Lake Tekapo

The Tekapo-Mt John Walkway, South Island , NZ

Posted by Patrick Melon
3-4 hour hike

This walk takes about three hours depending on rest stops. First of all there is climb to Mount John itself through the forest and then out into the open to the summit. At the top of Mount John there are several telescopes as well as very good café and toilets. We used the café as a chance to rest and to get ourselves a nice cup of coffee and cake before continuing to do the rest of the walk.

From Mount John, the path continues northward through tussock grass and eventually drops down to the lakeshore. There is an easy undulating path which follows the lake and eventually gives way to a gravel road back to the hot springs and the township of Tekapo.

Mt John – Lake Tekapo map

Tekapo itself it is a pretty township. It is worthwhile stopping on the lakes edge at the car park and going to see the Church of the Good Shepherd. The church is aptly named, primarily after the good Shepherd discourse found in John’s gospel (Chapter 10), but secondarily, as a reference to the sheep farming that takes place in the surrounding country. The view from inside the church through the window is spectacular. The turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo are framed by the snow-covered peaks of the Southern Alps.

Church of the Good Shepherd

In late November, the roadside and Lakeside is covered with lupins. The blue and yellow, purple and pink flowers make an already scenic landscape even more charming. The irony is that the Lupin is considered to be a weed by the Department of Conservation.

Mt John from shoreline of Lake Tekapo covered with Lupins

From just before the entrance to the hot springs, a path climbs steeply through the forest and occasionally gives views of the township of Tekapo and Camp area. The first 2 km of the track climbed over 300 m, so we took several rests on the way up.

Looking back down to the start of the walk near the Camp and Caravan Park

After emerging from the forest, we came to open tussock grassed area typical of Mackenzie country. The land hereabouts is named after James Mackenzie who came out from Scotland to Australia in the mid-1840s and from there to New Zealand. He was one of the Scottish settlers who made a life for himself in an environment not so different from the rugged environment of the Scottish Highlands. It is difficult to distinguish legend from the truth, because his exploits have become somewhat embellished in the telling and retelling. According to the legend he was sheep stealer in both Canterbury and Otago, who then with his dog Friday brought the sheep up through a pass into the Tekapo area. Mackenzie was later pardoned for sheep stealing and returned to Australia. However, the suitability of the country for raising sheep was appreciated by other pastoralists and the region was named after him. There is a statue to sheep dogs like “Friday” next to the Church of the Good Shepherd. It was commissioned in 1968 by local residents to recognise the work of sheepdogs “without the help of which the grazing of this mountain country would be impossible”.

The steps near the top of Mt John


Township of Tekapo


After passing through series of steps up the last section of Mt John, we came to the observatory and Astro café. There are 360° views of Mackenzie country including Lake Tekapo and to the north lakes McGregor and Alexandrina. We did actually come back at night on one of the conducted tours of the observatory and of the night sky. Highly recommended.

Observatory telescopes

Astro Cafe

Walkway Sign

The walk took us now north through the tussock grass country. The bird sound of the Skylark (another introduced species) high and invisible reminded me very much of parts of England in summer. There are some great views in every direction.

View north

Looking back to the summit of Mt John

Through tussock grass


The path eventually starts to drop down to the lake, at which point it turns south and heads back along the shore all the way back to the hot springs.