Lake Tekapo, New Zealand – Everything You Need to Know
Situated roughly half way down the South Island, and roughly half way between Christchurch and Queenstown, sits Lake Tekapo.
This lake is one of three in the Mackenzie Basin, the trio that offer a whole lotta’ bang for absolutely no buck – so it’s no surprise Tekapo is a sure thing on all our South Island itineraries.
What we mean by this, is that Lake Tekapo is one of the most striking lakes in NZ (potentially the world), and not just when it comes to the lake itself. Without running the risk of being confusing, here’s everything you need to know about Tekapo.
1. The Wonderful Water
The most apparent thing about Lake Tekapo when you arrive (and so the best thing for us to kick off with) is the astonishing aquamarine hue of the water.
Rather, it’s blue. Very blue.
Many lakes can appear a bright blue, usually on a nice day. The incredible thing about the 3 lakes of the Mackenzie Basin is that they’re a brilliant blue all year round. Tekapo is a glacier lake, and the glaciers nearby grind rock into dust as they shift (over a rather long time). Give it a few million years, and this dust mixes with the water, leaving it the remarkable blue you see today. All it took was a few million years – we should probably enjoy it right?
Not only will you love it, but so will your Instagram followers. As far as super ‘grammable places go, Lake Tekapo is certainly up there. Only here, you don’t need that filter.
2. The Star Power
As if it wasn’t enough to be such a dazzler in the day, Lake Tekapo is something else entirely come nightfall.
The Mackenzie region makes up half of an official Dark-Sky Reserve (with the adjacent Aoraki region making up the other), one of just 11 in the world – and the only in NZ. Declared as such by the International Dark-Sky Association (who knew there was such a thing?), Lake Tekapo meets the criteria for the honourable title:
“An IDA International Dark Sky Reserve is a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment.”
Basically, it’s really starry at night, and we’re going to keep it that way.
3. The Church of the Good Shepherd
If you do a search of #LakeTekapo on Instagram, one building in particular makes a regular appearance.
This tiny little stone structure on the shores of the Lake is known as the Church of the Good Shepherd, and is popular with tourists.
The church was built in 1935, and was the first to be built in the area. Upon first glance, the chapel looks particularly… rustic. Step inside though, and you’ll see it’s still set up to be used.
In fact, it’s fully operational – and worship is held every Sunday afternoon. The large window on the far wall looks right onto the lake and the surrounding mountains, so it’s certainly not a bad spot for a visit – no matter your religious inclination.
Partly because it’s the cutest church you’ve ever seen, and partly because of the idyllic location, a visit to this iconic landmark is an essential if you’re in the area.
4. Where to Stay
Tekapo is a small town made up of roughly 400 residents, so as far as accommodation goes, there aren’t a whole lot of options.
That isn’t to say though, that the existing options aren’t perfect for staying the night. Here are the two that we find work really well for us at Haka Tours.
- For small groups (or private tours): Lake Tekapo Village Motel
This motel is as central as you can get, and depending on the room, offer great views of the lake. It was also the recipient of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
- For large groups (or dorm rooms): YHA Tekapo
The YHA hostel in Tekapo is cheap and cheerful, but the views are a million bucks. The rooms range in size (4 beds to 7 beds), but you won’t spend much time in your room with this out the living room window:
5. Time for a Soak
If the best thing to do in Tekapo is take in the breathtaking views, then why not do it from the comfort of a nice toasty spring? Two birds, one stone, am I right?
If this sounds like your cup of tea, head to the Tekapo Springs, a collection of three thermal pools, nestled in the local greywacke rock. It really feels like you’re blending – or melting – into the landscape.
After a few days on tour (or road-trip if that’s what you’re doing), there’s not a lot in this world that beats a nice long dip in the spring. Just imagine the “oooh” sound you’ll make when you settle into your spot. You’ll make another “oooh” sound if you visit in Winter; the views of the snowy mountains around the lake are good cause for exclamation.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are water-slides for the kids, tubing for (uuh everyone!), a huge ice-skating rink… and star gazing tours!
That’s right – you can visit the springs at night. We won’t say too much about it, we’ll just leave you with this:
6. ‘Tis Always the Season
So we’ve told you what you can do, where you can stay. Your next question might be: “when should I go?”
Our answer? Whenever you can!
Lake Tekapo is fortunate, in that it’s not seasonally dependent when it comes to tourist appeal. It does change with each season, yes. Particularly because of it’s geographical location/position, the landscape transforms completely over the course of the year. The thing is, Tekapo is perfection in every season.
Go in Autumn, and the trees on the banks of the lake take on a gorgeous warm auburn colour.
In Winter, it’s likely you’ll be treated to a bit of snow fall. A blanket of snow on the surrounding peaks are the icing on an already perfectly-picturesque cake.
In Spring, the lupins begin to bloom again, and the air begins to warm up. By the time Summer arrives, gorgeous pinks and purples cover the banks of the lake – you just couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting.
7. Just Do It!
But enough chit-chat. We could go on about the wonder that is Lake Tekapo all day, but there’s no use talking about it.
We think you should see it for yourself! As soon as possible. Trust us, you’ll never regret penciling it into your itinerary.
If we’ve convinced you to pay a visit, here are the Haka Tours that include Tekapo in the itinerary (so you can start convincing others they need to go too):
South Island Lick Tour (7 Days)
South Island Adrenalin Junkie Tour (12 Days)
Amplified NZ Tour (16 Days)
Epic NZ Tour (24 Days)
South Island Snow Odyssey (12 Days)