"A Picture-Perfect Dream in Turquoise-Blue" Top 5 Page for this destination Lake Tekapo by Kakapo2

Lake Tekapo Travel Guide: 80 reviews and 297 photos

The Changing Colours of Lake Tekapo

When we chose a location to marry Lake Tekapo was the runner up ;-) I could not imagine anything more beautiful than to marry in a picture-perfect landscape with tussock grass and turquoise blue waters in the background. As Lyttelton Harbour is right at our door step and also has those features we chose the garden of a B&B in Church Bay - and went to Lake Tekapo on our honeymoon ;-)

We often drive to Lake Tekapo just for the day, for hiking or cycling, and if you do this year-round you will note the changing colours of the lake - which, of course, also change from this incredible turquoise blue to grey on a rainy day... But we do not talk about this.

To me, Lake Tekapo is the gem of the high-country, called Mackenzie Country. Although the spelling is different, this region has been named after a mysterious Scottish sheep musterer named James McKenzie.

What you might not know is that Lake Tekapo and the other hydro lakes of the area are all used to generate power. Godley River feeds the lake. Often the water level is very low, and the gauges where the water level is measured are standing on dry land far from the shoreline. There are more or less permanent discussions about a looming power crisis.

The extraordinary colour is due to the fact that the lakes in this area are not mainly fed from rain water but from glaciers. The glacier meltwater carries "rock flour", ground off the mountains by the moving ice. The minerals from the rocks give the lakes their incredibly beautiful colour. In winter when no melting water from the rivers feeds the lakes the colour changes to a much darker blue.

The picture is perfect in summer when the Russell lupins bloom around the lake. Although every tourist (and not only tourists...) stops to take photos of the mountains and the lakes with these colourful flowers in the foreground you should know that, for a good reason, not everybody likes the lupins. They are regarded as weeds because they spread quickly and destroy the habitat of other plants and of animals, especially in Canterbury's braided riverbeds.

The Sleeping Beauty

Apart from the sheer beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains there are not many points of interest in Lake Tekapo: the Church of the Good Shepherd, placed scenically near the shore, the nearby monument which honours the sheepdogs and the Mt. John Observatory, run by the University of Canterbury. Thanks to the clear and dark skies of the region it is the perfect place for watching the stars. The region has been included in the list of international dark sky reserves as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in June 2012.

Lake Tekapo is great for hiking, cycling, flight-seeing, kayaking, and in winter for ice-skating and skiing. And since 2008 they have hot pools right at the lakefront - soak in the relaxing water and enjoy the incredible view.

My top tip is the connection of two most extraordinary spots of the high-country: Enjoy Lake Tekapo, then drive, cycle or walk along the hydro canal (on the Bullock Wagon Trail, past the Salmon Farm) to Lake Pukaki, with Mt. Cook at the horizon. This is just magic.

Ah, and if you do not feel sorry to spend NZ$ 280, go on the Grand Traverse with Air Safaris. The flight over the lakes, glaciers and mountains is sooo fantastic, and you learn and understand everything. You fly over those incredible braided riverbeds, you see how much steeper the West Coast glaciers (Franz Josef and Fox) are, you fly around Mt. Cook. I admit, the views are slightly better than from the sensational Astro Café on Mt. John which borders the lake ;-) I am just posting some aerial views, most in General Tips.

The village of Lake Tekapo was like a sleeping beauty for many years, and somehow still is. The Maori word Tekapo means: night sleeping place (teka = sleeping mat, po = night).

Only some years ago several developments have started. Since 2007 a lot of new houses and bigger units for accommodation have been built, and they are still building. The area around the ice-rink was expanded and is now a complex together with the new hot pools (Alpine Springs). But still Lake Tekapo is far from being overrun by tourists and developments like Queenstown and Wanaka. It still is a quiet and peaceful place with a small selection of restaurants and shops, all located along a short stretch on the main road. It has only slightly more than 300 permanent residents. The long sides of the lake are still development-free. Hopefully for a long time to come.

Fight for an untouched high-country landscape

I have written about the threatened landscapes of the high-country in the introduction of my South Island page. I am closely watching the changes of the landscape and developments. Farmers have started to irrigate paddocks around the lake which really are green eyesores in the ochre tussock grass landscape. The other big problem is the so-called tenure review of the Government which allows farmers to sell up parts of their cheaply bought - nearly donated - properties for millions and millions to property developers, and this could lead to suddenly having houses everywhere instead of keeping this nearly untouched grazing country in its pristine condition.

One of the people who started an initiative called "Stop Tenure Review" (www.stoptenurereview.co.nz), Gottlieb Braun-Elwert, lived in Lake Tekapo and had a close eye on this socially injust business. As a mountain guide he fought for conserving this unique landscape and save nature from more dairy-farming and developments for the rich only. Sadly Gottlieb Braun-Elwert, a German immigrant, died from a heart-attack in August 2008, aged 59 only, after a cross-country skiing tour with Prime Minister Helen Clark and her party.

Walk up to the Mt. John Observatory and along the lake, and you will understand what I am talking about. Even if you only drive up to the Astro Café at the Observatory and admire the splendid panorama of Lake Tekapo and adjoining Lake Alexandrina, the snow-capped Southern Alps and the endless tussock plains, you will understand.


Probably not because of the creation of this website but because of the passionate fight of people like Gottlieb Braun-Elwert the government has stopped Tenure Review in June 2007 for areas of outstanding natural beauty. So at least we can perhaps save the shores of Lake Tekapo and similar landscapes from property developments. But right before the decision I have seen a real estate advertisement in a Sunday paper, promising a "pure waterfront property" at Lake Tekapo, "surrounded by historic Glenmore Station and a 1000 sqm building platform with full services to boundary". I think we must remain vigilant.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:The remoteness and all those incredible colours
  • Cons:Landscape under threat of immoral development
  • In a nutshell:One of my top five destinations in New Zealand
  • Last visit to Lake Tekapo: Aug 2008
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (24)

Comments (7)

  • CDM7's Profile Photo
    Sep 30, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    Loved our visit to Lake Tekapo in February when we had amazing weather.Could not believe the amount of snow shown on kiwis photos,which was taken some 4 months later.

  • amandajayne81's Profile Photo
    Mar 25, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    Thanks for wonderful tips & photos. I just booked cheap flights to Christ from Bris for a weekend in Aug for my 30th. Hoping to have 3 nights at Lake Tekapo as we visited in Jan 09 and loved it. Hope things are ok for you. We think of Christchurch often.

  • Aug 25, 2009 at 12:10 AM

    My friend is getting married at the church in Lake Tekapo, but as we live in Australia we are having a lot of trouble trying to find somewhere she can have the reception, it's only for 50 people. Any suggestions?

  • fossettes's Profile Photo
    Nov 1, 2008 at 5:53 AM

    I'm so excited that the lupines should be blooming while we're there!

  • Jul 14, 2008 at 8:46 AM

    Hi, i love your summer picture ? where about in lake takepo can i get this view ? Thanks

  • TheWanderingCamel's Profile Photo
    Nov 14, 2007 at 2:42 PM

    How many times have I been to Lake Tekapo and yet I've never seen the lupins - our visits are always at Easter time as we head for the Air Show at Wanaka. I'll make it there for the flowers one of these days - you've inspired me! leyle

  • kokoryko's Profile Photo
    Jul 2, 2007 at 7:10 PM

    I knew I would see lupines, before opening your page! These property developers. . . hope they will never be allowed to do more near this lake! You are more than lucky to see Tekapo when you want. We stayed there only one day and one night. Wonderful.

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