Your guide to the best walks around the picturesque Tekapo region.
Lake Tekapo is actually quite a small town, but there are a few walks with some beautiful views that you should do while you are here. I think the most beautiful of Tekapo hikes is the Mt John track, so I will detail this fully and then give you some of other great alternatives to this Tekapo walk.
Mt Cook Walks (Walks near Lake Tekapo)
Mt Cook National Park is a bit over an hours drive from Tekapo, so an easy day trip if you are staying in Tekapo for a night or two. There are some beautiful walks at Mt Cook that are some of my absolute favourite in New Zealand.
- Hooker Valley Track – 3 hour return flat easy walk including swingbridges and Mt Cook views
- Tasman Glacier Viewpoint – 40-60 minute return walk with views of Tasman Glacier
- Tasman Lake Track – 40 minute each way to the Tasman Lake to see icebergs
Mt John Walkway: The Best Lake Tekapo Walk
Winter is an popular time to visit Lake Tekapo as the views of the snowy capped mountains glistening next to the glacial lake, really is a sight to be seen. But even though it is cold, that doesn’t mean you can’t get out and explore. We did this Lake Tekapo walk with kids when it was about 6C and they had a great time. So don’t be put off by cold weather, or children. Here are the details on this Tekapo hike.
Starting the Mt John Summit Walk
The Mt John Summit track starts just before Tekapo Springs (Lakeside Drive), on the left hand side. You will clearly see the forest and the Department of Conservation signage at the beginning of the track. There are no toilets on this track, so if you need these, just backtrack a few minutes (same road), and public toilets are available on Lakeside Drive opposite the small lakeside playground.
How long does it take to walk the Mount John Summit Track?
With a 1 year old in a backpack, and both the 3 and 5 year olds walking by themselves, this Lake Tekapo walk took about an hour to reach the top. By no means were we walking quickly so it will be much quicker for most. 15 minutes into the trip their pockets were full of pinecones and “the best sticks they’d ever seen”. I’m sure those of you with young kids, understand exactly how this works.
The first part of the track is in the forest and is relatively under cover and shade. It is soft to walk on from all the pine needles dropping over the track, so is lovely for young kids to explore it. The first bit is a little steep, but you will find after 10 minutes, it is still uphill, but far less severe.
When you pop out of the trees and think you may have made it, look up to your right as that hill up on top is the summit. This steeper dirt climb was a bit slippery so we ended up walking on the grassy patches beside the track. There are stairs later on that are helpful too. As you are climbing up, do not forget to turn around and look at the view. This walk has the best views of the Canterbury Plains and you can see for miles.
Visit the Observatory and Cafe, or reach the peak?
You will meet a fork in the road, and you can go straight ahead to the Mt John Observatory, and Observatory Cafe, and head to the right to the Mt John Summit. It’s only a few minutes to the summit from here and you will be wowed by the 360 degree views. Lake Tekapo has the most azure blue water and had it not been windy up there, we could have stayed for hours.
Even our 5 year old was in awe of the view, so we highly recommend this short walk in Tekapo. Mt John has breathtaking scenery and is a great wee workout.
Option to return via Lake Shore Track
You can return exactly the way you came up, or continue via the Lake Shore Track. The route via the Lake Shore Track will take about 3.5 hours return, so will add some time to your walk. But if you’re up for more beautiful views and some extra walking, it could be a great option. The lake shore track heads down from the Observatory, so grab and a coffee and a snack on your way.
What clothing do you need for this Tekapo walk?
We started our walk at 3C, which seems really cold, but once we got walking, it was actually a great temperature. I dressed the kids in thermal polypro long sleeve tops and a sweatshirt, as well as trackpants and a hat. We carried their winter ski jackets in the baby carrier, but they never needed to put them on. I wore the same and actually had to strip off my jersey as walking uphill with a baby backpack just gets you super sweaty.
So if you are wondering if it’s too cold to do this, then you might be surprised. Do note that we had a sunny day with only light winds. We walked this in the morning around 10am, and while it does obviously get warmer throughout the day, we found the wind always picked up in the afternoon, so keep this in mind.
You can find out further information about the Mt John Summit Track and other short walks in the Tekapo Township area here. This is one of my favourite Lake Tekapo walks so I highly recommend it.
How to get to the Mt John Track: Head to Tekapo Springs at the end of Lakeside Drive and just before you reach it, you will see the track up to your left. Park on the roadside here.
Cowans Hill Walkway, Tekapo
Cowans Hill Walkway is another good short walk in Tekapo, if you are wanting some exercise and nice views. It is not quite as spectacular as the Mt John Summit Walk, however any view of Lake Tekapo makes me pretty happy.
The walk will take about 1-2 hours return and includes a passage through the bush and an exposed section on a 4wd style track.
This is a popular Lake Tekapo walking track for local walkers, but do be aware it is also a mountain bike track, so keep an ear out for cyclists.
How to get to Cowans Hill Walkway: You can park in the township and walk over the bridge and the start of the track
Lake Tekapo Walkway
The Lake Tekapo Walkway runs from the eastern side of Lake Tekapo, past the Church of the Good Shepherd, along the lakeside of the township and down to the Tekapo Springs Hot Pools. The walk will take about an hour to meander, then you can return back again.
My kids aren’t the greatest walking along the flat, especially where you can see exactly where you are going. So mine wouldn’t do great at walking up and back, so I would choose a section and walk as far as you desire, but that’s just me and my kids. My pick of these walks for kids is actually the Mt John Walkway, which is more difficult, but more varied with the forest track, hill and the amazing views at the top.
How to get to the Lake Tekapo Walkway: Park at either the Tekapo Springs Hot Pools or at the far end near the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Peninsula Walkway, Tekapo
The Lake Tekapo Peninsula Walkway is a 2-2.5 hour walk if you complete the whole loop, however a lot of people often walk to a point and turn back. This easy track is a mix of gravel and dirt and follows the lakeside around the Peninsula.
Along the way you will see a gully and you can pop down here to take a detour to the stony beachfront and see the white bluffs. These wee cliffs are quite beautiful and will provide an alternate view to Lake Tekapo that is rarely seen.
Note that the track is very exposed and whenever we have been to Tekapo, we have found the wind picks up in the afternoon, so be aware of this.
How to get to the Lake Tekapo Peninsula Track: Follow the signs towards Mt John, go past the turnoff and drive until you see a carpark near Lake McGregor where this Lake Tekapo walk starts.
We hope you enjoyed your guide to Lake Tekapo walks and enjoy a hike in Tekapo someday soon. If you have any further suggestions Tekapo walks and Tekapo hikes, then jump over to Instagram or Facebook and tell us all about it.
This article was originally published on backyardtravelfamily.com and was written by Jen. Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space. Jen has three young children, 5 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.
Photos courtesy of The Backyard Travel Family