Lake Tekapo, the small town, is named after Lake Tekapo, the stunningly beautiful turquoise lake. The surreal blue colour of the lake (#nofilter) is a result of the refraction of light through the fine rock flour, eroded by glaciers, in the water. Or something like that. It’s just thanks to the glaciers.
The views over Lake Tekapo are magical, complete with backdrops of the Southern Alps. We recommend doing a hike there, it’s so peaceful and quiet. For those of you that don’t have time for a hike, there are tons of great viewpoints you can reach by car as well. Either way, you should definitely visit!
Here’s a couple of things to do in Lake Tekapo.
Discover the best viewpoints in Lake Tekapo
We drove up to Lake Tekapo from Fairlie. On your right you’ll see the lake, on your left there’s a great scenic lookout. A little further down the road, on the lake side, there’s one of the most popular photo spots of Lake Tekapo: the Church of the Good Shepherd, or the Mackenzie Church. This church was built over 80 years ago for the pioneers of the Mackenzie district and is still in use. What a wonderful location for a wedding!
Nearby the church is a bronze sheepdog monument, in honour of the sheepdogs that helped the farmers graze their sheep. There are always a lot of tourists, but if you’re particularly unlucky there are a couple of tourbusses as well.
Care for a quiet picnic on the shores of Lake Tekapo, away from the tourists? Head to the Old Homestead Picnic Area. There are picnic tables, a toilet, and the view over the lake is great. Bring your camping stove and bake an egg like we did. Yum! Afterwards you can walk all the way to the edge of the water, where the ducks and black swans will give your photo that little extra.
Another must see view over Lake Tekapo is from the Mount John University Observatory. You feel like driving in the middle of nowhere, but clear signs will lead you up Mount John to the Observatory. The road is pretty narrow and winding, but that’s something you’ll have to get used to when road tripping through New Zealand. It’s not free, but it’s definitely worth the $5 entrance fee per car. The water seems even more blue from up there! Do note the road closes at 17:00.
Once you get up at the Mount John University Observatory there are a few options. You can do a hike or just enjoy the gorgeous view with a coffee or hot chocolate ($5.50 each) from the Astro Café. There’s a geocache hidden there as well.
We visited Lake Tekapo in April, in the fall. If you want to see the shores covered in pink and purple lupins though, you’ll have to plan your visit somewhere between mid-November and December. The area is also part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, so perfect for stargazing all year round!
Hike the Peninsula Walkway
If you want to do a hike at Lake Tekapo, we’d definitely recommend the Peninsula Walkway. The car park is not extremely well signposted, but it’s the first one you encounter after passing by the road that takes you up to the Mount John University Observatory. I couldn’t find any information on this walk on the website of the Department of Conservation, which mentions every other hike we did in New Zealand. Probably one of the reasons there were hardly any other hikers on the track. We have the NZ Frenzy guidebook to thank for this great find. We used his outdoor guide books to map out our entire New Zealand road trip, it’s filled with great tips!
The Peninsula Walkway is a loop trail with a tail, as I like to call it. On average it takes about an hour and a half. It took us two hours, including the detour to the white bluffs as suggested in the NZ Frenzy guidebook, which is definitely worth it! We started our hike at 10:10 in the morning, through a ramshackle gate. Make sure to close that gate behind you, as there are sheep roaming around. We didn’t see any alive ones though, just some remains. Skull and all. Kind of creepy. However, we loved the fact that there’s no clear path you have to stick to. There are just orange markers leading the way.
After that first ramshackle gate, there are two fences in your path. Little staircases are provided for you to get over the fences. We got that a lot in New Zealand. At the second fence the loop starts. We hiked it counterclockwise, accidentally. We missed the start of the loop. Whoops!
At 10:50, after about 40 minutes of hiking, we started looking for the gully as described in the NZ Frenzy guidebook, to head to the white bluffs. Here’s where we went off the track. We went down a slope to the plateau and headed to the point nearest to the island. That’s where we found the gully access down to the pebble shore of Lake Tekapo. We walked along the shore towards the white bluffs. They’re stunning! Make sure to get there before 14:00 though, otherwise the bluffs will be in the shade.
While heading back to the path we saw lots of bunnies jumping up the slope. By lots I don’t mean ten bunnies, I mean they were everywhere, hopping up the slope. I’d never seen so many bunnies together. They’re so cute!
We were back on track by 11:25 and back at our Spaceships campervan by 12:10, still amazed by the great views. You’re out in an open field during the entire hike, so the views are all around you. That also means you’re exposed to the weather. Keep that in mind while choosing your outfit. We were there on a sunny day in the fall and had to throw our jackets off.
The Peninsula Walkway is definitely in our top 10 favourite hikes in New Zealand. Lake Tekapo is just so stunningly blue. It was our first piece of New Zealand nature, and we were blown away. Love at first sight! Do note that this track is closed from mid-October to mid-December due to lambing.
I bet you’ve read this before: New Zealand’s nature is absolutely beautiful. It’s the truth. So nothing new here, just some tips and photos to convince you to go see for yourself. One of our favourite things to do in Lake Tekapo was definitely the Peninsula Walkway. I just can’t describe how breathtaking the views are.
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