Lake Tekapo is one of my very favorite places to visit on the south island of New Zealand. This small lake town is about 3 hours driving distance from Queenstown and has a super cool chill vibe with insanely pretty scenery. A great way to see and explore Lake Tekapo is to hike the Mt John Walkway trail up to the Mt John Observatory. This hike is doable for all levels but will fare a little easier for those who are used to trails with steep ascents. Don't let that deter you however as the payoff is worth the sweat. Once you reach the summit, you are presented with breathtaking 360 views of the whole town, surrounding mountains, lakes and Mackenzie Basin flats. The observatory and Astro cafe are also at the top, so it's a pretty awesome place to go stargazing too!
Length: 5 mile loop / 2 miles out and back to observatory lookout | Level: Moderate - steep but manageable climb with switchbacks at the start | Duration: 3-4 hours | Elevation: 311 | Dogs: Yes on leash
Yes the lake is this blue! Which is all the more reason to do the hike and see it from above. The good news is this trail can be done in a couple of ways, so if you don't feel like that steep climb, you can always drive right up to the observatory parking lot and walk out to the viewpoints from there. Either way you choose, you are sure to enjoy all the beauty here. I personally recommend taking the hike as it's not that long and as we all know, the best view comes from the hardest climb!
This trailhead can be a bit hard to see if you pass to the right of it by the campgrounds. Though well marked, it's easy to begin heading down another trail and service road that follows the lake as above. If you prefer just a flat lake stroll, this is just as beautiful but you'll be missing that top 360 view. So, to get on the actual trail to the top, you want to be sure you start at the base of the trailhead just outside the Tekapo Springs resort. Look for the sign below and begin your ascent!
The first part of the trail is through a wooded forest and has just a couple of switchbacks. I started an hour or so before sunset and got lucky that the weather was mostly sunny until the clouds came in right as I was reaching the top. For the most part during the ascent this trail is well shaded providing for cooler temperatures as you make your way up. It is a steep climb but nothing extremely strenuous. If you are used to hiking uphill with not many level off points until you reach the summit, then you will be okay. Otherwise just go slow and enjoy your pretty surroundings!
After you make it through the wooded area, you'll come into an open clearing that is a complete change of scenery. From here, there is a well marked flat stairway sort of path that will take you up to the final summit where you'll see the observatory in the distance. This is where it will level off a bit, but it is still a gradual climb up to the top. You can already begin to see how everything opens up to these sweeping views! I'm the tiny pink dot in the distance - it's pretty obvious my husband is a faster hiker than me!
Once you make it to the top, you'll notice a few paths that go in different directions. The obvious one here (above) will take you to the Mt. John Observatory, where you can stop in during the hours it's open, or hit up the Astro Cafe for a snack. Stargazing, observatory tours, and other local area tours are available to book here. For those of you still wanting to climb just a bit further, you can head to your right where you'll see a small rocky summit which is where you want to go to get that full 360 panoramic view!
The very top point of the summit is a rocky cliff mound area that is not hard to walk up and capture this shot. It isn't a crazy drop -off, so any one with fear of heights shouldn't worry. Just to the left of where I'm sitting here, is a viewing bench that will give you the view of the other side of the lake. If you go at the right time you might get this place all to yourself as I did here. A very peaceful and beautiful place to watch the sunset, and enjoy those crystal blue lakes!
The marked trail continues on past that viewpoint, and makes for a good place to either turn around and come back the way you came, or proceed further on to loop around the top of the observatory. The trail has plenty of signs at this point forward, and as you can see there are other marked paths for bikers that descend into the lake area. If you decide to go down one of these, as long as you stick to the main paths, they eventually end up in the parking lot by the observatory, or down the hill where you began.
As you can see Lake Tekapo is such a beautiful place to explore. We opted for a few more photos and then headed down the same trail where we started from. This is my second time visiting this area and I'll surely go again. I just love how pretty this area is and for the most part it is still a remote place to escape to, or make as a pitstop on your way to Queenstown.
It's definitely a lot faster on the way down! In half the time, we were able to make it just before the sun disappeared to capture this pretty sunset at the Church of the Good Shepard. Perfect way to end the evening!
For more detailed information on this area and the Mt John Observatory, visit here.
Trailhead address / Google Maps link: Canterbury 7999, Tekapo 7999, New Zealand
What's your favorite place in New Zealand? I've been to both islands twice in my travels and I feel I've only scratched the surface. If you haven't made Lake Tekapo a stop on your list, I hope this inspires you to do so!
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