Things To Do In Lake Tekapo
Sitting in the middle of the South Island, just about halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown, is Lake Tekapo. The lake, and the small village by the same name, are as laid back and scenic as you can get. They’re the perfect stopover on a road trip and the perfect spot from which to explore the Southern Alps and the Mackenzie Basin. Here are the best seven things to do in Tekapo.
1. Go Stargazing Under a ‘Dark Sky’
Mount John University Observatory was set up by the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. The University of Canterbury currently operates it. It’s situated at 1,029 meters (3,376 feet) above sea level, and it’s New Zealand’s premier astronomical research observatory. The observatory has five telescopes on site, and the incredible weather and lack of city lights in the Mackenzie Basin make it the perfect spot for stargazing.
The area is part of the Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Established in 2012 by the International Dark-Sky Association, this is one of only 14 such reserves in the world. The night sky is stunning from here. It’s all made possible because all of the nearby towns are small, and all big city lights are far enough away to not cause any light pollution. The town’s 710-meter (2,330-foot) elevation helps, too, by reducing the amount of atmosphere starlight must travel through.
The local Dark Sky Project at Lake Tekapo puts on tours of their observatory and guides guests on a tour of the night sky, with information from a historical Māori perspective and recent discoveries. Of course, you can set up your own night sky tour by driving out of town and looking up. For best results, plan for nights with a new moon, as the full moon can wash out a large portion of the sky. On dark, clear nights you’ll easily see the Milky Way, artificial satellites whizzing by, and dozens of shooting stars.
2. Ski Roundhill
If skiing or snowboarding is on your to-do list, head to the Roundhill Ski Area. Located on the Two Thumb Range overlooking Lake Tekapo, this family ski field in the Southern Alps has a little bit of everything. There’s a vast beginners area, with two different rope tows and gentle slopes. There are intermediate and advanced options, too. They’ve even got the world’s longest rope tow and Australasia’s biggest vertical drop.
Ski season at Roundhill is usually from early July until late September. The area is located 35 minutes (32 kilometers) to the northeast of Lake Tekapo village on Lilybank Road off of Highway 8. Any car or caravan can make it to the resort, and they encourage you to bring your BBQ and deck chairs to set up camp for the day.
3. See the Church of the Good Shepherd
The beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, located right on Lake Tekapo’s shores, is one of the country’s most photographed buildings. It’s easy to see why. When the church was built in the mid-1930s, workers used local lichen-covered stones for cladding and left the natural landscape mostly untouched. The result is a gorgeous site that seems dropped out of a different time.
Connecting the church with the main township, the Lake Tekapo footbridge provides another pretty spot for photos. The bridge is 125 meters long and crosses the Tekapo River. It’s a pretty spot to take in the views of the lake, the church, and the cute village.
Adjacent to the church, you’ll also see a giant statue of a Collie. The sheep-herding hero is a monument to James McKenzie and his dog Friday, the first European settlers of the area. McKenzie was born in Scotland in 1820 and emigrated to Australia around 1850. He later came to New Zealand but was accused of stealing 1,000 sheep and sentenced to five years of hard labour. He was eventually pardoned.
4. Take a Dip at Takapo Springs
The hot pools are organized overlooking the lake, with each pool representing each of the area’s three main bodies of water. Each pool is kept at a different temperature, and there’s a giant waterslide and an Aqua Play Area. Pool temperatures range from 28 to 38.5 degrees Celcius. There are seasonal activities too, including ice skating during the winter. The on-site spa has relaxing and revitalizing options, and you can stargaze from the pools after dark.
5. Go Hiking and See the Southern Alps
Walking tracks abound around Tekapo. With the shining blue water of Lake Tekapo all around and the Southern Alps in the distance, the landscape is never boring or dull.
One of the prettiest and easiest walks around the lake is the Peninsula Walkway. This is an hour and a half walk over open terrain on the shores of the lake. The vistas of the lake and mountains are outstanding, and it’s quiet and peaceful.
If you want to get your blood pumping just a little more, head for the Mount John Summit Track. The two to three-hour circuit is moderate, with some steep sections. From the top, you a 360-degree view that includes Lake Tekapo, Lake McGregor, the Mackenzie Basin, and the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook.
6. See Lake Tekapo and Lake Alexandrina
The scenery around Tekapo is more than enough reason to visit. The glacier-carved valley and lakes, with their brilliant turquoise waters, are sounded by tussock-covered hills and fields of showy blue flowers called lupines. Aoraki Mount Cook and the rest of the snow-capped Southern Alps peak up in the distance, making the perfect cap to the whole show.
The village of Lake Tekapo is situated right on the lake’s southern shore, so there really isn’t a single bad vantage point in town. On the east side of town along Highway 8, you’ll find the Lake Tekapo Regional Park. Pines Beach is a quiet spot to view the town across the bay, and the clear water laps at the pebble-covered show in just the right relaxing way.
There are many ways to appreciate the splendid beauty of the local area, but if you’d like a day out on the water, consider a jet boat ride on Lake Tekapo. It’s a great way to see all the sights in a short time, including Moutariki Island, which is only accessible by boat. You’ll whiz past the Good Shepherd Church and, of course, hear all about the local lore and Māori legends from your guide.
Looking for a slower pace than a jet boat? Check out the Mackenzie Alpine Horse Treks. They lead one, two, or three and a half hour horse-back tours of the area. The adventure is suitable for beginners, and you’ll enjoy lakeside views of the mountains and scenery for the whole trip.
7. Takeoff on an Air Safari
There’s no better way to see the stunning scenery and landscapes that make up the South Island than from the air. The Southern Alps, the Mackenzie Basin, and the lakes all make stunning backdrops on the Grand Traverse flight. You’ll see glaciers, the west coast’s fiords, Mount Cook, and Mount Tasman on this premium hour-long flight. Everyone has a window seat for this incredible trip, so don’t forget your camera.
The “flightseeing” by Air Safaris departs from the Tekapo Airport, close to town. They also offer private helicopter tours with alpine landings for ground-level exploring. Or, hop on their Milford Sound Excursion, which takes you on a day trip to the gorgeous fiord on the west coast.
If you want to experience all of the things to do in Tekapo, reserve a vacation home on Bachcare today. It’ll make the perfect base for stargazing, walking, skiing, or just exploring!