get around the main town area easily on foot as everything is close together. A car or bus service is ideal for visiting nearby Tekapo attractions. They have limited taxi services available.
Lake Tekapo Accommodation
If you are looking to spend one night or more in the area, these ideas will help you decide where to stay in Lake Tekapo:
Lake Tekapo Camping
If you are taking a campervan or road trip through New Zealand, note that freedom camping is prohibited in Lake Tekapo.
We booked a private property via Campable during our stay. It had no amenities but it was cheap. We share details on this site and all the others we stayed at in our campgrounds guide.
We often stay in holiday homes or Airbnb properties when we travel, as they give a great home away from home experience. They also make it easier when travelling with kids or in groups, as you can often get a full house much cheaper than 2 or 3 hotel rooms!
Lake Tekapo Village
The township by Lake Tekapo is small, however, it has most of the essential facilities and services for a short stay.
There are many restaurants in Lake Tekapo, as well as a convenience store and a bakery for food and drinks.
The service station in Tekapo village caters to cars and campervan travellers, with facilities to swap and go gas bottles as well as refuel.
There is a post office, plus several souvenir shops for picking up local treasures. Some of these have clothing and accessories in case you realise you haven’t packed enough warm gear for the often cold South Island weather.
While there are not a load of activities and attractions, there are enough to easily fill 2 or 3 days, or more if you enjoy outdoor activities. The biggest drawcard is the scenery!
You really can’t go past taking in the stunning views of the lake itself, but when you’re ready for some extra fun, these Lake Tekapo activities and attractions are perfect:
Lake Tekapo Stargazing Tour
Lake Tekapo is one of the best places in New Zealand to enjoy stargazing. There is very minimal light pollution, providing some of the darkest skies. It is also one of the busiest skies, perfect for stargazing.
The nearby Mount John Summit is also home to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which is the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world.
If you are a regular stargazer, be sure to pack your astronomy gear and set yourself up anywhere alongside the lake for amazing views.
Otherwise, one of the top things to do in Lake Tekapo is a stargazing tour. The Dark Sky Project tours will take you to exclusive viewing areas on Mount John and by the lake and is a must-do Lake Tekapo experience!
If you’re lucky, this can be one of the best places to see the Lake Tekapo Southern Lights too, otherwise known as the Aurora Australis.
Dark Sky Project Experience
If you are only visiting Lake Tekapo for one night or less, you can still enjoy a memorable Tekapo star gazing experience!
Visit the indoor multi-media astronomy centre and view the night sky on the screen instead, to get a sample of the Lake Tekapo sky views offered.
This educational experience is 45 minutes long and runs during the daytime and early evening each day.
Mount John Lookout
One of our favourite Lake Tekapo things to do was a drive up Mount John. There is a usage toll on the road which is around $8 NZD, but very much worth it!
From Mount John, you can view stunning 360-degree views of Lake Tekapo and other lakes nearby, the Southern Alps and Mackenzie flats. It is breathtaking to see and well worth the visit.
Mount John Observatory is located here, which is where you will find the best stargazing opportunities mentioned above!
If you are looking for an alternative way to visit, or if you don’t have your own transport, Mount John Summit track is one of the best Lake Tekapo walks, taking around 2 hours, or longer if you take the shore track.
Tip: Visit the Astro Cafe Tekapo for a meal or a snack during your visit to Mount John. There are few places in the world where you can enjoy a view this good with your coffee and cake!
Visit Tekapo Springs
The Lake Tekapo hot springs are located at the base of Mount John and a popular attraction for adults visiting the region.
There are 3 Lake Tekapo hot pools, named after the 3 iconic lakes in the region: Tekapo, Pukaki and Oahu. There is also a day spa, steam and sauna rooms, for some well-deserved relaxation. But that’s not all…
Don’t miss the chance to dine at Altitude 720 cafe, with breathtaking lake and mountain views. The cafe is open daily although opening times vary.
Lake Tekapo Walks
As with most of New Zealand, Lake Tekapo hikes and walking tracks are a popular choice. Tramping is one of the most popular activities to do in New Zealand, so don’t miss the chance to take a walk in this beautiful part of the country.
We mentioned above the Mount John Summit Track, which takes you up to Mount John Lookout and Observatory. This is a popular walking track with moderate intensity.
Visiting Lake Tekapo with kids? We did and we had an amazing time during our 2 days in Lake Tekapo! Here are some of the best family activities in Lake Tekapo:
Tekapo Lakeside Playground
Often it’s the simple things that stand out most for kids and the playground at Lake Tekapo village is pretty awesome!
There is a flying fox so you can enjoy amazing lake views while you fly along the track. It’s adult-friendly too. Trust me, we tried!
There is also a slide and climbing frame, swings and other playground equipment to suit kids of different ages.
Kid-Friendly Star Gazing
There are star-gazing tours that run earlier than the main tours with a younger audience in mind. And of course, the Dark Sky Project media experience is a perfect option too.
It’s almost always too cold to swim in the lake, even on the hottest days, since the water is glacial from the mountains. But what is fun to do with the kids is skipping rocks across the still lake surface.
Simon loves to show off his rock skipping skills and the kids love to try. Just take care of other people nearby if your kids are a bad aim. My youngest is exceptional for throwing things backwards!
Tekapo Ice Skating and Snow Tubing
We visited Lake Tekapo in winter, which meant even more fun activities available for families at Lake Tekapo springs. Not only do they have hot pools suitable for kids, with water play areas, but they also have a range of winter fun during the snow season.
During winter, don’t miss Lake Tekapo ice skating and tubing hill. We did tubing at the Snow Farm NZ instead so we skipped this experience at Tekapo but it’s so much fun. Even for the smaller kids!
The Tekapo snow tube park and ice skating rink are usually open from June until September, depending on weather and snowfall. Visit the Tekapo Springs website for seasonal updates and times.
There are plenty of other outdoor activities to enjoy in the Lake Tekapo region too – cycling tracks and bicycle hire, walking tracks and hikes, and simply enjoying the scenery as you explore on foot.
Iconic Tekapo Tourist Attractions
If you are only stopping in Lake Tekapo briefly, on your travels elsewhere, or making a quick day trip, there are a few tourist attractions in Lake Tekapo you won’t want to miss.
Church of the Good Shepherd
This has to be one of the most beautiful church locations in the world! The Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo is still an active church, with regular Sunday services held each week.
However, the historic stone church also draws crowds who want to capture the quaint structure on camera and explore nearby. Don’t miss the chance to go instead and admire the view through the window.
Note: There is no photography allowed inside the church as this is still a fully functioning church.
Sheep Dog Statue
Just up from the Good Shepherd Church is a bronze statue of a sheepdog. The statue is in honour of working dogs in the area.
Lake Tekapo Footbridge
The Lake Tekapo bridge has become somewhat iconic, sitting over the turquoise waters of the lake. This bridge allows quick access from Tekapo Village to the Church of the Good Shepherd and dog statue.
It’s also a really nice short walk if you don’t have a lot of time but want to get outdoors and explore.
Visiting Lake Tekapo In Winter
If you are visiting during winter, there is a huge array of extra activities you can enjoy in and around Lake Tekapo. The winter months are very cold in New Zealand’s South Island, so make sure you are prepared with proper winter clothing and footwear.
Best things to do in a Lake Tekapo winter:
Go skiing at nearby Roundhill ski area
Day Trips From Lake Tekapo
There are plenty of day trips you can do from Lake Tekapo if you want to explore beyond the lake area. Here are a couple of the most popular day trip ideas:
Just over an hour’s drive from Tekapo, Mount Cook National Park is home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook.
The park offers plenty of hiking and walking trails, as well as some great spots for camping, mountaineering, glacier exploring and skiing during winter.
Lake Pukaki is the largest of the three main glacial lakes in the McKenzie Basin (the other two being Tekapo and Ohau). It’s about an hour’s drive time from Tekapo and is well worth a visit.
The lake has some stunning views, especially of Mount Cook, and is a popular spot for fishing, boating and swimming. We camped here following our stay in Tekapo.
2 day Lake Tekapo Itinerary
If you are planning to see Lake Tekapo in 2 days, as we did, here is a simple Tekapo itinerary to help you create your own schedule during your visit:
Day 1 – Arrive in Tekapo
Check into your accommodation
Explore Church of the Good Shepherd and statue on foot from Tekapo village
If you are looking for a great place to head after your Lake Tekapo stay, take a scenic drive along Braemers Road to Lake Pukaki. This was the best part of our South Island campervan road trip, plus there is an amazing freedom camping area in Lake Pukaki!