Lake Tekapo & Lake Pukaki: The most beautiful destinations for two days in the Mackenzie District

In the middle of the South Island of New Zealand are two glacial lakes that could not be more beautiful. Their names sound very mysterious as so often in New Zealand: Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.

The blue tones of these two lakes surpass everything we have seen so far on the South Island. But not only the colors of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki are enchanting, but also their fantastic location in the wonderful Mackenzie District with a view of the New Zealand Alps.

The area around the two glacial lakes is definitely one of the most beautiful regions in New Zealand. In this wonderful area is also the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, which is home to the highest mountain in the country, the eponymous Aoraki/Mount Cook.

We show you the most beautiful activities and excursions in this region, where we spent the last days of our New Zealand round trip. If you want to know what you can't miss, then be sure to read on.

Lake Tekapo New Zealand: Tourist spot& Glacial Lake

Lake Tekapo is a tourist village on the southern shore of the glacier lake of the same name. A very idyllic place, where only about 400 people live. Both the lake and the village are located at 710 meters above sea level in the middle of a beautiful mountain scenery in the Mackenzie District.

Tip: If you would like to stay overnight in this idyllic setting at Lake Tekapo and enjoy the peace and quiet as well as the impressive starry sky to the fullest? Then have a look at* offers the most beautiful accommodations. Some of them offer beautiful views of Lake Tekapo.

The famous Lake Tekapo, which is mainly fed by four glaciers, stretches over 25 kilometers and is 95 square kilometers in size. It is one of the ten largest lakes in New Zealand and definitely one of the most beautiful.

View of Lake Tekapo, the village at the lake of the same name

The tourist place Lake Tekapo is not only known for the blue shining glacier lake, but also for the dark and clear nights. In the sparsely populated region, light pollution is very low. Impressive views of the sparkling starry sky are (almost) guaranteed, weather permitting.

In Lake Tekapo New Zealand there are some hotels and vacation apartments* and also cozy restaurants. A perfect starting point to explore all the wonderful sights in the region – and there are several of them. Which highlights you should not miss and what is overrated in our opinion, we tell you here.

Mount John Observatory: Our highlight at Lake Tekapo

Mount John is a 1'031 meter high mountain on the western shore of Lake Tekapo, where New Zealand's leading observatory is located. Mount John is therefore a popular place for stargazing. But also during daylight the trip to the observatory is worthwhile, because up here a fantastic view over Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains is waiting for you.

A wonderful viewpoint, which you can reach without any effort by car. Ideal for those who don't have much time and also for those who don't like hiking.

Of course we do not want to miss this viewpoint. So on the first morning in the sunshine we set off for Mount John. For a small fee of 8.00 NZD per vehicle (as of January 2020) we drive comfortably with our rental car to the observatory. The approach is beautiful and gives us a taste of what awaits us at the summit. The anticipation rises.

On top we are overwhelmed by the fantastic panoramic view over Lake Tekapo, Lake Alexandrina and the Southern Alps! Golden meadows, beautiful lakes, a great mountain panorama, blue sky and little clouds that look like cotton candy, all this fits together perfectly.

View from Mount John to Lake Tekapo New ZealandView of Lake Tekapo from Mount John

An unforgettable view and clearly one of our Top 12 New Zealand Highlights, which we would like to recommend to you.

Lake Alexandrina in New ZealandPaved road to Mount John at Lake Tekapo New ZealandMount Dobson at Lake TekapoMountain ranges around Lake Tekapo, New ZealandMotuariki Island in Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Mount John Observatory: Good to know

Astro Cafe

On top of Mount John is the Astro Cafe. A small cafe with a wonderful view where you can enjoy a piece of cake.

Opening hours Astro Cafe (as of January 2020)

  • Summer: 9.00 – 18.00 o'clock (Christmas: 10.00 – 17.00 a.m.)
  • Winter: 10.00 – 17.00 a.m

Approach Mount John Observatory

Attention: The opening hours of the road differ from those of the Astro Cafe by half an hour. You can use the street for a fee of 8.00 NZD drive.

  • Summer: until 17.30 o'clock
  • Winter: until 16.30 o'clock

The viewpoint at Mt John Observatory can be reached by car in about 15 minutes from Lake Tekapo. From the village center, first take the Tekapo-Twizel Road towards Twizel. As soon as you leave Lake Tekapo behind you, there is a turnoff to the right onto Godley Peaks Road. You follow this road for about 4 kilometers. At the sign with the inscription "Mount John Observatory" turn right a second time and drive up the mountain. The road is well built and tarred.

Only a few meters from the parking lot the breathtaking panoramic view is served to you on a silver platter so to speak. Accordingly, a lot of people gather up here, especially on the terrace of the Astro Cafe.

Tip: If you stay away from the Astro Cafe, you can avoid the many tourists.

Tip: Mount John Summit Circuit Track

You want to earn the view first and not just drive up to the top by car? Of course, there are also hiking trails in Lake Tekapo that meet this need. On the website of the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai you will find some hiking trails to choose from.

Church of the Good Shepherd: The tourist magnet at Lake Tekapo

Still fascinated by the gorgeous view, we continue to the most famous sight in Lake Tekapo: the Church of the Good Shepherd. The so-called "Church of the Good Shepherd" is a small stone church idyllically situated on the shore of Lake Tekapo. The altar window of the church, built in 1935, offers a wonderful view of Lake Tekapo.

When we arrive at the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, however, there are so many tourists and tour buses that we have to leave quite quickly.

Trying to photograph the church without the numerous people in the foreground would have been in vain. Too bad, because it is really a beautiful place. Due to the many people, however, not much of the idyll is left.

Church of the Good Shepherd: Good to know

The Church of the Good Shepherd is a 10 minute walk from the village center. If you arrive by car, the drive takes about 3 minutes.

If you are not attending a wedding or church service, you can visit the church from the inside during the following opening hours (as of January 2020):

  • Summer: 09.00 – 17.00 a.m
  • Winter: 10.00 – 16.00 a.m

Usually a guide is on site to show you the church.

From 20.00 o'clock the gates in front of the church are closed. Only people who book a tour have access to the site after this time to photograph the stunning starry sky with the famous church in the foreground.

Tip: Mackenzie Sheep Dog Statue

Just a few meters from the Church of the Good Shepherd is the Mackenzie Sheep Dog statue. A bronze statue of a collie, made in honor of the shepherd dogs in 1968. Sheepdogs played an indispensable role in the life of the inhabitants of this region.

Lake Tekapo Shore Road: Off the beaten track

After all the hustle and bustle at the Church of the Good Shepherd we find our peace on the eastern shore of Lake Tekapo away from the many tourists. On Lilybank Road you can drive for miles along the lake and leave the crowds behind. Just the right thing for us!

Lilybank Road, Lake TekapoEast Shore Lake Tekapo New ZealandView of Lake Tekapo from the eastern shore

We rarely meet other cars on the way. The further we drive, the better we can enjoy the solitude, the wonderful glacial lake and the view of the imposing Southern Alps. We love these secluded places!

Lilybank Road with view of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, New ZealandLilybank Road, Lake Tekapo New ZealandMountains on the east shore of Lake Tekapo New Zealand

We would love to continue to the end of the road, but unfortunately there is not enough time for that. We want to be back in Lake Tekapo before nightfall. On and beside the road we already met some hares, which we don't want to endanger in the dusk. So at some point it is time to start the return journey with a heavy heart.

Lilybank Road: Good to know

Lilybank Road is a narrow and bumpy gravel road, but it is easy to master without 4×4. Slow driving is the order of the day here anyway, because it gives you a much better chance to enjoy the wonderful surroundings.

Tip: Many car rental companies will void your insurance if you drive on unpaved roads. It is best to check your rental conditions in advance and weigh up the risk.

Tip: In the late afternoon we were almost alone on the road. The lake was very calm, the light enchanting and the atmosphere peaceful.

Approach Lilybank Road

To get from Lake Tekapo to the eastern shore of the lake, follow State Highway 8 in the direction of Christchurch. At the end of the village turn left onto Lilybank Road, then follow the gravel road along the lake shore.

If you are coming from Christchurch, take the first turn to the right before the village center of Lake Tekapo New Zealand.

Tip: Godley Peaks Road

Alternatively you can drive along the western lakeshore of Leke Tekapo on the Godley Peaks Road. We have found a detailed travel report from Tiki Touring NZ (only available in English). But we did not try this route ourselves, unfortunately we did not have enough time for that.

Tip: Lupias – color magic at Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Do you know the dreamlike pictures of Lake Tekapo, which is surrounded by beautiful blooming lupines?? A sight we were looking forward to before our New Zealand trip. When we visit Lake Tekapo it is already mid March. A little disappointed we have to realize that the famous lupines are long since faded.

When do the lupines bloom at Lake Tekapo New Zealand??

The lupines usually let the center of New Zealand shine in a wonderful blaze of color from the end of November until shortly after Christmas. If you visit New Zealand exactly at this time, you can consider yourself very lucky.

Tip: From mid-December to the end of January is high season in New Zealand, because in this time the New Zealanders have school vacations and travel the country. Best to plan your vacation outside of this turbulent time.

For us it is certain, we would definitely like to travel to New Zealand again and admire Lake Tekapo surrounded by the violet, blue, yellow glowing splendor of the lupines. This must be dreamlike!

Sunset at Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Just in time for sunset we are back at our hotel, which fortunately has a balcony with lake view. The sky and the surroundings slowly turn red and make the lake sparkle. We enjoy the romantic atmosphere from our balcony. It is one of the most beautiful sunsets we have seen in New Zealand.

Tip: You should not miss the sunset at Lake Tekapo. Plan a walk to the lake or to the Church of the Good Shepherd at sunset, if you don't have a balcony with a lake view.

Sunset at Lake Tekapo

Stargazing: The clear starry sky at Lake Tekapo

Actually, the sunset would have been a perfect ending for this wonderful day, if it wasn't for the spectacular starry sky waiting for us.

Lake Tekapo New Zealand is located in a "Dark Sky Reserve", a so-called light protection area. These are particularly dark regions that are protected from light pollution. If the weather plays along, one has the best conditions for unique star observations in this sparsely populated area.

Every year thousands of tourists travel to Lake Tekapo to gaze at the impressive starry sky. Of course, there are also several professional stargazing tours to make the experience even more impressive.

Tip: The best way to observe the wonderful starry sky is to stay overnight in Lake Tekapo. On the online platform* you will find the most beautiful accommodations. Some offer stunning views of Lake Tekapo.

Stargazing on our own

As the stargazing tours are, as so often in New Zealand, not very cheap, we do without a tour and enjoy the starry sky on our own.

For this we choose a cozy spot a bit away from the village center. It takes a while for our eyes to get used to the light conditions. The longer we wait, the more spectacular the sight becomes. Billions of stars are twinkling and the Milky Way is brightly illuminated. We are speechless and enjoy this spectacle.

This is probably the moment when we decide that we would like to try one of these tours on our next New Zealand trip. A view through a professional telescope must be unique in this dark environment.

Stargazing in Lake Tekapo New Zealand: Good to know

To give you an overview, we have listed the most important tour providers for stargazing in Lake Tekapo here.

Tip: If you decide to go on a tour, you should book it in advance to avoid disappointment. The tours are very popular and depending on the season they are booked up quickly.

Stargazing Mount John Observatory

The ideal place to stargaze in Lake Tekapo is on Mount John. On the summit is the leading observatory of New Zealand. There are several tours offered, where you have the opportunity to admire the starry sky through a professional telescope.

Tip: You can find the different Mount John Observatory tours on the website of the Dark Sky Project.

The road to Mount John Observatory closes at 17.30 o'clock in summer resp. at 16.30 o'clock in winter. You can't drive up to Mount John on your own because of this. This is only possible as part of a tour.

Stargazing Church of the Good Shepherd

Another popular place promising great shots of the starry sky is the Church of the Good Shepherd. Night Sky tours are also offered here.

Since the gates to the church are already open at 20.00 o'clock, you can only enter the area during the tour. This measure was taken to protect the vegetation around the church from the numerous tourists.

On the Night Sky tours, a professional astrophotographer will be on hand to help you take the perfect photo.

Tip: More information and tickets for this stargazing can be found on the website of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Stargazing Tekapo Springs

If you prefer a more leisurely experience, you might be interested in this stargazing of a different kind. Tekapo Springs, a recreation center with heated outdoor pools, offers a two-hour experience for stargazers.

First there is a guided tour, where you learn about astronomy and the stories of the region, then you can float in the 38 degree hot pool on an air mattress and watch the view of the night sky.

Tip: For more information and tickets, visit the Tekapo Star Gazing Office website.

Lake Pukaki New Zealand: Our Favorite

Since we explored the sights around Lake Tekapo on the first day, today we will visit the enchanting Lake Pukaki and the region of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

Lake Pukaki east shore

After a half hour drive, we reach the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki. Here we make our first stop to take a closer look at the largest lake in the region. The sight is very beautiful, but later we will find out that the color of the west shore looks even more impressive.

View of Lake Pukaki from the east shore, New Zealand

Tip: You can drive along the east shore of Lake Pukaki for kilometers. Due to time constraints we decided to drive on the west shore, as this road leads to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. We have not regretted our decision for a second.

Lake Pukaki west shore

The drive continues! The Tekapo-Twizel Road (State Highway 8) now runs along the south shore of Lake Pukaki. A stretch of road that offers wonderful views of the lake. After a few kilometers we turn onto State Highway 80, also known as Mount Cook Road. Here we should soon reach the west shore.

The first kilometers we see nothing but trees on both sides of the road. With time the trees disappear, but there is no trace of the lake at all. All the bigger is the surprise when Lake Pukaki suddenly appears again and at the same time takes our breath away.

We look at each other surprised, because somehow the color seems to have changed from this perspective. Maybe it is due to the sunlight, which shines particularly favorable here? We definitely agree that we have never seen a lake shining so turquoise before.

At the first possible opportunity we stop and get out of the car. It could be that the car window makes the color look different than it really is. But no! The lake still shines turquoise, even without car window and sunglasses.

Lake Pukaki shore, New Zealand

Even if Lake Tekapo already impressed us with its color, this sight surpasses yesterday's experience by far.

Tip: You think we exaggerate? Have a look at Lake Pukaki on Google Maps. You will see that in the satellite view it clearly stands out among all the other lakes.

Peter's Lookout: The best viewpoint at Lake Pukaki

When we have digested the first impressions, we continue our drive along the shore road. In the distance we see the snow-capped Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. Again and again it flashes behind the next curve.

Turquoise Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the backgroundLookouts Lake PukakiView of Lake Pukaki from the west shoreLake Pukaki, filming location of the Hobbit Trilogy

There are numerous places where we take a break to enjoy the beautiful view. We are still totally amazed by the wonderful color of Lake Pukaki.

Peter's Lookout at Lake Pukaki New Zealand

The most famous and the only officially signposted lookout along the western shore is Peter's Lookout. Here we get dreamlike pictures of the lake, the golden meadows, the green trees, the shore road and the snow-covered Mount Cook in the background. For us it is the most beautiful place on the shore of Lake Pukaki.


Tip: A sign with the inscription "Scenic Lookout" will point out Peter's Lookout in time.

Lake Pukaki New Zealand: Good to know

The State Highway 80 leads about 31 kilometers along the western shore of Lake Pukaki. The trip takes about 25 minutes each way. Since it is a dead end road that ends at Mount Cook Village, you have to drive the same way back again.

From Lake Tekapo to the end of Lake Pukaki takes a good hour drive. In addition, there are numerous photo stops, which take some time to complete. Lake Pukaki can be visited as a day trip from Lake Tekapo. From Twizel you drive at least 30 minutes to the end of Lake Pukaki.

Good to know: There are no hotels directly at the idyllic Lake Pukaki. In the surrounding area you will find accommodation in Twizel* or in the charming town of Lake Tekapo*.

Why is the water of Lake Pukaki turquoise??

Like all three larger lakes in this region, Lake Pukai was formed by the retreat of the glaciers. The impressive color of the lake is due to the so-called glacial flour, which flows into Lake Pukaki through the glacier water of the Tasman River in the north.

Why is Lake Pukaki turquoise?

Lake Pukaki, the largest lake in the region, convinced us with its extraordinary color and the fantastic view of Mount Cook. This turquoise lake in the middle of a beautiful landscape is for us the most beautiful lake in New Zealand.

Tip: Lake Pukaki Viewing Point

On the south shore, just before you turn onto State Highway 80, is Lake Pukaki Viewing Point. Unfortunately we missed this viewpoint. If we look at the pictures on Google Maps, a short stop here is worthwhile at any rate. From the Pukaki Viewing Point you have a beautiful view of the New Zealand Southern Alps.

Tip: Pukaki Canal

Only about three minutes drive from the southern shore of Lake Pukaki is the Pukaki Canal, which is worth a short detour (drive towards Twizel). The color of this river is fantastic! It is again a completely different shade of blue than we have seen so far in this region.

Pukaki Canal on the southern shore of Lake Pukaki

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park: The most beautiful hikes

When we leave Lake Pukaki behind us and drive further north, we soon reach the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. This is an impressive national park where the highest mountains of New Zealand rise up. It seems as if we are driving directly towards the mighty Southern Alps. A very beautiful stretch of road, where we would like to stop every 100 meters.

The road to Mount Cook National Park leads past Mount SeftonRoad surrounded by mountains in Mount Cook National Park

At the end of the road is the Mount Cook Village. It is a small touristic place, where some hotels and motels are located. Numerous hiking trails start near the Mount Cook Village.

Among the most famous hikes in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park are the following:

Hooker Valley Track

  • This walk takes you to Aoraki/Mount Cook, Hooker Lake and the 11 kilometer Hooker Glacier (distance: 10 kilometers, approx. 3.5 hours, 124 vertical meters).

Tasman Glacier Lake Walk

  • A relatively short and easy walk to Tasman Lake and Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's longest glacier at 27 kilometers (distance: 2.6 kilometers, approx. 1 hour, 86 meters altitude difference).

Kea Point Track

  • At the end of this trail you will be rewarded with impressive views of Mount Sefton, Mueller Glacier, Hooker Valley and Aoraki/Mount Cook (from White Horse Hill Campground 3 kilometers, approx. 1 hour, 180 vertical meters).

Mueller Hut Track

  • At the Mueller Hut an impressive 360 degree panoramic view of glaciers, steep rock faces and the highest mountains of New Zealand awaits you (10.4 kilometers, 1'040 meters altitude, approx. 8 hours).
  • Many stay overnight at the Mueller Hut and hike back the next day. Accommodation must be booked in advance.

Tip: Note that the starting points of the hikes listed above vary.

Tip: We have tried the Hooker Valley Track ourselves. How we liked this track and if it is worth the 10 kilometers you can read in our article: Hooker Valley Track: The most beautiful day hike in New Zealand?

Hooker Valley Track day hike in New Zealand

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park: Good to know

The journey from Lake Tekapo to the starting point of the trails takes about 1 hour 25 minutes (without stops). If you start the trip in Twizel, you should expect a drive of at least 50 minutes. However, plan enough time for photo stops on both options.

The visit of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is also a good day trip from both Lake Tekapo and Twizel. If you book early, you can also stay overnight at Mount Cook Village*. The advantage of this option is that you can start the hike early in the morning, when the number of tourists is still manageable. However, accommodation in Mount Cook Village is limited.

Lake Ohau New Zealand: Our insider tip

If there is something like an insider tip in this heavily visited region, then for us it is definitely Lake Ohau. If you are looking for peace and quiet, you will most likely find it here.

Lake Ohau is a 54 square kilometer glacial lake located west of Lake Pukaki. It is clearly overshadowed by its two famous neighbors Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. And exactly this can be seen as an advantage, because at the moment relatively few tourists get lost at Lake Ohau.

Lake Ohau with view of the mountains, New Zealand

Even though the lake can't quite keep up with the other two, we venture a short detour to Lake Ohau. The approach leads us through a beautiful area, which shines in the most different yellow, orange and brown tones.

Road to Lake Ohau, New ZealandTussock Fields New ZealandFirst view of Lake Ohau from a distance, New Zealand

Lake Ohau west shore

Arrived at the lake, we drive along the western shore for about eight kilometers and enjoy the great views of the Ben Ohau Mountain Range.

Tip: On clear days you can see Mount Cook in the distance. Unfortunately our view is somewhat limited by the clouds.

Cozy beach on the shores of Lake Ohau, New Zealand's South IslandView of Lake Ohau from the west shore

Unfortunately at this point the paved road ends and a gravel road follows. So we start our way back after a comfortable break. For us, the trip to this region was definitely worth it. It is a secluded area where only a few tourists stray into. A welcome change from the tourist crowds at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.

Lake Ohau with Ben Ohau Mountain Range, New ZealandMeadow next to Lake OhauLake Ohau, New Zealand

Tip: With the bike you can ride along the lake and enjoy the nature off the roads.

More New Zealand travel reports for your trip planning

Do you already know our other New Zealand travelogues? We show you the most beautiful regions of New Zealand and take you on our little adventures in this wonderful country of glaciers, lakes, coasts, fjords and volcanoes.

Tip: There are many charming accommodations in Lake Tekapo, some of them offer fantastic views of the glacier lake of the same name, Lake Tekapo. Convince yourself and check out the most beautiful accommodations on* to.

Bye, Bye New Zealand

After having explored the most beautiful highlights of the Mackenzie District, our time in New Zealand is unfortunately coming to an end soon. But we don't really realize yet that we will soon leave this beloved country again.

We spent a wonderful time here, which we will remember forever. Admittedly, sometimes we play with the idea to just stay here even longer..

It would be very easy: change your flight, extend or change your rental car and continue your trip..! But since work calls at home, we unfortunately have to say goodbye to this thought, as nice as it is.

Do you sometimes have such thoughts at the end of a trip?? Or are you one of those who are looking forward to coming home again?? Feel free to tell us about them in the comments.

>> Reading tip: Do you like to discover new destinations in Europe? Our personal travel tip: Madeira! The diverse volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic has so much to offer. For inspiration, check out our posts Hiking Madeira: The 5 Most Spectacular Hikes on the Island, Madeira Sights: The most beautiful places on the island and Madeira Insider Tips: Fantastic places off the beaten track.

Tip Lake Tekapo Hotel Tips

This blog post contains our hotel recommendations for the region Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook National Park in the form of so-called advertising links, which are marked with a *. If you like our articles and would like to support us, we would be very happy if you book one or the other hotel via these links. For each successful booking we receive a small commission. For you, nothing will change in the price of the hotel (you will pay exactly the same as if you booked the hotel directly on We thank you very much for your support!

Our trips and hotels are all self-paid. We report about our travel experiences and mention which providers we have used and whether we can recommend them to you or not. This should help you with your travel planning. It is very close to our hearts to report honestly and authentically about our experiences.

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