8 Things to see and do in and around Tekapo

A popular destination for tourists and Kiwis in the beauty of the Mackenzie District, Tekapo is a small town. But it’s packed full of plenty of things to see and do. The first thing that pops into your mind tends to be Lake Tekapo, but there is so much more to this area.

Here for just one day? Longer? Winter or summer? You will get the opportunity to experience why so many people love this place all year round.

In winter, you can hit the slopes and ski or snowboard just outside town at Roundhill Ski Area. In spring and summer, lots of the tours offered by We Tour New Zealand stop here. If you’re here mid to late November, you will see the famous lupins — tall spires of brightly coloured flowers that cover many local fields and bloom from early spring well into the summer and look spectacular. In many cases a visit to Tekapo is often combined with a detour to Aoraki Mount Cook national park. But that’s not all on offer in this interesting region. In need of inspiration?  Read on.

Lupins around lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo with its surface area of 83 km2 deserves is one of the 10 largest lakes in New Zealand. The lake is connected to the Southern Alps on the North side by the Godley and Macauley rivers. The glacier-ground fine rock powder these rivers add to the lake’s water give it its spectacular turquoise blue colour.

On clear days you can see Mount Cook National Park from the lake. And the chances of sun during your visit here are high,. There are around 2,400 sunshine hours per year here.

In the middle of Lake Tekapo, there is Motuariki Island. In the summer season, you can explore and see the lake and the island on a paddleboard or in a kayak. The average temperature, for this glacier fed lake,  is 17 degrees in summer, as opposed to less than 0 degrees C in winter, so this is definitely a seasonal activity!

Church of the Good Shephard

With the mountain and lake views in the background, Church of the Good Shepard is a stunning place to visit. The church was built in 1935 as a dedication to god and the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country. In summer it is open from 8:00 AM to 8 PM and in winter it is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The venue is used as a place for weddings, baptisms and funerals as well, so as a tourist, it is not always possible to go inside. The church is beautiful enough from the outside. But if you are interested in seeing it from the inside as well, it is recommended to book a tour which can be done on the website.

Church of the good Shepherd

Mackenzie Sheep Dog statue

The first European to see the vast and beautiful Mackenzie basin was a Scottish shepherd and some time sheep rustler named — you guessed it — Mackenzie. Like many of his countrymen he was a pioneer of South Island sheep farming. And they would have struggled to get the industry established without the help of a dog or two.

A two minute walk from the church will take you to the Mackenzie Sheep Dog statue. The statue was built to honour of the border collies early Scottish shepherds used to herd sheep on the pastoral runs in the Eastern South Island. Definitely worth a visit!

 Tekapo springs

Looking for a place to relax in a stunning natural setting?  The Tekapo springs offer you a unique experience day or nighttime. There are three hot pools shaped like the lakes in the region: Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau.  You can enjoy some time at the glacial day spa or at one of the cooler pools.

All the pools have a temperature of 28 up to 38 degrees C. A daytime visit is great. Night swimming might be better though. You can have a stargazing experience here, where you can float on your back and enjoy the night skies at its best.

Southern lights

Harder to see than the Northern lights, you can still spot the Southern lights in New Zealand. And Tekapo is possibly  the best places in New Zealand to witness them. This is because of the clean air in the area, the fact New Zealand is close to the South Pole and most importantly that Tekapo is located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.

Outdoor lighting controls were first put into place in the area during the early 1980s. They have not only helped minimize light pollution for the nearby Mt. John Observatory, but also conserve energy, protect wildlife and make the area a popular stargazing destination.  The natural night has played a critical role in the New Zealand’s history as its first residents, the Māori, not only used the night sky to navigate to Aotearoa but also integrated astronomy and star lore into their culture and daily lives.

The reserve seeks to honor that history by keeping the night sky a protected and integral part of the areaʼs natural and cultural landscape. The Mackenzie Basin has the clearest, darkest and the most spectacular night sky in New Zealand.

The Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) usually have orange, pink, purple, green and gold colours. If you are lucky enough to witness it, you will have an experience that you will never forget. The best months to see the Southern lights are April to September.  Usually, if they appear, it is around midnight.

Stargazing at Mount John

Dark Sky Experience

Even on a rainy day there’s something to do. Go to the Dark Sky Experience, which is part of the Dark Sky Project.  You will experience a mix of the Māori astronomy, storytelling and science through interactive visual displays on a 45 minute tour. The tour will teach you all about the Māori people and their interpretation of their place in the universe, the importance of the night sky in Maori history and the value of it today.

(Note: Because of the length of the guided tour, it is suitable for day visitors and people who are in Tekapo for multiple days.)

Mount John Observatory

To make sure the sky stays clear, locals are trying to reduce their use of lights wherever possible and in 2012, Tekapo became the world’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. Mount John Observatory is part of the Faculty of Science from the University of Canterbury. As the name says, it is located on top of Mount John at 1,029 metres. It was established in 1965 and has become a more popular place to visit, not only by the university, but also by tourists.

The site has 5 large telescopes on the mountain that are used on a regular basis. There is a café on top. Drink barista made coffees or other drinks and have a small meal, while taking in the amazing view. More energetic visitors will enjoy a panoramic 30-45 minutes walk around the summit.

Enjoy longer walks? The Mount John Summit Track might be an option. This 8.9km walk will take around 3 hours, you start at the bottom of the mountain and end at the top. There are a number of tours from the Dark Sky Project that offer an stargazing experience at the observatory.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo Peninsula Walkway

And there are lots of other walking opportunities. The Lake Tekapo Peninsula Walkway will take you all the way from the carpark on Godley Peaks Road, to the end of the peninsula where you can see Motuariki island.

The walk takes you through the fields with the mountains in the background and the shoreline of Lake Tekapo with its stunning milky turquoise water. It’s a scenic experience you won’t forget.

The 4 km loop walk can be completed within 1.5 hours. You can also choose to walk the same way you came if you enjoyed the views on the first half of the track.  Nearby, you have Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor. You can reach these lakes  by car. They are smaller than lake Tekapo, but still incredibly scenic.

More things to do in Tekapo

This is just the beginning of the sights and activities this area has to offer. Visit mackenzie.com or the Tekapo City Council or Tourism New Zealand websites for more inspiration.

Tekapo is a diverse place with so much on offer, no wonder it features in so many of our tours! If you want to know which tour would be the best one for you, please contact us and we will help you the best way we can. Before you know it, you will be experiencing Tekapo for yourself!