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Lake Tekapo – Guide for Backpackers

Tourism NZ

Stunningly Scenic in the day and Starry at night.

Part of the Mackenzie district in Canterbury, Tekapo is worth stopping at to take in snow-peaked mountains behind the turquoise-blue Lake Tekapo. It’s almost unreal milky blue colour comes from the glacial sediment left behind from a retreating glacier.

Visit from mid-November to December to see the blue and purple lupin flowers in bloom. During the winter, there are two ski fields in close proximity. Plus, it is a good time to come ice skating, then relax in the most scenic hot pools in the country!

Tekapo is also part of the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world, meaning the night’s sky is unbelievably clear to see stars, the Southern Cross, the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies and even the Southern Lights.

So take a look at the guide below to check out things to do in Lake Tekapo.

Things you can’t miss in Lake Tekapo

  • Explore the scenic surroundings by bike, horse, kayak or using your legs!
  • Take a token picture of the Church of the Good Shepherd.
  • See the stars from the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve.
  • Relax in the hot pools looking out to the lake.
  • Hike Mt John.
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Activities On and around Lake Tekapo

The token tourist picture you must take is of the Church of the Good Shepherd. With blue Lake Tekapo stretching behind it to the Southern Alps, it’s a beautiful sight. You’re sure to get plenty of Instagram likes, as we are yet to see a bad picture of it. The church is a bit of a Granddad at 70 years old.

To explore further, take a horse trek in summer to see the beautiful lupin flowers lining the lake. Now for the real reason you should do this; you feel a bit like a cowboy galloping through the tussock lands! It’s an easy ride compared to some mountainous treks you find in New Zealand.

On the water are some relaxed activities such as kayaking and cruising around a glacier formed lake. Spot some rainbow trout and brown trout along the way.

Finally, see Lake Tekapo and the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park from the skies with daily scenic flights departing from the Lake Tekapo airport.


Walks in Lake Tekapo

The Mt John walk to the summit and observatory circuit will leave you breathless. Not just because power walking to the summit takes it out of you, but because of the brilliantly blue lake and rolling hills and mountains that meet your eyes! This circuit walk starts near the pools and ice rink, taking about 2 hours to complete.

To make a day out of hiking around Lake Tekapo, bike or hike the Tekapo Trek in the Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park, which encompasses spectacular scenery or ice-steeped mountains and broad glacier valleys, the Two Thumb Range. Also, you can jump on the Alps 2 Ocean bike trail from Lake Tekapo to Oamaru. You will just miss out the start from Aoraki Mt Cook.

For more about the nearby walks and how to get to them, see 9 Unmissable Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.


Tekapo After dark…

Not as scary as it sounds, it’s actually really pretty. As part of the internationally-recognised Aorkai Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, Tekapo has one of the clearest and darkest skies in the world for stargazing. New Zealand’s largest telescope sits on top of Mt John at the Earth and Sky Observatory.

Guided tours are worth it, as they provide transportation, a guide and state-of-the-art equipment. If you arrive before dusk, head to the Astro Cafe for a 360° view of the lake and mountains.

For more great places to visit after dark, check out 5 Stargazing Sites in New Zealand and The Best Times and Locations to See the Southern Lights in New Zealand.


Winter at Lake tekapo

The Tekapo Spring and Winter Park at the bottom of Mt John is an attraction that can be enjoyed year round. However, the three hot pools overlooking the lake do feel better in winter.

What you can guarantee as a winter-only activity is the ice rink, open April-September. So consider buying the combo deal of “Skate and Soak” to save the precious cents.

Nearby are the Roundhill and Mt Dobson ski fields. Roundhill is famous for  it’s tow rope taking skiers and riders to 2,100m (pretty high for a tow rope). On the other hand,  Mt Dobson is an opportunity to get off the beaten track and cover 400ha of ski terrain. The uncrowded slopes have four lifts. Access the ski field is by shuttle from Fairlie. Find out more in The 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand.

If you have more time in Lake Tekapo…

  • You can never do too much walking and biking! Walk the Cowans Hill, the Peninsula Walkway, and bike in the Recreational Park.
  • Stone skipping on the lake… one of New Zealand’s free activities *wink face*.
  • Get a fishing license at Kiwi Treasures, so you can catch rainbow trout and brown trout on the lake.
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Where to stay in Lake Tekapo?

If accommodation in Lake Tekapo is full (which it often is in the busy seasons) we recommend staying in these accommodations in the nearby towns of Twizel and Omarama.

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