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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart

YOUR GUIDE TO LAKE TEKAPO SOUTH ISLAND PHOTO SPOTS


Guide to Lake Tekapo South Island Photo Spots Blog

Lake Tekapo in the South Island of New Zealand is one of the most beautiful locations for landscape photography year round. Nestled amidst the rugged grandeur of the Southern Alps, the bright blue and turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and surrounding alpine tundra make this spot a New Zealand Must Do for anyone wanting to enjoy incredible scenery and take home beautiful photos.


Godley Valley River Braids Tekapo
Godley Valley River Braids Tekapo

I have lost count how many times I have visited Lake Tekapo in the South Island for photography, but there is most definitely a good reason for returning time and time again. During the spring time the Russell Lupins transform the landscape into shades of purple, pink, yellow, and orange with incredible flowers and backdrops of mountains that make it the perfect place to visit. During the winter the snow covered Southern Alps accompanied with the blue waters of the lake give a crisp cool feel to your photos, and during Autumn the surrounding Mackenzie Region sees the changing of the seasons create that beautiful colour combo of blue and gold.


After so many visits to Lake Tekapo it was about time to write a Guide to Lake Tekapo South Island Photo Spots so that you can all experience them as well!


In this blog you will find all the information you need about where to go, what to shoot, what's the best time and how to get there. If it's your first time visiting be prepared for beautiful big mountains and a tranquil little town right by the lake. If you're a returning visitor hopefully you might find something new to discover in my Guide to Lake Tekapo below.


NZ prints and canvas
 

CONTENTS


Lake Tekapo South Island during winter

 

GETTING TO LAKE TEKAPO SOUTH ISLAND


CHRISTCHURCH TO LAKE TEKAPO


Getting from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo a beautiful little journey through the heart of New Zealand's South Island. The drive is approximately 225km and the most common and convenient route is from Christchurch along State Highway 1, and then merging onto State Highway 79 just before Geraldine.


Continuing the journey through diverse landscapes of rolling farmlands and charming rural towns, the road unfolds into the great expanse of the Canterbury Plains. As you traverse further, the road heads into the magnificent Southern Alps guiding you through the stunning Mackenzie Basin, where you will drive into Lake Tekapo and into mountain amazingness!


QUEENSTOWN TO LAKE TEKAPO


The distance between Queenstown and Lake Tekapo spans approximately 256 kilometers and the scenic drive offers an unforgettable passage through some of New Zealand's most captivating vistas.


The most common route follows State Highway 6, leading northeast from Queenstown, tracing the shores of Lake Wakatipu before reaching the charming town of Cromwell. From there, the journey continues along State Highway 8, winding through the rugged splendor of the Lindis Pass, adorned with tussock covered hills and vast panoramas that gradually transition into the expansive Mackenzie Basin. If you've got time be sure to stop at Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel, and Lake Pukaki at Mount Cook for some photos.


The sight of Lake Tekapo against the backdrop of the Southern Alps will emerge and then it will be the start to your adventure in Tekapo.

 

LAKE TEKAPO ACCOMMODATION


In Lake Tekapo you'll find a wide range of accommodation options, from camp grounds to beautiful resorts, all designed to enhance your experience in this amazing mountain town.


LAKE TEKAPO CAMPING


The Lakes Edge Holiday Park is a great place to stay especially if you are self driving or in a campervan. Accommodation options range from ensuite cabins, motels, family units, and camping and motorhome powered and non powered sites.


The amazing Tekapo Springs Hotpools is within walking distance from the campground and this site is in such close proximity to Lake Tekapo (right in front of you) I would highly recommend booking here for your stay.


Freedom camping is prohibited in the Lake Tekapo area.


LAKE TEKAPO MOTELS


If you want to splash out a little and experience a bit of luxury then from personal experience Peppers Blue Water Resort is a beautiful place to stay. Onsite bar and restaurant, lovely rooms and close to the Tekapo shops, I have only ever had good experiences here.


For information on other motels in the area check out the Lake Tekapo website.

NZ Travel Map and Guide
 

YOUR GUIDE TO LAKE TEKAPO SOUTH ISLAND PHOTO SPOTS


Three lakes Godley Valley Tekapo
Aerial image over the Three lakes, Godley Valley, Tekapo at sunrise
 

THE CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD LAKE TEKAPO


The Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo would have to be one of the most famous New Zealand photo locations and definitely the most popular at Lake Tekapo, but it is all for good reason.


Nestled against the backdrop of the pristine Lake Tekapo and framed by the majestic Southern Alps, the Church of the Good Shepherd stands as an iconic and picturesque landmark, with its charming rustic allure and stunning surroundings. Its simplistic beauty, adorned with a quaint stone exterior and a mesmerizing view of the lake and mountains, creates an idyllic scene that is both serene and awe inspiring.


Astrophotography enthusiasts flock to the Lake Tekapo and official Dark Sky Reserve especially during winter when the milkyway core is visible in the sky. The fact that it lines up directly behind the church creating one of the most iconic New Zealand milkyway shots is just an added bonus to this location.


The Church of the Good Shepherd works well at both sunrise and sunset golden hours when the light is not so harsh and the sky is starting to turn those beautiful shades of pink and orange. I would suggest going at sunrise however if you want to avoid the crowds.


Photo Tip: Shoot on your wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and best during golden hours at sunrise and sunset. Create a stitched panorama for astrophotography to expand the scene.



The view of the Church of the Good Shepherd from the other side of the footbridge is beautiful especially during winter and spring season. You will need your zoom lens to shoot from this location as it is a few hundred metres from the Church across the footbridge.

 

CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD TEKAPO LUPINS


During lupin season (November to December) the Church of the Good Shepherd is the perfect location for an iconic New Zealand landscape shot with the added colour of the flowers.


This time is probably the busiest time of the year in Tekapo for photography with a lot of tourists hoping to get a selfie with the lupins. You will need to be patient with people and let others enjoy the Church who aren't there specifically for landscape photography and just to enjoy the scenery.


Again I would advise showing up for sunrise rather than sunset to avoid the crowds.


NZ Prints and Canvas
 

GODLEY VALLEY AND FLIGHT OVER TEKAPO WITH AIR SAFARIS


The Grand Traverse flight with Air Safaris Tekapo is a spectacular experience with incredible views of the Aoraki Mt Cook and its surrounding glaciers, The Godley Valley, The West Coast and all the rivers and alpine valleys in between.


Three lakes Godley Valley Tekapo
The view over the Three lakes, Godley Valley, Tekapo (ISO100, F8, 1/500sec,24mm)

I first flew with Air Safaris Tekapo in 2016 at sunrise during the spring time and it was a beautiful season to fly because the mountains still had some of their winter snow which created amazing contrast with the dark of the rocks and the whiteness of the snow.


Godley Valley River Braids Tekapo
Godley Valley River Braids Tekapo (ISO320, F9, 1/500sec, 70mm)

The view of the three lakes at the head of the Godley Valley is an absolute bucketlist shot and is still one of my favourite photos to date. Up close views of Mount Cook are a once in a lifetime opportunity and I came off this flight absolutely buzzing and in awe of what I had just witnessed.


River Braids Tekapo Godley Valley
River Braids leading into the Godley Valley Tekapo (ISO100, F9, 1/500sec, 38mm)

Photo Tip: I would see if you can get up in the air at sunrise or golden hours on the Grand Traverse flight (where these pictures were taken) and take your wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) as well as a zoom lens (eg. 70 - 200mm) for more abstract (river braid etc) imagery. Be sure to set a high ISO if you're going at up sunrise and a fast shutter speed (1/500 at least), then adjust your ISO as it gets lighter and the sun rises higher in the sky.


Sunrise Godley Valley Tekapo
Sunrise over the Godley Valley (ISO500, F7.1, 1/800sec, 35mm)
 

LAKE TEKAPO FORESHORE


The Lake Tekapo Foreshore in front of the Church of the Good Shepherd and also across the footbridge on the other side a beautiful spot to take photos of the lake water, rocks and surrounding mountains. On a windy day when the lake is rough and creates waves it's a fun challenge to take some long exposure wave shots and not get wet!


During the New Zealand lupin season this part of the foreshore is transformed into a colourful wonderland of pink, blue, purple, yellow, orange and well ... every colour of the rainbow! This is result of the flowering Russell Lupin perennials that were introduced to New Zealand in the 1940s.


It isn't always guaranteed that the lupins will be there every year, but you will usually find patches of lupins along the foreshore even when it isn't a big year for the flowers. With the beautiful blue lake in the background and surrounding mountains, its an absolute winner.


Photo tip: These spots are best at golden hours at sunrise and sunset and take your wide angle (eg. 16-35mm) and mid range zoom lens (24-70mm).

 

LAKE TEKAPO NEAR TEKAPO SPRINGS CARPARK


For a slightly different view of the lake than the foreshore in front of the Church, you can drive (or walk) down to Tekapo Springs carpark and walk along the foreshore or the Lake Tekapo Town Tracks down the left hand side of the lake.


Lake Tekapo Springs carpark snow
Lake Tekapo from the Tekapo Springs carpark end during winter

The view from this side of Lake Tekapo looks towards the Roundhill Ski Field and the surrounding mountains, and is particularly magical during winter.


Lake Tekapo sunset winter
Lake Tekapo at sunset from the Tekapo Springs carpark end during winter

During Spring there are often lupins growing in this area which also make for a stunning photo with the bright blue water and looking the other way at the trees in the background.


Lake Tekapo Lupin field
Lupins growing near the Lake Tekapo Springs Carpark during Springtime (ISO100, F14, 1/100sec, 20mm)

Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and best during golden hours at sunrise and sunset.

 

LAKE TEKAPO LUPINS


As mentioned, every year from November through December there are a few special locations in the New Zealand landscape that become transformed into colourful wonderlands with the Russell Lupin flowers in bloom.


The town of Lake Tekapo is probably the most famous area for New Zealand lupin photographs. The lupins bring a huge amount of tourism to the area and there are always locations to take photos with the flowers.


The transformation of the Lake Tekapo foreshore is particularly incredible when it is in flower. It isn't guaranteed that each spot will have lupins every year, but when they do it truly is such a beautiful sight.


The lupin field to the right hand side of the lake by the Lake Tekapo Reserve is one of the best spots to come when it is in flower. With Mount John in the background and the beautiful blue lake, its an absolute winner.


Photo tip: This spot is best at golden hour and sunset with your mid range zoom lens (eg. 24-70mm).


Lupin field near Lake Tekapo Reserve
Lupin field near Lake Tekapo Reserve (ISO100, F11, 1/160sec, 70mm)

The other lupin locations along the foreshore are at the Church of the Good Shepherd and all along the foreshore past the footbridge near the church.


NZ Prints and Canvas Print
 

LAKE TEKAPO AUTUMN TREES


Not only is Lake Tekapo beautiful in Spring and Winter, during Autumn there are a few little areas by the lake that have trees that change to beautiful shades of orange and yellow.


Near The Lake Tekapo NZMCA Park on Thomson Terrace there is a beautiful spot down by the lake that is particularly stunning during the Autumn months when the colours are changing on the trees. With Mount John in the background it makes for gorgeous Lake Tekapo landscape photo.


You can walk along any of the trails that surround the lake at this location and pick a spot to shoot.


Photo tip: Take your wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) with you and this part of the lake is beautiful during golden hour at sunset.

 

MOUNT JOHN LAKE TEKAPO


Mount John Summit Tekapo Lake Alexandrina
The view over Lake Alexandrina from the summit of Mount John Tekapo (ISO100, F11, 1/400sec, 70mm)

For incredible elevated views over Lake Tekapo and the surrounding areas the summit of Mount John offers stunning 360 degree views that bring a whole new perspective to Lake Tekapo. Mt John is home to the world renowned observatory, where you can experience exclusive stargazing tours led by experienced astronomy guides also.


 Lake Tekapo Mount John Summit
The view over Lake Tekapo from the Mount John Summit (ISO100, F9, 1/320sec, 70mm)

If you're not into the star gazing and just want to see the view or take landscape photos, you can drive up to the cafe (pay to toll of $8 at the start of the road) or you can hike up from nearby Tekapo Springs for free.


Photo tip: For the best light I would try being up here during the golden hours which may mean you need to hike up as the road is only open from 9am to 5.30pm , although the views are just as incredible during the day. Take your wide angle and zoom lenses with you to make the most of the photo opportunities.


 

LAKE ALEXANDRINA TEKAPO


Lake Alexandrina is a quiet lake near Mount John on the outskirts of Tekapo. There are a few small holiday homes by the lakes edge at this section of the lake and there is a camp ground if you wanted to stay during the summer. If you want to escape the people and find some peace and tranquility this is the place to come.


There are jetties lined along the lakes edge which make for great photography subjects, and the surrounding mountains are beautiful at golden hours and sunset and sunrise.


The road to Lake Alexandrina is gravel but well maintained so there is no need for a 4wd.


Photography info: Take your wide angle (eg. 16-35mm) and mid range zoom lens (24-70mm) with you to this spot and it is best during golden hours with less wind and beautiful light.

 

GODLEY PEAKS ROAD TEKAPO


Godley Peaks Road Tekapo Lupins
Lupins along the Godley Peaks Road at twilight (ISO1600, F10, 1/15sec, 50mm)

If you want different view of Lake Tekapo than all the ones mentioned above there are some stunning stops along the Godley Peaks Road that offer beautiful compositions of the lake and surrounding areas. There are often lupins growing along the roadside also which add to the frame.


Lupins Tekapo Godley Peaks Road
Lupins along the Godley Peaks Road at golden hour (ISO250, F9, 1/100sec, 24mm)

There is a little roadside layby which has a great view over Lake Tekapo and during Spring with the lupins in the foreground makes for a beautiful photo. You can also keep an eye out for lupins growing in the rural fields around the area.


Photo tip: This layby spot is best in the afternoon or at sunset when the light hits the mountains and best on your wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm).


New Zealand Travel Map and Guide
 

MOTUARIKI LAKE TEKAPO ISLAND VIEW


Motuariki is a tiny little island that sits in the middle of Lake Tekapo surrounded by the incredible turquoise blue waters the lake is most famous for. The elevated view of Motuariki Island from the northern right hand side of Lake Tekapo is definitely worth the bumpy gravel road journey especially for the incredible scenes of the Island backed with the Southern Alps.



You will need to follow Lilybank Road to the roadside pullover which has unobstructed views of the Island and in my opinion has the best view. As mentioned the road can get bumpy in parts and although a 4wd is not essential it is recommended.


Photo Tip: Shoot on mid range zoom lens (eg. 24-70mm) and best during golden hours at sunrise and sunset.

 

LAKE TEKAPO RIVER BRAIDS


Lake Tekapo River Braids
View over the Lake Tekapo River Braids (ISO100, F11, 1/640sec)

At the head of Lake Tekapo where the Godley River and Macaulay River feed the lake are some spectacular river braids which can be photographed by drone.


Lake Tekapo River Braids
Aerial view Lake Tekapo River Braids (ISO100, F11, 1/640sec)

To get to the northern end of Lake Tekapo you need to take Lilybank Road (as above with Motuariki Island) but go further north until you reach the access to the lake. You can park your vehicle here and fly your drone from this location to be above the braids. You don't need to fly too far as the carpark is quite close to the lake.


Photo Tip: Shoot during the day if you want to keep the colour of the turquoise water as bright and blue as possible.


Lake Tekapo River Braids
Aerial View over the Lake Tekapo River Braids (ISO100, F11, 1/640sec)
 

Thanks for taking to time to read my Guide to Lake Tekapo South Island Photo Spots. I hope it inspires you to come to New Zealand and explore the Lake Tekapo area sometime soon.


If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.




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