View from mt john summit, short walks in Lake Tekapo

Beautiful Short Walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Last Updated: 8th September, 2023

Lake Tekapo has always been one of my favourite places to visit in New Zealand. Located in the Mackenzie Basin in the Canterbury region, only a short drive from the major city of Christchurch and the Mount Cook National Park, this charming town is packed with things to do and see! The highlight of Lake Tekapo is its stunning, vivid turquoise lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and the best way to see this amazing scenery is getting out and going for a walk. Here are the best short walks in Lake Tekapo, and I guarantee they will take your breath away!

Mt John Summit, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

If you have some time in Lake Tekapo, and want to check out some of the other awesome things you can do while you’re there, why don’t you check out my post on the Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo here!

The 6 Best Short Walks in Lake Tekapo!

1. The Lake Tekapo Foreshore Walk

  • Walking Time: 1 hour
  • Walk Distance: 3.75 km one-way
  • Trail Difficulty: Easy walk along a flat, well-maintained path

If you have just arrived, the Foreshore Walk is one of the best short walks in Lake Tekapo you can do to take in the stunning scenery and see some of the towns highlights! This beautiful maintained walkway travels along the foreshore of Lake Tekapo, stretching from the base of Mt John (beside the Tekapo Springs hot pools) to the famous Church of the Good Shepard. Along the way, the path will take you near the heart of Lake Tekapo Village, filled with cafes, restaurants, and a variety of other shops that are great to explore!

Lake Tekapo foreshore, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Trail Description

The walk begins along the main street of Tekapo, and follows the highway out of town and across the dam. I love to stop here and watch the water running down the river, or (if the dam is closed) you might even see some fish swimming about! From here, turn down Pioneer Drive, where you should get your first glimpse of the Church of the Good Shepherd. This iconic church is one of the most famous landmarks of Lake Tekapo, and for good reason. With gorgeous stone work and the most incredible view over the lake, its one of the highlights of Tekapo – so get your camera ready! While you’re here, also remember to check out the beautiful Sheepdog Memorial.

Church of the good shepherd, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

After a wander around the church, the trail doubles back and continues across the Maclaren Footbridge. This bridge has been newly built, and give you incredible views over the lake and the vivid turquoise water below.

The trail then follows Domain Road around the foreshore of Lake Tekapo. This is a gravel road but is quite flat and easy walking. Soon you will see a walkway branching off to the right of the road, continuing along the foreshore. This track is wide and beautiful, with incredible views over the lake and surrounded by Lake Tekapo lupins during the summer months!

lupins, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Finally, the track loops around the edge of Lake Tekapo, past a playground and the small lakeside pine forest. There are some toilets here, and it’s a beautiful place to sit on the stones and soak up that view! Or, if you’re desperate for a coffee, you can continue on to the Tekapo Springs, where they have a lovely cafe overlooking the lake!

2. Mount John Summit Track

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

This walk is a fantastic short walk in Lake Tekapo that takes you all the way to the summit of Mt John! The trail is well-maintained, with a slow-but-steady climb through the thick pine forest and out into the open tussock landscape at the top of Mt John. This is an awesome half-day activity for families, with a cafe and seating area at the top allowing you to soak up the incredible panoramic views over Lake Tekapo Village and the surrounding snow-capped mountains.

Lake Tekapo from Mt John Summit, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Trail Description

This walk begins at the car park near to the Tekapo Springs, and heads up behind the hot pool complex into the dense pine forest that covers this slope of Mt John. This trail is wide and smooth, with a gentle incline that is manageable for all fitness levels. The path zig-zags up through the forest, where you will find a couple of benches well placed for a rest-stop. These benches are cleverly places near gaps in the trees, where suddenly you will have incredible views over Lake Tekapo and the surrounding Mackenzie District!

View from Mt John Summit, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

After around 40-minutes, the track leaves the tree-line and emerges into a landscape of tussock grasses. The trail begins to head straight up the slope, with the last little uphill before you reach the summit! There is another bench here, which give you amazing views over the Lake Tekapo Canal and the Mackenzie Basin. Its a good place to stop and have a sip of water, before the last climb up a few steps until you reach the summit! Here, you can have a sit and soak up the incredible views with a coffee and snack from the Astro Cafe, before having a wander around the famous Mt John Observatory!

The area around Mt John is filled with awesome things to do, including a number of walks, relaxing in the gorgeous hot pools, and even stargazing! For a complete guide on exploring Mt John, check out my post here!

3. Mt John Lakefront Walkway

  • Walking Time: 2 hours
  • Walk Distance: 6 km
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy walk along a well-maintained path, with a gentle slope

This walkway offers a different route up to the summit of Mt John, with breath-taking views of Lake Tekapo along the way! This walk is a good option if you are looking for a slightly longer walk up to the Mt John Observatory, as well as the chance to see the lake from a different perspective.

Handy Hint: This is an awesome walk to do as a loop-track with the shorter Mt John Summit Track, as they begin and end in the same locations!

short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Trail Description

This walkway begins, similarly to the shorter Mt John Summit Track, at the car park at Tekapo Springs. This walkway continues on from the end of Lakeside Drive, heading around the western edge of Lake Tekapo. The track begins by heading through a small forested section, before quickly heading into open tussock. Make sure to bring a sun-hat, as there is very little shade on this route! The gravel path is wide and smooth, making for easy walking along the lakefront.

Mt John walkway, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo in the winter is a wonderland!

This trail gives you incredible views over Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains, as well as the chance to pop down to a more secluded bit of beach for a dip (if you’re feeling brave!). This is also a popular path for mountain bikers, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled as you go.

Mt John walkway, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
View over the northern end of Lake Tekapo

After a hour or so, the track begins to curve around to the left, and begin it’s climb up the northern slopes of Mt John. This is a relatively gentle climb through tussock and farmland, with a couple of benches along the way offering a place to rest those legs and take in the incredible views! The track soon joins with the Mount John Summit Loop Track, and finishes at the cafe.

4. Cowan’s Hill Walkway

  • Walking Time: 1 hour 45 miutes
  • Walk Distance: 6 km
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy walk with a gentle hill in the back-country of Lake Tekapo

This is a lovely little short walk through the beautiful landscapes behind Lake Tekapo Village! It is an easy walk, with a mix of gravel and forest paths that are smooth and well-maintained. This walk takes you through a mix of landscapes, beginning at the lakefront and heading up onto the open tussock land of Cowan’s Hill, before dropping down and gently winding its way through young pine forest and emerging at the stunning Tekapo River.

cowans hill walkway, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Cowan’s Hill with a view of Mount John

Trail Description

The Cowan’s Hill Walk in Lake Tekapo takes you through a diverse landscape of alpine meadows, tussock grassland, and along the stunning rocky lakefront. The trail head is conveniently located near to the Church of the Good Shepherd, one of the most iconic landmarks in the area!

From here, you can follow the trail over the Tekapo Dam and along the banks of Tekapo River. This area is amazing, with constantly changing scenery – one day it will be a dry, rocky riverbed, and the next it will be filled with the brilliant blue, fast-flowing water. The path picks its way along the cliff, before turning left into a newly-planted pine forest. The path is narrow and winds its way though the beautiful forest, with stunning views over the golden Mackenzie Basin.

cowans hill walkway, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Finally, the trail heads over a stile and onto open tussock, past a cluster of small tarns. These tarns provide an excellent haven for birds, including the endangered black stilt, and is a perfect place to birdwatch! From here, the path winds its way gently up Cowan’s Hill to the lookout. This lookout gives you stunning views over Lake Tekapo from the higher vantage point, as well as behind into the stunning backcountry. There is a seating area at the lookout, perfect for a small rest and possibly a snack before continuing on your journey!

cowans hill walkway, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Note: This walk can be completed as a loop (see map) following the path along the lakefront, however this does involve a small walking section along the highway after Cowan’s Hill. If you would prefer to avoid this, the walk can be down as a lovely out-and-back, beginning at the Tekapo Dam and heading to the Cowan’s Hill Lookout.

5. Pines Beach Walkway

  • Walking Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Walk Distance: 6 km
  • Trail Difficulty: Easy hike, great for any fitness level

This is one of the easiest walks in Lake Tekapo, and offers some incredible (and often much less touristy!) views over the lake from the eastern shores, before diving into the cool and peaceful Tekapo Regional Park.

Pines Beach in the Snow!

Trail Description

This walk usually begins at the Church of the Good Shepherd, however you can also begin from the car park just on the other side of the footbridge! After crossing the footbridge, follow the road around until you reach the Church of the Good Shepherd, and have a peak inside at the stunning architecture and views!

Church of the Good Shepherd, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

From here, a small pathway will branch off the footpath, and gently winds its way along the stunning Lake Tekapo foreshore until it approaches the forested area that leads to Pines Beach. The gravel track is well maintained and flat, making it an easy walk with incredible scenery! The trail meanders a short way through the trees, before emerging at the rocky and beautiful Pines Beach. This beach is not commonly visited by tourists, and so gives you the opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous view in peace and quiet!

From Pines Beach, you can either wander back along the lakefront the way you came, or follow some of the paths through the Tekapo Regional Park, and create a loop before joining back up at the foreshore and heading back to the church.

6. Sawdon Station Trail | Lagoon Track

  • Walking Time: 2.5 hours return
  • Walk Distance: Full Loop – 8.5km
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy but stony track with panoramic views in all directions!

This trail begins in the gorgeous Tekapo Regional Park, before heading out into the gorgeous Mackenzie Basin in a fantastic loop track.

Sawdon Station Trail, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Trail Description

This stunning loop track travels through the stunning back country behind Lake Tekapo Regional Park, walking through the golden tussock the Mackenzie Region is known for. This track is named the Sawdon Station Trail as it passes through the Sawdon Station, a unique high country sheep station that has farmed Merino sheep since 1857!

History of the Mackenzie Basin

Sheep farming has a long history in the Mackenzie Region of New Zealand. In fact, it is named after a Scottish shepherd and explorer named James Mackenzie! In 1855, James Mackenzie and his dog, Friday, were accused of sheep theft in the South Canterbury area, which is now part of the Mackenzie District. The story goes that Mackenzie and his dog managed to steal around 1,000 sheep from a local sheep station. They drove the sheep inland and hid them in the vast, remote high-country landscape of the South Island. Eventually, Mackenzie and his dog were captured, and he was put on trial for sheep theft. His daring escapade and the subsequent trial garnered significant attention in New Zealand, and lead to the area being known as the Mackenzie District!

Lagoon at Sawdon Station Trail, short walks in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

This trail is popular with both mountain bikers and walkers, however is often very quite, as it is a little distance from Tekapo Town. The walk leads to a beautiful lagoon in the high country, with panoramic views of the Mackenzie Basin and the surrounding hills throughout the walk!

Location: Tekapo Regional Park

Thank you for reading my post on the best short walks in Lake Tekapo! This area is truly incredible, with stunning scenery no matter what time of year you happen to visit! Happy Travels! 🙂

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