Lake Tekapo’s aquamarine blue color is simply beyond description. On a sunny day it’s jaw-drop, eye-boggling beautiful. You NEED to see it! On a grey day the beauty dims, but the blue opacity of the lake water still impresses. Lake Tekapo is the postcard-perfect fabled beauty of New Zealand.
There’s not much for travelers to do at Lake Tekapo other than just stare at the lake and take yet another photo, but there are a few options. The lake is glacier-cold year-round, so don’t plan on swimming. Mostly just plan for a laid-back day of relaxing eye-candy.
Lake Tekapo Village. Hosts a number of restaurants, each with a killer lake view. Tourists and tour buses crowd to the nearby and uber-scenic “Church of the Good Shepherd” for the obligatory photo-ops. The church features what may be the picturesque chapel-view on the planet, with the bonus of having the iconic sheep-herding dog sculpture just a 100m walk away. As an extra, pop inside the Godley Hotel to see some 1950s photos of the church.
Mt John Observatory. This celestial observatory, some 300m above the town atop 1,031m Mt John, is a MUST-SEE! The 360° view from the Mt John’s Astro Café is beyond fabulous! Of course the view over Lake Tekapo to the distant snow-capped peaks steals the show, but on a sunny day look for the peak of Mt. Cook/Aoraki poking over the western ridgeline. Notice too that Tekapo’s neighbor lake, Lake Alexandrina, makes for an interesting color contrast—both lake formed in the same glacier-gouged manner, but since Alexandrina doesn’t receive any direct glacial stream flow, it receives none of the “rock flour” that colors Tekapo, leaving it just a regular blue.
Looking south over town you’ll see the now-dry riverbed and the snaking hydro canal that steals the river flow. Imagine the beauty of the former ribbon of aqua blue flowing through the sparse desert. Locals report that the blue river does sometimes actually still flow due to rain and run-off, usually about once a month.
There are two ways to get up to Mt John. The easy way is via an 8km drive from the village, the last 3km fairly steep but still paved (In my opinion this is one the finest drive-to viewpoints on the island, challenged by only Q-town/Wanaka’s ski-resort roads).
Or, for walkers a moderate track starts at mapboard carpark near the Alpine Spa. For the fit it’s 30-min up, with the option to make a longer 2- hour loop. The track is well-graded as it climbs the 300m to the peak, with better Lake Tekapo views unfolding the entire way up, until, WOW, the view at the café knocks your socks off!!
Alpine Spring Spa. This new-ish spa resort/park is a delight. The resort features 3 large pools of heated spring water, all overlooking the blueblue lake and surrounding mountains. Hanmer Springs must be jealous of this setting! The three pools are charmingly named, shaped, and tiered like the 3 area lakes—Ohau, Pukaki, and Tekapo. The sunset view is divine. Open from 10am to 10pm, about $16-$20pp.