Driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: A Roadtrip Guide

Last Updated: 20th September, 2023

One of the most popular road-trips in the South Island of New Zealand is the drive south from the main city of Christchurch to the charming village of Lake Tekapo. This road-trip takes you through some of the most gorgeous scenery that the South Island has to offer, and you know what they say – ‘It’s not about the Destination, it’s about the Journey.‘ (though I would say in this case the destinations pretty great too). In this post, I’m going to cover the best routes to take while driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, as well as some of the best stops to make on your travels! Happy road-trip! 🙂

Views from Mount John, Things to Do in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

The drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is a awesome road-trip through the South Island of New Zealand! Christchurch is the largest city in the Canterbury region of the South Island, and a popular starting-point for a classic kiwi road-trip.

Lake Tekapo is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit on the South Island, and a perfect place to stop for a few days on your way down to the beautiful Queenstown Lakes District. There are plenty of exciting things to do in Lake Tekapo, and I guarantee the scenery will take your breath away! From hiking up Mt John for panorama views, visiting the Church of the Good Shepherd, or just enjoying a coffee overlooking the turquoise lake, it will make for an memorable holiday!

Lake Tekapo Foreshore

From the vibrant city of Christchurch, the route takes you across the golden Canterbury Plains, with views over lush farmland and the stunning Southern Alps. There are a couple of different routes that you can take when driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, each with great spots to explore along the way!

The Direct Route Vs. The Scenic Route

There are actually two different routes that you can choose between when driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo! Following State Highway 1 is the most direct and fastest route at 225 km long, and it should take around 3 hours to drive with no breaks. There are a few places to stop and explore along the way, however this is the best route if you are short on time.

The second route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo is known as the Inland Scenic Route’, and it is perfect to make this road-trip a part of the adventure! This route is around 275 km long, and takes you through some of the stunning back-country before jumping back on State Highway 1 at Geraldine. The Scenic Route offers a lot of places to stop and explore, so you could make this journey into a full day trip. I will go into more detail on the best places to stop on each route below!

Driving, Things to Do in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

The Direct Route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

  • Driving Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
  • Distance: 226 km (140 miles)

The most direct route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo follows the main State Highway 1 south, passing through the smaller cities of Ashburton and Geraldine, before arriving in Lake Tekapo!

5 Best Stops Between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo – The Direct Route

1. Check out the Giant Salmon in Rakaia

  • Time from Christchurch: 50 minutes
  • Distance from Christchurch: 59km
  • Recommended visiting time: 30 minutes

Rakaia is a small town located just south of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand, and is nestled next to the stunning Rakaia River. It is known for its beautiful natural surroundings and outdoor activities – in particular its salmon fishing! When you drive into Rakaia, the first thing you will see is the huge ‘Big Salmon’ statue along the main road. It’s worth a stop and a quick photo opportunity, as well as a chance to pick up that vital road-trip coffee and cake at the amazing Salmon Tales Cafe right across the road.

Rakaia RIver, driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, roadtrip guide

Fun Fact: The Rakaia Bridge is the longest road bridge in the Southern Hemisphere at 1757 meters!

Location: 9 Railway Terrace East, Rakaia 7710

2. Visit the renowned Trotts Garden | Ashburton

  • Time from Christchurch: 1 hour
  • Distance from Christchurch: 88 km
  • Recommended visiting time: 1 hour

Trott’s Garden is a well-known and beautiful garden located in the town of Ashburton, around an hours drive from Christchurch. This is a private garden that was originally established in the 1970s, and has grown over the years to cover around 6 acres!

Trotts garden in ashburton, driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, roadtrip guide
©2023 Trott’s Garden

Trott’s Garden is renowned for its diverse collection of plants, including beautiful trees and flowers. The garden is designed with different ‘rooms’, each with its own theme – including a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and a water garden. It’s a lovely and relaxing place to wander around, and perfect to stretch those legs after being stuck in a car!

Location: 371 Racecourse Road, Ashburton

3. Wander around Charming Town of Geraldine

  • Time from Christchurch: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Distance from Christchurch: 138 km
  • Recommended visiting time: 1 hour

Geraldine is a delightful town that often serves as a popular rest stop for travelers driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. It offers a variety of attractions and amenities, and the main street is fantastic for a look through the local shops! There are also a number of boutique shops and galleries that showcase handmade crafts and gourmet products – I highly recommend popping into the Geraldine Cheese Company while you’re there!

For a bit of nature, you can take a short walk in the Talbot Forest Scenic Reserve, located just next to the town center. Its a super peaceful spot, with a few walking trails and picnic benches dotted around the park.

Location: Tripp Street, Geraldine

4. Try a Famous Fairlie Pie!

  • Time from Christchurch: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • Distance from Christchurch: 183km
  • Recommended visiting time: 30 minutes

Now, if you’re going to have the complete kiwi road-trip experience, then you just have to stop and pick up classic kiwi pie… and where better than one of the best bakeries in New Zealand? Right in the heart of the tiny town of Fairlie is the famous Fairlie Bakehouse, who make some of the best pies in the country! They have a constantly changing selection made with fantastic local ingredients, making for a truly superb pie.

Bacon and salmon pie from Fairlie Bakehouse, driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Location: Fairlie Bakehouse, 74 Main Street, Fairlie

5. Explore Burkes Pass

  • Time from Christchurch: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Distance from Christchurch: 204 km
  • Recommended visiting time: 1 hour

Located halfway between Fairlie and Lake Tekapo is the charming, historic village of Burkes Pass! If you’ve never been here before, it will definitely leave you pleasantly surprised – this tiny village is filled to the brim with American retro-collectables, artwork, classic cars, and a historic 1950s service station can be found!

© 2023 Mackenzie Region New Zealand

The Three Creeks is a memorable, unique shopping experience in the heart of the Mackenzie Country! The shops at Three Creeks are housed historic stores – including a General Store, a 1950’s Service Station, a Blacksmiths Shop, and a Trading Store. These stores are filled with incredible arts and crafts, as well as a variety of retro and classic car memorabilia. It’s awesome to have a look around through the unique collection, as well as making a stop at the Retro Coffee Caravan while you’re there!

© 2023 Mackenzie Region New Zealand

Location: 2119 Fairlie-Tekapo Road, Burkes Pass, Canterbury

The Inland Scenic Route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

  • Driving Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Distance: 275 km (171 miles)

If you are looking to make more of an adventure out of your drive between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo, then may I suggest travelling the slightly-longer-by-far-more-interesting ‘Inland Scenic Route’. This route is only slightly longer in driving time, but makes for a much more beautiful and interesting drive!

Rakaia Gorge, driving from christchurch to rakaia along the scenic route

This route skips Rakaia and Ashburton altogether, and instead heads inland, past the stunning Rakaia Gorge and through Mount Somers. The drive takes you around the base of the Southern Alps, giving you incredible mountain views the whole drive! This route then joins back up with the Direct Route in Geraldine, and follows the SH72

5 Best Stops Between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo – The Scenic Route

1. Hike to Washpen Falls

  • Time from Christchurch: 1 hour 2 minutes
  • Distance from Christchurch: 82 km
  • Recommended visiting time: 2 – 3 hours

The Washpen Falls Track is an amazing hidden gem, only an hours drive from Christchurch! This track travels through a canyon formed by an ancient volcano, filled with lush native bush. The loop track takes around 2 hours, and passes waterfalls, caves, and offers panoramic views of the Canterbury Plains!

2. Admire the Magnificent Rakaia Gorge

  • Time from Christchurch: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Distance from Christchurch: 87 km
  • Recommended visiting time: 30 minutes – 4 hours

One of the most scenic spots you will pass on the Inland Scenic Route is the breathtaking Rakaia Gorge! As you descend into the valley from Windwhistle, the landscape will open up in front of you, with views over the vibrant Rakaia River and the snow-capped Southern Alps in the distance. There is an amazing photo opportunity and lookout spot as you drive down the hill – just make sure there are no cars behind you as you pull over!

Rakaia Gorge Walkway

One of the best ways to explore the Rakaia Gorge is to set out along the beautiful Rakaia Gorge Walkway – a half-day hiking trail that follows the river banks, with incredible views over the towering limestone cliffs and vibrant blue water that makes this place special!

3. Hit the Slopes at Mt Hutt

  • Time from Christchurch: 1 hour 47 minutes
  • Distance from Christchurch: 113 km
  • Recommended visiting time: At least a day!

Just around the corner from the Rakaia Gorge is Mt Hutt – one of the best ski fields in New Zealand! If you are planning on road-tripping the South Island during winter, then this is definitely a must-visit destination on your way down to Lake Tekapo!

Mt Hutt is a snow-lovers paradise, with a variety of slopes that cater to both beginners and advanced enthusiasts. There are amazing facilities, rental equipment, and ski schools available, meaning that you can spend a day or a week on the mountain. One of my favourite parts of skiing at Mt Hutt is the insane views from the slopes over the surrounding mountains and Canterbury Plains – its just something you don’t want to miss!

4. Explore the Ashburton Lakes

  • Time from Christchurch: 1 hour 40 minutes drive
  • Distance from Christchurch: 146 km
  • Recommended visiting time: An afternoon – A day!

If you’re looking to get out into the wilderness for a day or two on your way to Lake Tekapo, then an awesome place to spend a day on the drive is around the Ashburton Lakes! This is a group of stunning lakes in the middle of the golden Canterbury grasslands, and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

The lakes that make up the Ashburton Lakes region include Lake Heron, Lake Clearwater, Lake Camp, and Lake Emma. These beautiful bodies of water are surrounded by incredible alpine landscape and tussock grasslands, making for breathtaking scenery.

Ashburton Lakes, stopping point while driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

The area around these lakes is filled with cool outdoorsy stuff to do! The lakes themselves are fantastic places to swim and to go boating, and there are many walking and hiking trails that wind through the area. There are also a couple of rustic camping grounds in the area, so if you fancy taking it slow and spending some time in the area, you can pitch up your tent right by the lakefront!

5. Walk to the Waterfalls in Peel Forest

  • Time from Christchurch: 2 hours
  • Distance from Christchurch: 167 km
  • Recommended visiting time: 1-2 hours

Peel Forest Scenic Reserve is an ancient native forest located just north of the charming town of Geraldine in Canterbury. Stepping into the cool shade of this forest is like taking a step back in time to when New Zealand was untouched. Throughout the forest, there are a number of towering ancient totara trees, with some that are thought to be around 1,000 years old!

There is a number of small walks and hiking trails that wind their way through the forest, ranging from short trips to half-day hikes into the bush. A popular walk through the Peel Forest is the Big Tree Walk – a 30 minute return walk that takes you to the base of one of these forest giants. There are also a couple of beautiful waterfalls hidden within the dense bush, with the Emily Falls and Rata Falls Tracks leading you to their base.

FAQs: Driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

How far is Lake Tekapo from Christchurch, and how long does the drive take?

Lake Tekapo is approximately 225 kilometers southwest of Christchurch. The drive typically takes around 2.5 to 3.5 hours, depending on road conditions and stops along the way.

Is there any specific road condition or weather consideration I should be aware of?

Do you need snow chains to drive to Lake Tekapo?

Is it worth visiting Lake Tekapo?

How long should I spend at Lake Tekapo?

Is Lake Tekapo swimmable?

What’s special about Lake Tekapo?

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