Mt John Tekapo

Exploring the Magnificent Mt John, Tekapo

Last Updated: 8th September, 2023

Lake Tekapo is a small town nestled in the heart of Canterbury’s Mackenzie Country, in New Zealand’s South Island. It is a popular tourist destination, renowned for its stunning turquoise water, vivid fields of lupins, and magnificent alpine surroundings. One of the best spots to visit is the iconic Mt John, a mountain beside the lake that gives incredible panoramic views, as well as offering a number of memorable activities! Here is all you need to know about visiting Mt John, Tekapo.

view of Mt John, Tekapo

Whether you are spending some time in Lake Tekapo, or are just passing through on your travels around the South Island of New Zealand, there are a bunch of cool things to do to suit your time frame and budget. One of the best ways to get the most out of Lake Tekapo is to do one (or all!) of the short walks around the area! These walks give you incredible views, and take you past some of the highlights!

Mount John in a Nutshell

Mt John is an iconic feature of the Lake Tekapo Village, rising majestically above the lake to an elevation of 1,031 meters (3,383 feet) above sea level. This mountain offers many different experiences, from gorgeous hiking tracks with stunning views over Lake Tekapo, as well as an Observatory and Cafe atop the summit. Its prominence in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve makes it one of the world’s premier stargazing locations.

6 Fun Things to Do around Mt John, Tekapo

1. Visit the Mt John Tekapo Observatory

Right on the summit of Mt John is the renowned Mt John Observatory. Operated by the University of Canturbury, this observatory plays a vital role in astronomical research and education. It is also a world-famous experience for visitors to have the chance to peer deep into outer space!

Mt john Observatory up mt john, tekapo

Mt John is in the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which is the largest dark sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere! A ‘Dark Sky Reserve‘ is an area with controlled light pollution, making the night sky around this observatory one of the clearest in the world! This allows astronomers and stargazers to observe stars, planets and far-away galaxies with incredible clarity!

Getting to the Mt John Observatory

From Tekapo, there is a short 15-minute drive that will take you up Mt John and to the Mt John Car Park, which is right beside the observatory! From Lake Tekapo Village, follow State Highway 8 west out of town, before turning right onto Godley Peaks Road and following it around the base of the mountain. From here, take a right onto Mt John Observatory Access Road, which zig zags its way up until you reach the car park. Be prepared to take it slow (as it can get quite busy) and take in the incredible views along the way!

Drive up to Mt John, Tekapo

Note: There is a road user fee of $8 per vehicle (payable at the gate by cash or card) to cover the maintenance costs.

Mt John Access Road Opening Hours

  • Friday – Monday: 10 am – 4:30pm
  • Closed on Tuesday to Thursday

The road closure and fee does limit your time up the mountain, but the views are definitely worth the price! However, if you have a couple of hours to spend and fancy getting in a little exercise at the same time, you can always park at the base of Mt John and follow one of the walking trails up to the summit instead! (see more on these walks below!)

2. Join a Stargazing Tour

One of the coolest things to do at Mt John (and definitely one of the most unique!) is to join an exclusive stargazing tour at the Mt John Tekapo Observatory. Their expert astronomy guides share the science and stories of the night sky while you look though a range of telescopes, including in their private observatory dome. During the tour, you have the chance to see the Milky Way, far off planets, star clusters, solar systems, and even distant galaxies!

What to Expect during the Mt John Summit Experience

  • Tour Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Price: $159 per adult
  • Tour Time: Various times throughout the year depending on time of sunset!
  • Note: This tour is best on a clear night, and not during a full moon

These tours are run in the evening, after sunset, so that you get the clearest view of the incredible night sky without any light pollution! The tours typically run for a couple of hours, and start at the Dark Sky Project Base, located in Lake Tekapo Village. After getting ready and supplied with a ECW (extreme cold weather!) jacket, the tour guides will take you up to the Observatory at the summit of Mt John. Here, they will guide you through using the incredible telescopes, allowing you to see all the wonders of the night sky in the Southern Hempishere. How neat!

3. Hike to the summit of Mt John, Tekapo

There are a number of awesome walks up and around Mt John that cater to all levels of hikers! These walks are some of my favourite in the country, offering incredible views over the stunning Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains.

Walk to Mt John Summit

  • Walking Time: 1 hour
  • Walking Distance: 2.2 km
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy hike along well maintained paths, with a steady climb

This short hike takes you from the base of Mt John right the way up to the summit. The walk begins at the carpark beside the Lake Tekapo Hot Springs, and heads into the thick pine forest. The track is well maintained and easy walking, though it is a steady climb up the side of the mountain! There are a couple of rest stops along the way, including benches with incredible views over Lake Tekapo Village and the surrounding countryside. After about an hour, the track leaves the tree-line, and continues up through open tussock landscape. From here, you can see over the beautiful Mackenzie Basin and vivid-turquoise Tekapo Canal.

From here, a short series of steps lead you up the last little push until you reach the summit of Mt John! If you would prefer not to take the steps, you can follow the path to the right, which loops around gently until you reach the top. Congrats, you made it! Now sit back and soak up those breath-taking views!

view of tekapo from the summit of Mt John, Tekapo

Mt John Peninsular Walkway

  • Walking Time: 2 hours
  • Walking Distance: 6 km
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy walk along a well-maintained path
walkway down Mt John, Tekapo

This walkway begins at the same car park, but takes you on a slightly longer (and less steep) track up to the summit of Mt John. From the Tekapo Springs Car Park, follow the track to right around the lakefront. This track has a gentle climb through grassy tussock fields, with incredible views over the lake and the surrounding mountains. On a hot day (if you’re feeling brave!) you can even pop down onto the lakefront for a quick dip before continuing on your way.

After a while, the track doubles back and begins to climb up the northern slopes of Mt John, until it reaches the Mt John Summit Track. From here, it is a short walk to get to the lookout!

If you don’t want to return the same way, it’s a cool idea to create a loop track, heading down the mountain along the Mt John Summit Track (or vise verse)!

Mt John Summit Loop Track

  • Walking Time: 25 minutes
  • Walking Distance: 1.5km
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy hike for any fitness level, along a relatively flat and well-maintained path.
walking down Mt John, Tekapo

This path begins at the Mount John Car Park, and follows a loop around the summit of Mount John. This is a fantastic walk to do if you are short on time, as it gives you breath-taking views over Lake Tekapo Village, Lake Alexandra, and the majestic mountains surrounding the area. This walkway is well maintained and mostly flat, meaning that it is a good option for families!

Location: Mount John Car Park, at the end of Mount John Access Road

4. Grab a coffee at the Astro Café

Now, if your’re anything like me, any morning adventure is not complete unless it involves a delicious cup of coffee! Luckily, even up at the top of Mt John I can get my fix! The Astro Cafe has quite possibly got one of the best locations for a cafe in the world, with panoramic views of the Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo right from its doorstep! This cafe is fantastic, serving up awesome coffees, as well as delicious cabinet food – perfect for that after walk snack!

Location: End of Mount John Observatory Access Road, next to the observatory.

5. Soak in the Hot Pools at the base of Mt John, Tekapo

After a day of walking up a mountain, there is no better way to relax and rejuvenate than to take a dip in the hot pools right at the base!

Natural Thermal Pools

Tekapo Springs offers 3 gorgeous hot pools of different temperatures, each filled from a natural underground source, making the water exceptionally pure. These pools are unique, designed after each of the Mackenzie region‘s iconic lakes, with incredible views over the brilliant blue of Lake Tekapo and the slopes of Mt John, Tekapo.

There is an adult-only pool, as well as a cooler pool and aqua play area, making it perfect for both a relaxing retreat and a family activity. Tekapo Springs also offers a number of spa treatments, including massages, facials, and beauty treatments. Bliss!

Star Gazing

For a unique and memorable experience that combines two of the highlights of Mt John, Tekapo Springs offers the ultimate hot pool and star gazing tour! This is an incredible opportunity to enjoy exclusive use of the 38.5℃ hot pool after dark, while a knowlegable guide introduces you to Tekapo’s incredible starry night sky through astronomy and storytelling.

night sky near mt john, tekapo

Location: 300 Lakeside Drive, Lake Tekapo

6. Explore Mt John on Horseback

For a more exhilarating experience around Mt John, Tekapo, then why not explore it on horseback! Mackenzie Alpine Horse Treks offers a number of incredible treks for all skill levels, making it perfect for beginners and children. They have a number of different treks available, from a short-but-sweet half an hour easy ride through the pine forest at the base of Mt John. If you are looking for more adventurous experience, you can join an incredible 2.5 hour loop around the northern end of the mountain, leading up to a high vantage point with breathtaking views of the Alps and Lake Tekapo.

Location: Godley Peaks Road, Mt John, Tekapo

Thank you for reading my post on visiting the incredible Mt John in Tekapo! Hiking up Mt John and having a coffee while soaking up the view has been a tradition in my family since we were young, and I hope that this post inspires you to do the same! Happy Travels!

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