Quick guide to visiting Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Researching the South Island of New Zealand, we came across a picture of a beautiful blue lake – Lake Tekapo. Immediately wanting to know if the lake really was that colour and reading about the clear night skies, for which star-gazing is perfect, made it a ‘must visit’ for us. The deal was sealed and the pin went in the map.
Tekapo was to be our penultimate stop in New Zealand, and one which we had been very much looking forward to. As if the stunning mountain scenery driving towards Tekapo wasn’t enough, finally seeing the turquoise lake made the five hour drive from Hanmer Springs worth it.
We booked a two night stay at Maple View Cottage, which was fabulous (review to come), and our intention was to visit as much as we could in our one and a half day visit. Reality is often different though. As it happens, we couldn’t do the air safari as the weather was too bad, and a poorly hubby meant we just had to take it easy, so we ended up with one afternoon to sightsee. In that afternoon, we went up Mt John and had a quick brew at the Astro Cafe, came back down to the village and walked along the Tekapo footbridge to the Church of the Good Shepherd and the working dog statue. Little man then skimmed stones by the lake’s edge and we went for a nice meal at Mackenzie’s. At night, to top our day off, we grabbed our duvets, snuggled up warm and star-gazed from our balcony. Bliss.
1. Lake Tekapo and Village
The second largest of the three lakes situated along the northern edge of the Mackenzie basin, Lake Tekapo covers over 30 square miles and is 710 metres above sea level. On the shores of Lake Tekapo sits the village of Tekapo, which has a population in the low hundreds, although this increases at weekends and holiday times, due to the large amount of holiday homes in the area – with more currently being built. It’s a lovely little village and has a supermarket, several eateries and even hot springs to relax in. If you’re feeling more active, there are also plenty of trekking opportunities – by foot and horse, Mt John Observatory for some serious star-gazing, golf and it is also a great base for air safaris over Mt Cook.
2: Mt John Observatory
Tekapo is in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. It is the southern hemisphere’s first dark sky reserve, and the world’s biggest. We had hoped to visit the Mt John observatory at night to stargaze, but there wasn’t a suitable tour available – little man was too young for the late night tours and the family tour wasn’t running, so it had to be a daytime visit. The observatory is accessed by a one lane, winding road, and is not accessible by high sided vehicles such as camper vans. Cars only. It is also a private road, so there is a charge to drive on it – $8 when we visited. You can also hike up to the observatory if you wish, which is free.
Luckily we’d seen our host in the morning and she told us to get up to Mt John as soon as we could due to the winds picking up, as they close the road when the winds get too high. By the time we got up there, the wind was pretty strong, but the views were pretty awesome! Don’t forget to visit The Astro Cafe up at the top. It’s probably one of the best views from any cafe I’ve visited before. Shame it was way too windy to sit outside with a brew when we visited though.
Built initially as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie region, in 1935, the charming stone-built Church of the Good Shepherd is one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand. It’s so popular, in fact, that you’ll be lucky to get a picture when the church is not surrounded by tourists. I had to go back and visit three separate times to get a picture with no people in shot. Indeed, there’s been so many visitors ‘disrespecting’ the church, that there is now a ban on taking photos inside its walls. It is beautiful though, and within walking distance of the main village, so certainly worth a visit.
Just up from the Church of the Good Shepherd, there’s a statue in memorial to working dogs, which was commissioned in 1968 by local farmers.
4: Lake Tekapo Footbridge
A fairly new addition to Tekapo is the footbridge, which crosses over the stunning blue colour of the Tekapo river outlet. It was only opened in 2015, and the bridge leads from the village to the Church area, so nice to walk to the church rather than drive, if you can. If there’s no parking available in the village, park near the church and walk into the village.
Info: Address: Tekapo 7999. Website.
5: Hot Springs
If you want to soak away your stresses and strains, Tekapo Springs hot pools are the place to head. It also has awesome views out over Lake Tekapo, and even an opportunity to soak while you star gaze . What could be more perfect?
6: Air Safari
We were pretty gutted that we didn’t get to do this option. Grrrrr, weather! But, if you want to see Tekapo or the stunning peaks of Mount Cook and Westland National Parks from the air (and please tell us all about it if you do!) then Air Safaris are the people to see. Operating several different tours and with prices starting at $149 for the Tekapo highlights by helicopter, it’s got to be a bucketlist addition. If you’re in any doubt, click here to head over to TripAdvisor to see the hundreds of five star reviews.
7: Trekking – Walking and Horse
With rides starting at just half an hour and extending up to full day outings, Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking is your one-stop horse trek provider. What better way to take in the fabulous countryside surrounding Lake Tekapo. Again, a wealth of five star reviews on TripAdvisor makes this the perfect company to book with.
If you’d prefer to go by foot, there’s several walks available from the township itself. You’ll find a list by clicking here.