Sunrises, Stars, & Stunning Blue Water: New Zealand’s Lake Tekapo

For such a small country (about the size of the UK), New Zealand can lay claim to several of the world’s most iconic landscapes, and a few buildings as well.  And one of the best-known views that come to mind is Lake Tekapo’s stunning milky turquoise water, framed by a small chapel, clear mountains in the background, and (when the season cooperates) vibrant purple lupins.

We spent the first couple days of our two-week Kiwi whirlwind in the Lake Tekapo area, taking a million pics of the lake (and nearby Lake Pukaki, also gorgeous), and then taking a boat trip on glacier Lake Tasman and hiking the beautiful Hooker Valley Trail near Mt. Cook/Aoraki.

New Zealand's Lake Tekapo, a gorgeous lake with glacier minerals backed by snow-capped mountains. Visit this area to see the famous lake and chapel, hike the Hooker Valley Track, and gaze at the bright stars...what to do on your visit!

I mean, STAHP.  That is just insanely pretty.

These are people loopy from 17 hours of flights and three hours in the car.

While we were super tired, honestly the super long flight wasn’t a big deal.  I flew to Chicago the night before to meet Enoc and Sarai, then we flew to San Francisco and met up with Brek, then flew another 13 hours to Auckland and a quick puddle jumper to Christchurch.  But the fact is that 13 hours on a plane doesn’t feel much different than 9, other than that you have a better shot at grabbing some decent sleep.  And Air New Zealand is quite comfortable.

We got the rental car in Christchurch and hit the (left side of the) road, with me in the driver’s seat, and grabbed a quick bite to eat.  It was my first time driving on the left and it came surprisingly naturally to me.  As we started to get near the Lake Tekapo/Mt. Cook area, we were obsessed with the scenery.  We pulled over a number of times to grab photos…it’s hard to believe that this is just the view out the window when you’re driving!

Our adorable cabin in Lake Tekapo, NZ...visiting this area is a must when in New Zealand's South Island

Finally we arrived at our first bach (“batch”, a Kiwi term for little rental), Sawdon Station.  It is the CUTEST.  While not the most modern or glamorous, it had a coffee maker, wine opener, fireplace, and some sweet 70’s decor.  Basically it was perfect and cozy for our first few days in the Southern Hemisphere!

It also had these black velvet skies with diamond stars.  One of the things that drew me to the Lake Tekapo area is that it’s a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, aka no light pollution.  So stargazing is serious business, and we did our part.

We realized how clear of a night it was on our first night there and quickly threw blankets over our shoulders to run outside and take pictures of the stars.

Starry skies in Lake Tekapo, a Dark Sky Reserve...New Zealand's gorgeous Southern Hemisphere stars on display

What we *didn’t* realize was that the sliding glass door automatically locked on the outside, so we’d accidentally locked ourselves out of the house in the middle of nowhere in freezing weather.

Thankfully, we realized that the tiny bathroom window (seriously one of those little rectangular ones) was unlocked and that Enoc was tiny enough to fit through it, so we boosted him up and through.  Thank goodness because there was NO WAY that any of the rest of us could.  So we didn’t freeze to death outside on our first night in New Zealand…

And then there was the famous Lake Tekapo itself.

Inspiration for visiting Lake Tekapo...our cute rental, the aquamarine lake, gorgeous mountains, and so much more. One of New Zealand's beautiful sights, a must-visit!

Inspiration for visiting Lake Tekapo...our cute rental, the aquamarine lake, gorgeous mountains, and so much more. One of New Zealand's beautiful sights, a must-visit!

I took so many pics of those mountains…the clarity of all the valleys, the snow and stone, the way the clouds cast a shadow—it was amazing!

The iconic Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo, NZ. One of the best-known New Zealand landmarks, sitting in front of the aquamarine lake and snow-capped mountains. Inspiration for your visit!

The Church of the Good Shepherd is an iconic building in New Zealand.  It’s not crazy old—built in 1935, the first church in the Mackenzie Basin (but there are older ones in the general area).  I think it’s more famous for its beautiful view than anything else.

Our Lake Tekapo itinerary. One of New Zealand's most famous lakes, with tons of mountains, hiking, stargazing, and other activities in the area to see!

The famous bronze sheepdog goes part and parcel with the chapel, a testament to the role of the sheepdog in the lives of New Zealand settlers.  He’s totally adorable, and so tall and proud.Our Lake Tekapo itinerary. One of New Zealand's most famous lakes, with tons of mountains, hiking, stargazing, and other activities in the area to see!

But the real star is the lake itself.  The intense aquamarine or turquoise color (a milky/solid color, not clear like in the Caribbean) is from glacier minerals suspended in the water.

Lake Tekapo's stunning water and mountain backdrop...this are is a must-visit if you're in the South Island. Make sure not to miss Mt. Cook/Aoraki nearby and stargazing in the Dark Sky Reserve. #newzealand

Lake Tekapo's stunning water and mountain backdrop...this are is a must-visit if you're in the South Island. Make sure not to miss Mt. Cook/Aoraki nearby and stargazing in the Dark Sky Reserve.

We couldn’t have asked for a prettier afternoon to spend by the lake.  I was bummed that we were a little too early for the lupins to be blooming and the lake to be completely full, but it was stunning nonetheless.

Sunrise over the Southern Alps of New Zealand's South Island, near Lake Tekapo...all about our trip to the Lake Tekapo area

Our first morning at our adorable little cabin, I got up early (thank you, 17-hour time difference) and saw how the pink sunrise hit the snow-capped mountains.

Once I showed this to the others, we decided we had to get up for sunrise the next morning.  So we were up in the dark, crawled into the car in our pj’s, and chased the sunrise.

Sunrise in New Zealand's South Island, near Lake Tekapo...all about our trip to the Lake Tekapo area

Sunrise over the Southern Alps of New Zealand's South Island, near Lake Tekapo...all about our trip to the Lake Tekapo area

Quiet, cold New Zealand morning.  Not another soul in sight.  Absolute perfection.

Beautiful view from Mt. John Observatory near Lake Tekapo, New Zealand...this area is a Dark Sky Reserve, so you can book a stargazing tour, or just look at the stars yourself!

On our last day in the area, before heading back to Christchurch to catch a flight, we grabbed lunch and some views at Mt. John Observatory.  It was insanely windy at the top, but as you can see, the clear mountain view is worth it.

We had a lovely coffee and sandwich at the Astro Cafe, which is cute and eccentric.  We kept having to come in out of the wind from taking pictures, because the wind was basically attacking us.

View from Mt. John Observatory near Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

We didn’t have nearly enough time in the Lake Tekapo area, but absolutely loved the couple days we did have.  I’d come back in a heartbeat, and maybe do the official stargazing tour at Mt. John Observatory (and make sure to plan around seeing the lupins!).  You could easily spend a week in just this area, there’s so much to do—but you could say that of most areas in New Zealand 🙂

Other New Zealand Adventures!

Should You Skydive in New Zealand? (Hint: Yes!)

Indulging Our Inner Nerds at Hobbiton

Hiking the Hooker Valley Trail in New Zealand’s South Island

Redwoods & Rainbow Hot Springs in Rotorua

Hiking the Pinchgut Trail in Nelson Lakes National Park

Have you seen the lupins at Lake Tekapo? If so I’m insanely jealous.  What is your New Zealand must-see??

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Visiting Lake Tekapo is a must on any South Island New Zealand trip. Gorgeous milky turquoise water, the famous chapel, clear starry skies, nearby hiking and glacier lake tours--this area has so much to offer. Where we went, where we stayed in Lake Tekapo, NZ.

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