14 Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo

One of the most breathtaking views in the South Island and a must-see on any South Island itinerary, the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo is just the beginning of the unique experiences this small town offers. From stargazing at the world-renowned Mount John Observatory to lakeside walks, Lake Tekapo activities provide many extraordinary experiences. Over the past two decades, we have made a special effort to visit the township as often as possible, always discovering something new. Keep reading to discover the 14 Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.

View of Lake Tekapo & The Church of the Good Shepherd
Lake Tekapo & The Church of the Good Shepherd

14 Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo

Church of the Good Shepherd

Church of the Good Shepherd during golden hour with a couple in wedding outfits having their photo taken. Lake Tekapo and mountains at sunset in the background.

Perched on the edge of Lake Tekapo, the Church of the Good Shepherd is a must-see. The panoramic views of the lake and mountains that surround the church are nothing short of awe-inspiring. 

This charming stone church, built in 1935, offers a picturesque lake view through its altar window. 

Its gorgeous stone architecture makes the iconic landmark a popular stop for nature photographers, Instagrammers, and wedding photographers.

It’s a photographer’s dream at sunrise or sunset.

Of all the top things to do in Lake Tekapo, this church by the lake is the huge drawcard.

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Tip: Arrive early, before 9 am, to avoid the crowds and tourist buses.

Lake Tekapo

People taking a forehsore walk at Lake Tekapo with snow on the lake front and mountain backdrop.

While we always love to visit the quaint church on every trip, what really draws us is the spectacular and serene lake. This turquoise gem, one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand, offers a tranquil escape.

Nestled in the heart of the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Tekapo is an incredible sight, with its vibrant, calm waters against snow-capped mountains. 

You can stroll along the shoreline, hire a kayak, capture panoramic photos or just sit and take in the breathtaking views.

Mount John Observatory Lake Tekapo

The view of the turquoise lakes and mountains from Mount John Observatory, Lake Tekapo

For a view from above, head to Mount John Observatory.

Operated by the University of Canterbury, the observatory is considered New Zealand’s foremost astronomical research centre and one of the world’s best places for stargazing.

Tekapo is designated a dark sky reserve, signifying minimal light pollution and creating the perfect setting for stargazing enthusiasts. Only 227 certified dark sky reserves exist worldwide (as of May 2024), making this a location unique for observing the night sky.

By day, the 360-degree views of the surrounding lakes and mountains are among the best in New Zealand. By night, the clear skies offer an unparalleled stargazing experience.

One of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo and the Canterbury region is to go on a guided stargazing Lake Tekapo tour, which offers a unique experience.

There is also a café with breathtaking lake views. More details on the cafe are covered later in this article.

Tekapo Springs

Tekapo Springs hot pools with view of Lake Tekapo and mountains in the early morning.

The Lake Tekapo hot pools complex, set in a beautiful landscape, is ideal for those who prioritize relaxation and rejuvenation. The best thing about it is enjoying panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains while soaking in the soothing hot waters. 

The range of hot pools includes pools of different temperatures, a kids’ play area, and an adults-only space.

The complex includes a sauna, steam room, cold plunge pools, and a day spa offering massages and facials. It also has a cafe with scenic views of the lake and mountains.

In addition, seasonal activities such as ice skating, a snow tube park, mini golf, and a thrilling waterslide are available.

Photograph the Beautiful Lake Tekapo Lupins

One of the most fun things to do in Lake Tekapo is to see the lupins flowering.

Despite being considered a weed and an invasive plant in New Zealand, lupins are stunning. One of the most popular activities in Lake Tekapo is to see the renowned lupin fields.

The Church of the Good Shepherd and the drive along Godley Peaks Road to the Peninsula Walkway are some of the best places to see lupins in Tekapo.

This seasonal Lake Tekapo attraction offers stunning photo opportunities. The colourful flowers on the lake’s edge surrounding the church make it extra magical.

The lupins flower from late spring until mid-summer, roughly between November and January.

We have visited at various times of the year and found mid-November to be the absolute best time to see the lupins, as they are usually in full bloom. Additionally, you will likely capture photos of snow-capped mountains before they melt for the summer.

Lake Tekapo Walks

Footbridge at Lake Tekapo with blue skies and turquoise water.

Tekapo is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with many trails perfect for hiking or biking.

The Mount John Summit Track is the most famous. The two-hour hike offers panoramic lake and mountain views, including the Southern Alps. 

Other moderately challenging walks around Tekapo include the 4-hour one-way Richmond Trail and the 3-hour return Cowans Hill Track.

The Peninsula Walkway Tekapo is an easier option for those who want to enjoy nature but have limited time and energy for a more challenging hike. You’ll have a lovely drive through the mountains to get to the start of the walk. The two-hour loop walk meanders along farmland to the peninsula and shoreline and offers panoramic views of Lake Tekapo and Mt. John. 

The Lake Tekapo Walkway is our favourite. It is a one-hour walk around Lake Tekapo. The lakeside walk passes the Church of the Good Shepherd, crosses the Maclaren footbridge, follows the footpath adjacent to the town centre, and leads to the hot pools.

If there is only time for one of the walks in Tekapo, this is it. The easy walk allows you to take in the best views of the lake while seeing its highlights.

Watch the Lake Tekapo Sunset

The pink and purple hues mirrored in the lake of a sunset over Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

The sight of the historic Lake Tekapo church and lake is especially enchanting at sunset, creating a truly magical experience. 

Depending on the time of year you visit, your sunset photos may include golden, pink, and purple hues along with snow-capped mountains, reflections on the lake, and colourful lupin flowers.

If you’re a morning person, remember to catch a sunrise too!

We think you may be interested:

We’ve recently named Tekapo one of the most romantic places in the South Island. To find out the other romantic places to visit click on the link above.

Horse Trekking Tekapo

Riders on horses in the mountains at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

For a unique and adventurous experience, explore the area’s beauty on horseback with a guided trek.

Local operators provide rides ranging from one-hour treks to full-day adventures. It’s a fantastic way to explore the stunning landscapes leisurely.

This activity is available from early September until late April.

Dine Out at the Best Restaurants In Lake Tekapo

3 pies on the dashboard from Fairlie Bakehouse, South Island , New Zealand

One of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo is enjoy a meal. A wide choice of food is available, such as Chinese, Japanese, New Zealand fusion, pub grub, and more. Some of the best places to eat in Lake Tekapo include stunning lake views; therefore, most of our picks for the five best restaurants in Tekapo include views. We recommend adding all these restaurants to your Lake Tekapo things to do list even if you are only in the area for two days!

Astro Cafe Tekapo

At the top of Mount John, Astro Cafe offers breathtaking views and serves tasty treats and light meals. Have a cup of coffee or indulge in their homemade cakes and pastries while taking in the sweeping vistas of the surrounding landscape.

As one of the top 10 “Best South Island restaurants with views,” we consider this a NZ must-do!

Dark Sky Diner

In the town centre, Dark Sky Diner offers tasty meals with stunning lake views. We dined outdoors during sunset and loved the location.

Their menu features a mix of Kiwi classics and international dishes. It includes New Zealand favourites such as lamb shank, toasties, pork burgers or fresh salmon.

We found the menu a little hit-and-miss, and the vibe was more of a cafeteria than fine dining, but we would still return for the views alone. Dining or having a drink with a view is one of those Lake Tekapo tourist attractions we travel for!

Jack Rabbit

The Godley Hotel’s Jack Rabbit cafe is the place for a laid-back atmosphere. 

If you’re after a great breakfast or a casual lunch, they offer friendly service and outdoor seating with lake views.

Their extensive menu includes bagels, burgers, eggs benedict, nachos, and fish tacos.

Plus, they offer a wide range of cabinet options. We rated the chocolate croissant paired with the delicious organic, fair-trade coffee as one of the best in the region.

Altitude 720 Cafe & Bar

Speaking of the best coffee in Lake Tekapo, our coffee at Altitude 720 Cafe & Bar is the best. Their claim to fame is that their signature 720 coffee blend is the ” highest-altitude roasted beans in New Zealand.”

We found the coffee and cake delicious, along with the stunning lake and mountain views from the cafe.

You can enjoy your meal beside the cozy fireplace or outdoors, all offered in a friendly and inviting ambience whether or not you plan to use the hot pools.

Fairlie Bakehouse

This bakery is not in Tekapo, but we really need to add this Fairlie institution, as this is where we found the best pies on the South Island! 

You will likely drive past Fairlie thirty minutes before arriving at Lake Tekapo. It is an excellent stop for lunch. 

The secret is out. Fairlie Bakehouse is famous for its award-winning pies, and you will likely find queues and busloads of people grabbing one of their legendary pies or baked goods.

Stay Awhile

View of the lake and mountains from a cabin at the only Lake Tekapo camping ground.
Lake Tekapo camping ground- Lakes Edge Holiday Park.

Lake Tekapo has come a long way in terms of accommodation standards since our first visit 20 years ago when there were just a few options. Now, they have 4-star hotels and luxury accommodations. 

Additionally, we love staying at the Lake Tekapo camping ground. The Lakes Edge Holiday Park offers tent and van sites with epic views of Lake Tekapo. They also have gorgeous cabins with stunning lake views, and that’s one of our most favourite things to do in Lake Tekapo – sit on the balcony and enjoy the nature views.

Getting There

Lake Tekapo is conveniently located along the scenic route between Christchurch and Queenstown, making it easily accessible by car. 

Additionally, buses travel from many towns around the South Island.

Christchurch to Tekapo is a scenic drive of about three hours, covering roughly 230 kilometres. You’ll travel southwest on State Highway 1 before turning onto State Highway 79 and finally joining State Highway 8 at Fairlie. The journey is picturesque, with rolling hills, farmlands, and the Southern Alps as your backdrop.

Queenstown to Tekapo is about 250 kilometres, and it takes roughly three hours and 15 minutes by car. You’ll head northeast on State Highway 6 and then take State Highway 8 through Lindis Pass. The drive offers breathtaking views of the Southern Lakes and the rugged landscape of Central Otago.

Is Lake Tekapo Worth Visiting?

Absolutely! There are many fun things to do in Tekapo, New Zealand. It is a magical destination that offers something for everyone.

Whether you are an adventure seeker, a stargazing enthusiast, a photography lover, or just want to relax amidst stunning natural scenery, Lake Tekapo is a must-visit spot in New Zealand’s South Island.

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