The moment you round the corner and catch the first glimpse of Lake Tekpo and the surrounding mountains, it’s hard not to take a sharp breath in and exclaim, “Wow!” It’s just such a beautiful area and one of my favourite spots in New Zealand. It’s a little more quiet, you see, away from the hustle and bustle of places like Queenstown. Tekapo is an oasis of bright blue skies, sparkling water with just a little bit of magic. It’s the kind of place that’ll steal your heart without you even realising and have you dreaming of coming back time and time again. If you’re planning a visit, here’s everything you absolutely need to know about Lake Tekapo.
Must-know tips for visiting New Zealand
If this is your first time New Zealand, there are a couple of things you need to know before you set off:
- Unlike Australia, you won’t find a never-ending roster of deadly predators lurking around the place. NZ is free from snakes, sharks, spiders and all those other deadly creatures that call Australia home
- Kiwis love their burgers! You’ll find plenty of great burger shops dotted all over the South Island, including Devil Burger, Red Star, Burger Fuel and the eternally famous Fergburger. Be sure to try as many burgers as possible – it’s kind of your duty, right?!
- You can buy alcohol at supermarkets in New Zealand but will need your passport with you as ID (a driver’s license won’t cut it)
- The border control/customs team in New Zealand are super strict so be sure to clean any dirt off your shoes and don’t try to bring in any wooden or food items
- Kiwis are environmentally conscious, so keep your eye out for recycling bins and sustainable practices implemented around the place
- When driving from place to place make sure you factor in extra time to stop and photograph because you’ll likely spot some gorgeous spots along the way
- Read my full guide on ‘Things to know before you visit New Zealand‘ here
How to get to Lake Tekapo
We flew into Christchurch from Brisbane, got in a hire car and drove down to Lake Tekapo. (I wrote a detailed guide on how to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown, which includes instructions on getting to Tekapo) The drive takes around 3 hours and, if you’ve got the time, you can stop along the way to visit the Cookie Time Factory, snap photos and visit a few local stores and eateries that take your fancy. Similarly, you could also fly into Queenstown and drive up to Lake Tekapo, also a 3-hour drive. Either way, the drive will take you through beautiful scenery and is really enjoyable. If you’re visiting in winter be sure to take care on the roads, drive safely, stay alert and not be in too much of a rush to get where you’re headed. You may also need to look into carrying snow chains.
Best time to visit Lake Tekapo
I gotta say, you can’t really go wrong when it comes to Lake Tekapo. The area comes alive with wild flowers and long summer days during the warmer months when you can swim in the picture-perfect lake and mingle with holiday-making locals. In winter, the snow-capped mountains provide the perfect backdrop for this winter wonderland. Tekapo offers a great range of snow activities and summer fun for visitors to take part it in or, if you prefer, just to relax in one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. One thing I would say is just to keep an eye on school holiday dates as visiting during these times can put extra demand on accommodation and activities and make things a little busier. If you’re keen for a more quiet holiday, try planning your trip around school holiday dates.
Where to stay in Lake Tekapo
We stayed at Peppers Bluewater Resort and absolutely loved it! The first thing that grabbed us was the generous size of our two-bedroom apartment, set out over two split levels with bedrooms downstairs and living area upstairs. What’s great about this is you can get cosy in front of the fireplace upstairs and unwind in the large living space while taking in the unbeatable, million-dollar-views through the big glass windows. Those views are breathtaking and I really liked that I could see the lake and mountains all the time because it made me feel like I was still enjoying the area and taking it all in, even if I was making a cup of tea, chilling out on the couch or cooking food.
The accommodation is really well done, with everything having a luxury feel without any of that weird ‘super-luxe’ feel you can get at some places that make you feel awkward. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s luxury, for sure, but it’s also really comfortable and feels like a home away from home. The bedrooms are really cosy, with plenty of toasty blankets and heating for the colder months. We got two great night’s sleep without any noise or disturbances whatsoever. The bathroom is also fantastic, with a really new, clean feel. The underfloor heating is a life-saver, as are the heated towel racks, and I loved that the apartment had a washer/dryer to help us stay on top of things.
The kitchen is fully equipped with everything you need to whip up breakfast, lunch or dinner and there are some great restaurants and a supermarket a short walk away for those nights when you can’t be bothered to cook. The resort also has an onsite restaurant, if you prefer. Located on the main road, a very short walk to the lake, I found Peppers Bluewater to be perfectly situated, making it easy to get around on foot to see everything we wanted to see.
I’d definitely recommend Peppers Bluewater Resort as a great place to stay for anybody visiting Lake Tekapo, first time or otherwise. The accommodation is luxurious and comfortable, offering the kind of views you dream of having from any hotel room, especially in Lake Tekapo! The apartments are decked out with absolutely everything you need, whether you want to kick back and take it easy or get active. You can read my full review here.
Best things to see and do in Lake Tekapo
Need some inspiration on what to see and do in Lake Tekapo? Here are a few tips…
- Of course, the most obvious is to spend some time marvelling at the beautiful Lake – I recommend visiting at sunrise and sunset
- Take a short walk to the Church of the Good Shepherd, one of the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen
- If you’re keen to see things from a new perspective, take flight with an Air Safari
- Be sure to visit the Mount John University Observtory for incredible views and a great cup of coffee
- If you love stars you may like to join a stargazing or astronomy tour
- Check out the Tekapo Springs and spend some time lazing in the warm water or whizzing down the snow in a tube
- Join Cruise Tekapo for a lake cruise and see things from a different angle altogether
- Set off on an adventure with Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking
- Go hiking and explore the local area and its stunning mountains by foot
- Spend your days whizzing around the slopes at the Roundhill Ski Area
- or… just catch up on your rest, read a good book, watch movies, enjoy the local wine and recharge!
Where to eat and must-try food
I love food. Like, really really love food! Based on that information, here are my picks on where to find great food in Lake Tekapo
- Mackenzie’s Bar and Grill
- Doughboys Bakery and Cafe
- Astro Cafe
- Jade Palace Chinese Restaurant
- Run 76 Cafe and General Store
- Kohan Japanese Restaurant
- Lake Tekapo Reflections Restaurant
- Pepe’s Pasta and Pizza Restaurant
- Robin’s Takeaway
- Rakanui Restaurant
- The Godley Resort Restaurant
What to pack
Packing can be tough and New Zealand is no exception, here are my tips on a few things you definitely need to pack:
- If you’re visiting in winter you’ll definitely need weatherproof gear that keeps the wet and wind out – I’d recommend two snow-friendly jackets, thermal underwear, plenty of warm clothing you can layer, beanies, gloves, neck warmers and lovely thick socks
- If you’re visiting in the warmer months you’ll be looking to pack comfortable, cool clothing but still including a few layering options just in case you catch a chilly afternoon or evening
- Be sure to pack waterproof shoes, hiking shoes and make sure they’re comfortable
- You’ll definitely need sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat to protect you from sunburn (even if you’re visiting in winter!)
- I tend to find my skin dries out in New Zealand so be sure to pack lots of moisturisers, lip balm and any other particularly nourishing products you might have
- Read my full ‘What to pack for a trip to New Zealand‘ guide here
Watch our video from our trip to Lake Tekapo
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.