lake tekapo new zealand from mt john observatory

Exploring Lake Tekapo New Zealand & Mount John

If you want to experience the magnificent true blue of Lake Tekapo New Zealand, we recommend taking on the Mount John walkway for the best views. This three hour loop track leads you up to the Mt John Observatory (one of the best places in New Zealand to go stargazing!) and back down along the shores of Lake Tekapo to your start point. We’ll take you there as part of your Masterpiece tour. If you’re planning on stopping off in Tekapo on your travels, here’s all the things you need to see and the best way to see them.

Fun facts about Lake Tekapo New Zealand

  • The University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory sits on top of Mount John. This world-renowned astronomical centre is home to six telescopes including the country’s largest.
  • The area is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which is the largest dark sky reserve in the world. If you want to see stars at their most potent, this is the place to see them.
  • The name Tekapo/Takapō comes from the Māori words Taka (sleeping mat) and Po (night)
  • The vivid turquoise colour of Lake Tekapo New Zealand comes from sunlight reflecting off the finely-ground rock flour suspended in the glacial melted waters.
  • The Church of the Good Shepherd New Zealand is one of the most picturesque and photographed spots on the shores of Lake Tekapo and is well worth a visit.
  • The bronze sheepdog statue close to the church isa tribute to the working dogs who “without the help of which the grazing of this mountain country would be impossible”.
Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo New Zealand

What a location! The magical Church of the Good Shepherd awaits you as you explore Tekapo.

Route options

There are plenty of options to get up to the summit of Mount John to embrace the views. Our favourite (the one you will take on our Masterpiece trip) is the Mount John Summit Track. Starting from Tekapo Springs, this walk is a loop track which will take about three hours in total. It moves through the forest to emerge out onto tussock-covered hillside where you will get your first glimpse of the surrounding area from a height.

Alternatively you can drive up from Lake Tekapo village. There’s a $5 fee to access the road up to the summit. At the top, you can take on a 30-45 minute walk called the Summit Circuit Track, or simply take it easy and enjoy a coffee and the views of the surreal blue water of Lake Tekapo.

Getting there

Tekapo village is located in the Mackenzie region in the centre of New Zealand’s South Island. To get to the start point of the Mount John Summit Track simply head to the Tekapo Springs complex. All of the tracks can be walked from the compact town centre or alternatively, you can drive to the start of each track.

Best time to hike Mount John

Mount John can be walked year round. However, for your best chance of experiencing it on a clear day, we recommend only walking it from spring through to autumn (October to April).

Tips to hike to Mt John Observatory

  • The first hour of the climb is the most challenging but after that initial heart-pumping hill, the path levels out and you can bask in the views as you catch your breath.
  • There is a café on top of Mount John where you can refuel and rehydrate. Or simply carry some snacks and water and find yourself a rock to perch on to take in the panoramic vistas.
  • Check the weather forecast before you go to see if it is showing favourable hiking conditions. In your day pack you should always carry at least one extra layer of clothing, some snacks and plenty of water.

Our trips

On day three of our Masterpiece tour, we hike to the top of Mount John to get the best views over Lake Tekapo. One of our guides will drive up to the summit to collect us after we’ve had our fill of beauty. Afterwards, we’ll stop off at the Church of the Good Shepherd New Zealand, and the statue of the sheepdog for some photos before grabbing a coffee and hitting the road to Christchurch for our next adventure!

If you want to find out more about the incredible 5-14 day hiking tours we run in New Zealand, you can request a free copy of our brochure here.