Lakeside resort town


Dawn over the lake, May 2016

Traditionally Tekapo has been a gas and comfort stop on the route between Christchurch and Queenstown. Fifty years ago the town would have had less than 100 permanent residents, but today like so many other small towns, it's bursting at the seams and struggling to cater for the increasing number of tourists.

Back in the old days, working people from the East Coast cities and towns may have had a weekend holiday home at Tekapo where they could go boating and fishing or use the village as a base to explore further afield into the mountains. Today it has a permanent population of about 380 and is one of five settlements in the sparsely populated Mackenzie Basin.

The basics:

Tekapo provides a range of accommodation for all budgets, with cafe’s and restaurants featuring Japanese, Thai, Korean and local cuisine. If you happen to be vegetarian, come prepared by bringing you own food. There is a supermarket, petrol, a range of small shops and a resort spa.  This really is a roadside village so don't expect too much. It's just a simple place to eat and sleep and the real attraction is the surrounding district.

Spa pools

Under the shadow of Mount John is a fairly new complex with hot pools, an ice skating rink and café. The adult price for pools was $35 per person at the time of writing. This is in fact an all-day pass making it better value, but there is something magical about lying back in a hot pool while it's snowing. The landscaped pools of heated fresh water  are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days however the ice rink is often taken over by teams training.

Star gazing

On the nearby Mt John is the the Mt John Observatory, this station provides facilities for New Zealand’s astronomical research. Earth and Sky operate tours for those with deep pockets.  While it may well be rewarding to look through the large telescopes, a five minute stroll from your place of accommodation will take you far enough from light pollution and you can gaze up at the Milky Way.

There are also star maps available for smart phones to help you identify the features in the night sky, but whatever the season, you need to be well wrapped up to keep warm as even summer nights can be very cold. As a day walk, Mt John is a 4-5 hour return walk from Tekapo township.

Free fun

In the summertime you can swim in the lake although a wetsuit is probably a good idea to keep warm. In winter you may find nearby lakes sufficiently frozen to go ice skating, but the main activity is walking and there are miles of trails.

The lake

Fed by the Godley and Macaulay rivers, lake Tekapo is 24 kms long x 4 kms wide. While swimming is possible, the main activities are fishing, boating and kayaking. For those walking into the mountains, it's possible to get dropped off or picked up by jet boat.weechurch


Tekapo has become another destination to tie the knot.

If you're looking for somewhere special and not too far from civilisation there are many good venues here. The lake front itself makes for a good backdrop but many like to wed in the tiny church beside the lake. If you're planning that, you need to book in way ahead of time.

For Church bookings, contact:
Mackenzie Co Op Parish Office
Address: PO Box 34, Fairlie 7949
Phone: +64 3 6858389 (office is often unattended)
Fax: +64 3 6858185

Around the district

Tekapo makes a nice base to make day trips around the district. When the weather is good, a drive down to Lake Pukaki is a must regardless of the weather and the drive Mt Cook makes a nice day outing. There are many walks there. There is always a great view of the lake and when its fine, Mount Cook is in clear view. But as a day trip, a drive up to Aoraki National Park is grand. Instead of going up to the Hermitage, take the turn towards the Tasman Glacier and walk up onto the moraine to view the glacier lake. You can also arrange with tour guides to go out on the lake and touch an iceberg.

There are lots of fishing spots and some of the more popular ones are adjacent to the salmon farms. It's a bit hard to tell whether people are fishing for the one that escaped the farm or just the wild salmon that live in the canal system. The village of Twizel has most modern amenities as well is accommodation. It also serves as a base for recreational activities in the region. Tekapo and Twizel have small airports from where you can take scenic flights over the Southern Alps.

If you happen to be in Tekapo mid to late April or early May, it's an absolute must to drive down to The Wairepo Arm of Lake Ruataniwha which is only another 14 km south of Lake Pukaki. Continue driving past the salmon farm to arrive at one of the most photographed pieces of water along this route due to the resplendent autumn colours.

For those who are perhaps more technologically minded, you could follow the network of canals that takes water from Lake Tekapo to lake Pukaki to join up with water from Lake Ohau which then flows down into Lake Benmore. Along the way this water spins many turbines generating electricity as well as providing for salmon farms and places for public fishing.


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