Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo
Are you road-tripping in New Zealand? You cannot miss one of the most iconic lakes in New Zealand, Lake Tekapo. Read our comprehensive travel guide on the best things to do in a small village, Lake Tekapo, sitting on the shore of the same name lake.
We must say that we know Lake Tekapo and activities to do in the area pretty well. Although for one-half of visitors Lake Tekapo is only a picturesque stop to stretch legs when traveling between Christchurch and Queenstown, and for the other half, it is a short overnight stop in New Zealand road trip itinerary, we called the small village, sitting on the shore of Lake Tekapo home for nearly four months.
As we spent over a year in New Zealand on Work and Travel Visas, we traveled the country forth and back, and we probably could not find a more laidback, more beautiful place to work and live for a while. Our days started and ended with Lake Tekapo as we had a view of the lake and snow-capped mountains in the background from the window of our room.
As we spent whole winter in Lake Tekapo which is the slow season in New Zealand, we were not that busy at work, which we did not mind at all, as we had more time to explore the lake's surroundings and the big part of Mackenzie Country.
If you plan on visiting New Zealand, Lake Tekapo is for sure a must-visit place you simply have to put on your NZ travel itinerary.
Here's our tried and tested list of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo.
Hopefully, it will inspire you to stay in the area a bit longer.
THINGS TO DO IN LAKE TEKAPO
There are so many things to do in Lake Tekapo village, that every type of traveler will be easily able to choose from the wide range of activities. We belive you won’t have a problem to find on our list of the best things to do near Lake Tekapo your favorite one.
Walk Around the Lake | In case you arrived in Lake Tekapo only for one afternoon, the best thing to do is only walk around the lake's shore, and even when you are staying longer you should not miss a leisure stroll around Lake Tekapo. When the sun is shining, the lake is glittering, the atmosphere is incredibly peaceful and the mountains behind the lake just add to the postcard-like perfection. When facing the lake, go to your left, and walk as far as you like - this side is much more picturesque and more pedestrian-friendly.
Drive Around the Lake | The other side of the lake can be encircled by car, so if you do not have much time, and only passing by the village, drive around Lake Tekapo only for a couple of minutes to enjoy being close to one of the most beautiful New Zealand's lakes.
Lupins | Have you seen the iconic photos of Lake Tekapo with purple and pink lupin flowers in the foreground? From late November to February when the lupins are in bloom, Lake Tekapo becomes one of the most photographed places in New Zealand, and it does not matter you are not chasing likes on Instagram, this is the photo you simply must-have, only for your pleasure and the artist inside you. Although the place has so much to offer all year round, seeing lupins in bloom is for sure a reason why to plan your New Zealand trip between a couple of months mentioned above.
Skiing | Although New Zealand is not a classical ski destination for travelers from Europe or the USA as it is far and quite expensive, in case you happen to be around Lake Tekapo in winter months between June and August, take advantage of two ski resorts nearby, the Roundhill Ski Area and Mt. Dobson Ski Fields. You can enjoy great skiing and amazing views of Lake Tekapo. The snow situation in Mackenzie Country is every year different, and it happens that the snow does not last long, so if you plan on skiing in Lake Tekapo, it is better to arrive in late July, when the winter is in full swing so you can increase your chances for snow.
Church of the Good Shepherd | A small stone church sitting on the Lake Tekapo's shore is probably New Zealand's most photographed building, and although the Church of the Good Shepherd is pretty small when you stand next to it, the perfect settings make from it Tekapo's attraction number one. The Church of the Good Shepherd sits on the shore of the lake and has the incredible backdrop created of Southern Alps. The area around the church can be often crowded because it is a must-see stop on every traveler's itinerary, but it is worth to wait for the perfect photo opportunity. The best photos are taken during sunrise or sunset, so wait patiently for your chance.
Stargazing | Lake Tekapo is not the perfect destination only during the day, but also at night. Why? Lake Tekapo is a destination well-known for one of the clearest skies in the world and it is a part of Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve which guarantees to the visitors more than perfect stargazing conditions. Travelers from all around the world but also professionals arrive in Lake Tekapo to explore the night sky sprinkle of millions of stars. Where is best to observe the sky? You can either drive on own out of the town to escape the artificial light, but much more popular is visiting Mount John Observatory where you can use large telescopes and get an even closer look.
Get the Most Classic New Zealand's Views | New Zealand is a country where more sheep than people live, and the most classic pictures from this destination usually contain grazing sheep on green pastures, with a lake and mountains in the backdrop. You can see exactly the same fairytale-like scene here, in Lake Tekapo. Sheep are almost everywhere, but your best bet to see them is when doing Mt. John Circuit.
Scenic Flight | On top of all the best things to do in Lake Tekapo we've already mentioned, there are several more highlights and the scenic flight over the lake itself, over the Southern Alps including the New Zealand's highest mountain Mount Aoraki and the magnificent Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers is definitely one of them. If your budget allows it, this one hour flight is a must-do activity in Lake Tekapo you won't ever regret doing.
Hotsprings | If you are tired from many hikes you've done in New Zealand, it is a great idea to take a dip in Lake Tekapo's Hotsprings sitting on the lake's shore. You can find here three pools with different temperatures where you can sit all day and soak up the hard to beat views. During winter it is also possible to skate on an ice rink in the complex. You can buy your one-day ticket here.
Mt. John Summit Circuit Trek | One of the best budget-friendly things to do in Lake Tekapo is hiking to the top of Mt. John. The hike starts next to the Hotsprings, and quite steep zig-zag ascend will take you to Mt. John, from where you'll get amazing views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Here you can also find the Mount John Observatory (it is possible to drive here from the other side of the hill in case hiking is not your thing or you are short on time). You do not need to get back to Lake Tekapo the same way, but it is possible to do a loop via pastures. The full circuit should not take you more than three hours.
Cowans Hill Walkway | In case you do not have enough views, we do not blame you. Another picturesque, two-hour trail will take you to the Cowans Hill via Cowans Hill Walkway. The trailhead is easily found near the church and once you pass several houses, the path will lead you along the river, across the bridge, via the forest to the Cowans Hill Summit. The good news is that you can rent a bike, and cycle to the top in case you prefer this activity over walking.
Boat Ride | Adrenaline seekers won't leave Lake Tekapo disappointed as well. Take a boat ride tour and enjoy the thrilling ride on one of the bluest water surfaces in New Zealand. The jet boat ride usually takes about an hour, but it is absolutely enough to leave the village with an experience of your lifetime.
Lake Alexandrina | Lake Tekapo is for sure not the only lake in the area, and in case you want to see similarly beautiful lake only smaller and with fewer crowds, you can head to Lake Alexandrina boasting with awe-inspiring views of the surrounded mountains. Lake Alexandrina lies less than 10 kilometers from Lake Tekapo, so it is quite unbelievable how peaceful the place is in comparison with the most famous and easily accessible Tekapo.
The Peninsula Walkway | As you can see, hiking options in New Zealand are endless, and although Lake Tekapo is not the country's premier destination, there are quite many easy trails to appreciate the beauty. Last worthwhile hike to do in the area we will mention here is The Peninsula Walkway which starts approximately eight kilometers from Tekapo's downtown and the path will again take you up to enjoy amazing vistas of the Alps and the lake.
Relax on the Beach | The lake's beach is made of cobbles, and when the sun is shining, there cannot be anything more pleasant than to sit or lay down, relax and sunbath here. There are also several benches along the lake's shore, where you can make a picnic. We ate on the lake's shore numerous times, and until now we treasure these memories.
Fishing | The waters around Lake Tekapo are rich on salmons and trouts, so if you are a fishing enthusiast, it would be a shame not to try it in one of the most picturesque places in the world. The best spots to score are Tekapo River, Lake Alexandrina or Tekapo Canal. You need to purchase a fishing license which you can altogether with fishing rod get in the village's center.
Paddle Boarding & Kayaking | These are two of the most popular water activities you can do in Lake Tekapo, and you can rent either a paddleboard and a kayak on the lake's shore. Keep in mind, that the water is quite refreshing even in summer.
Swimming | If you are a fan of swimming in glacial meltwater, Lake Tekapo is a perfect spot to test how hardy you are.
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WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE TEKAPO
Despite its size, Lake Tekapo village surprisingly offers a large selection of accommodation, and every type of traveler will easily find a room which suits their budget. Most of the hotels sit close to the lake and the town's center, so there is no need to stay any further.
We've handpicked three best hotels in Lake Tekapo for every budget.
Budget | YHA Lake Tekapo - Modern fresh design, well-equipped kitchen, spacious lounge, and great views of the lake make from this hostel best budget option in the town.
Mid-range | The Mackenzie Suites - Luxurious accommodation for a reasonable price offers great views, clean rooms, perfect service, and tasty breakfast.
Luxury | Mantra Lake Tekapo - This hotel offers one of the most beautiful rooms in Lake Tekapo. When you add the pool, a lounge room with a fireplace and a hot tub overlooking the Southern Alps, there is no better place to stay if you can splurge a bit.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET TO LAKE TEKAPO
When you look on the map, you can see that Lake Tekapo, basically lies in the middle of New Zealand's South Island, and you can easily get to the village when traveling from either Christchurch, Queenstown, Wanaka, Mount Cook Village, or Dunedin.
Most of the roads in New Zealand are very scenic, so always add an hour to your schedule, because chances are you will stop a lot.
When traveling to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch, you can choose from two roads, but we recommend you to take the road number 77 also called Inland Scenic Road, because it is, well, more scenic. There is only one road you can take to Mount Cook Village, Wanaka, and Queenstown, but when traveling from or to Dunedin, take it via the coastal road, and make a short stop to see Moeraki boulders.
Getting around New Zealand by public transport can be a daunting task, and rather than public buses here works a system of shuttle buses running between most attractive places for tourists. Several companies travel between Queenstown and Christchurch and stop at Lake Tekapo. You do not need to buy a single ticket but a hop-on-hop-off ticket, so you can always continue your trip. In case you won't be renting a car, check out our post on Best Ways How to Travel Around New Zealand to see all your options.
Our Tip: Honestly, traveling around New Zealand by rental car is really worth it. It is comfortable, that's obvious, but road tripping in New Zealand is just an experience on own. The sense of freedom in combination with the stunning nature is intoxicating.
BEST TIME TO VISIT LAKE TEKAPO
The region around Lake Tekapo sees the classic four seasons, and we think there is no best time to visit the place as each season has something special and magic.
Mackenzie country has long warm summers (remember that New Zealand same as Australia has the summer between December and February), autumn is beautifully colorful, winter is cold (temperatures often drop below zero), snowy and crispy (there is even a ski resort nearby), while spring is a bit rainy, but on the other hand you can experience pleasant temperatures.
Generally, with proper clothes and equipment, every season near Lake Tekapo can be the best.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING LAKE TEKAPO
That's being said, what you need to pack for visiting Lake Tekapo immensely depends on the season when you are going to travel in New Zealand and on the activities you plan on doing.
However, here are five essential things you should pack with you for every season.
Sunscreen | It is well-known that sun is way too strong in New Zealand, and it is even more dangerous near water which reflects the radiation, so pack a quality sunscreen with high UV factor.
Canon M50 | Lake Tekapo is incredibly photogenic, you cannot leave your camera behind.
Bug Repellent | We loved everything about New Zealand except for mosquitos and sand flies. Be well-prepared.
We've also created an in-depth Ultimate New Zealand Packing List where you can find more information and useful tips.
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