Church of the Good Shepherd with snow mountain background

How to Spend 3 Days in Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mt Cook

Heading for a long weekend trip to Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mt Cook? We've put together the must do's and sees in the Mackenzie Country!

South Island
Walking and Hiking

Half way between Christchurch and Queenstown the Mackenzie Country is not just a stopover on your journey north or south but also a popular holiday destination in its own right.

From alpine lakes to mountain ranges this region has it all!

Day 1 - Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo will amaze you with its stunning turquoise water where the lake water comes all the way from glaciers in the Southern Alps. And yes... even in summer it can be a bit chilly but don’t let that stop you taking a dip!

Start exploring the towns history by strolling over to the Church of the Good Shepherd, this tiny church is world famous for its window overlooking the lake. The church was built as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie region. Since then it has been home to many weddings and seen countless visitors from all over the world.

Close to the church you'll find a bronze sheepdog statue. It was built as a tribute to the hardy sheep dogs making the grazing of the mountainous countryside possible.

If you are feeling energetic head up to Mt John on foot. The walk takes approx. 1.5 hours, at the top you get rewarded with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, lakes and the Mackenzie Basin. Grab a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery!

If you're not feeling up to much exercise you are also able to drive up to the summit and go for a stroll on the Summit Circuit Track (30-45 minutes). There is a road user fee of $8.00 but it's not every day you can drive up a mountain for views like this! 

After an active day you deserve a bit of pampering. Tekapo Springs not only has three outdoor hot pools, a steam room and sauna but also offers massage and beauty treatments in their Day Spa. In winter there is also an ice skating rink and snow tube park... playing on ice and snow has no age limit!

If you’re not too tired it’s worth staying up late to experience the night sky. The region around Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mt Cook was declared the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012. This means light pollution is strictly controlled in the area allowing star gazers to see constellations unique to the Southern Hemisphere, like the Southern Cross.

Just look up after dark to enjoy the night sky for free or join one of Dark Sky Project's informative star gazing and observatory experiences.


Day 2 - Aoraki Mt Cook

No visit to the Mackenzie Region is complete without a stop at Lake Pukaki. The glacier-fed lake has an amazing colour and on a fine day provides a fantastic backdrop for views of the country's highest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook.

The drive through the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park provides plenty more opportunities for photo stops so make sure to take your time. As there are no supermarkets in Aoraki Mt Cook village make sure to stock up on any food supplies in either Tekapo or Twizel before you leave! 

Just before reaching Aoraki Mt Cook village take a turn towards the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Track. This short walk offers views of the lower Tasman Glacier, with a length of 27km New Zealand longest glacier. In summer icebergs can be seen floating in the lake whilst in winter the lake often freezes over. 

From many points in the village you can see Aoraki Mt Cook, also named Cloud Piercer, at over 3,700m it is the highest mountain in New Zealand and dominates the mountain range of the Southern Alps with its triangular shape. The mountain and its neighbouring peaks used to be the alpine playground for one of New Zealand’s most famous sons, Sir Edmund Hillary.

The free of charge Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, located in the Hermitage hotel, provides great insight in the regions’ transport, climbing and hotel history. It’s a great way to pass a couple of hours and learn more about the mountaineering feats of the past time.

There are several short to medium walk options starting in Aoraki Mt Cook Village, all offering stunning views of the mountains and glaciers. Kea Point Track stays relatively flat and brings you to a viewing platform with views of Mount Sefton and Aoraki Mount Cook. If you would like to go higher up, take the challenge to climb the 2200 steps that take you to the freshwater lakes of Sealy Tarn. You are rewarded with sore legs and spectacular views of the Hooker Valley.

The Sealy Tarns mark the halfway point for the more advanced hiking track up to Mueller Hut. This Alpine Hut offers panorama views of the encompassing mountain ranges and needs to be pre-booked all year round. The hike is for experienced and fit people only and in winter should only be attempted by people with mountaineering experience and equipment.


Day 3 - Aoraki Mt Cook

Get up early to avoid the crowds for a walk on the Hooker Valley Track. The 10km return walk isn’t too strenuous but deserves its reputation as one of the best day walks in the country. You'll walk over swing bridges and across tussock valley floors with the towering mountains in the background.

Often avalanches on Mount Sefton can be seen and heard throughout the valley. The walk ends with the amazing views over the iceberg-speckled Hooker Lake and views of Aoraki Mt Cook.


After the early morning exercise treat yourself to a breakfast or lunch at the Old Mountaineers Cafe. The quirky restaurant’s walls are decorated with old school mountaineering and alpine equipment and the food is hearty and filling.

If you don’t feel like walking or scrambling up mountain sides under your own steam why not take the bird’s eye view and jump on a helicopter or ski plane to get up close and personal with the mountains. There are several different options depending on your budget from scenic flights to actual snow landing and walking on the glaciers.

James Mackenzie, the notorious sheep thief who Mackenzie Country is named for, already saw the regions potential not only for sheep mustering (and thieving) but also as a diverse countryside amazing visitors from near and far. Now it's your turn to come and see it for yourself!

Saskia Wohlgemuth

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