Lake Tekapo

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Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo
Location of Lake Tekapo
Location of Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo
Location of Lake Tekapo
Location of Lake Tekapo
LocationMackenzie District, Canterbury region, South Island
Coordinates43°53′S 170°31′E / 43.883°S 170.517°E / -43.883; 170.517Coordinates: 43°53′S 170°31′E / 43.883°S 170.517°E / -43.883; 170.517
Primary inflowsGodley River (north), Macauley River (north), Mistake River (west), Cass River (west)[1]
Primary outflowsTekapo River
Catchment area1,463 km2 (565 sq mi)[1]
Basin countriesNew Zealand
Max. length27 km (17 mi)[1]
Max. width6 km (3.7 mi) (max), 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) (mean)[1]
Surface area87 km2 (34 sq mi) (summer), 82 km2 (32 sq mi) (winter),[1]
Average depth69 m (226 ft)[1]
Max. depth120 m (390 ft)[1]
Water volume6 km3 (4.9×10^6 acre⋅ft)[1]
Surface elevation710 m (2,330 ft)
SettlementsLake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo (Māori: Takapō) is the second-largest of three roughly parallel lakes running north–south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island of New Zealand (the others are Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau). It covers an area of 83 square kilometres (32 sq mi), and is at an altitude of 710 metres (2,330 ft) above sea level.

Lake Tekapo in the twilight

The lake is fed at its northern end by both the braided Godley River and Macauley river, which have their sources in the Southern Alps to the north. The snow melt from the Southern Alps is tinged with a light turquoise colour from the glacial silt.[2] This gives Lake Tekapo its distinctive colour. To the east of Lake Tekapo lies the Two Thumb Range with Mount Toby (2222m); Braun Elwert Peak (2086m); Dobson Peak (2095m) and Mount Maude (1797m) amongst the mountains over looking Lake Tekapo. On the western side of Lake Tekapo. Mount John (1031m) is closest to the town with Lake Alexandrina further north and Mistake Peak (1931m) sitting towards the head of the lake. Cowans Hill (783m) lies at the southern end of Lake Tekapo behind the township and next to the Tekapo river.

The average water temperature of the surface of the lake varies between a low of between 5.8 and 5.9 degrees Celsius in September and a high of 17 degrees Celsius in January.[3][4]

The lake is a popular tourist destination, and several resort hotels are located at the township of Lake Tekapo at the lake's southern end. The Lake Tekapo Regional Park, administered by Environment Canterbury, is located on the southern shore of the lake. State Highway 8 runs past Lake Tekapo at its southern end.

On a clear day, the taller snow-capped peaks of Mount Cook National Park are visible from Lake Tekapo.

An astronomical observatory is located at Mount John, which is to the north of the town, and south of the small Lake Alexandrina.

Lake Tekapo is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand with annual sunshine hours averaging more than 2,400 each year.[5]

In Māori culture[edit]

"Tekapo" is a misspelling of Takapō, the name of the lake in the Māori language. Takapō means "to leave in haste at night".[6][7]

In 2021, the MacKenzie District Council announced that it will start using the dual names of Tekapo and Takapō when referring to Lake Tekapo.[8]

The legends of Ngāi Tahu speak of Lake Tekapo being one of the lakes dug by the Waitaha explorer Rākaihautū with his Polynesian digging stick which was called Tūwhakaroria. After arriving in the Uruao waka at Nelson, Rākaihautū divided his people into two groups. Rākaihautū led his group down the middle of the island, digging the South Island freshwater lakes. His son, Rakihouia, led the other group down the east coast of the South Island.[6]

Ngāi Tahu visited Lake Tekapo and the nearby Lake Alexandrina as part of their seasonal food gathering patterns. The lakes were well known for eels and weka. These were gathered and preserved for the upcoming winter months.[9]

Motuariki island[edit]

Motuariki island, Lake Tekapo

Motuariki is the small island in the middle of Lake Tekapo. The legends of Ngāi Tahu tell of Motuariki, who was an ancestor on the Ārai-te-uru waka that capsized near Shag Point on the Otago coastline. After the waka capsized, many of the passengers went ashore to explore the land. Legend states that they needed to be back at the waka before daylight. Many did not make it, including Motuariki, and he was instead transformed into the island of Motuariki.[9]

Dark Sky Reserve[edit]

Lake Tekapo and the surrounding district were recognized as an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012. The reserve is 4367 square kilometres in size making it amongst the world's largest. The Dark Sky Reserve accreditation recognizes that the night skies are almost completely free of light pollution and ideal for star gazing.[10][11][12]


Lake Tekapo is also known for its stunning seasonal display of Lupin that bloom along its shores from around Mid November until the end of December.[13] Russell lupins were introduced in the Mackenzie Basin in the 1940s from sowings or lupins planted in garden which had seeds that spread widely. In 1949 Connie Scott, of Godley Peaks Station, scattered lupin seeds along the roadside after purchasing about £100 worth from the local stock and station agent.[14] Although beautiful, they modify the ecosystems of braided rivers.[15] There were fewer lupins around Lake Tekapo in December 2020, due to the water level in the lake being too high at a vital time in their growth cycle, causing them to fail to flower.[16]

Drivers have been warned to take care during the lupin season, as many visitors to the area slow down or pull over to admire the lupins along State Highway 8, but this may be unsafe and create the potential for accidents.[17][18]


The lake's original outflow was at its southern end, into the Tekapo River. In 1938 construction commenced on a power station, originally due to be finished in 1943 but halted in 1942 by the world war. At the same time, control gates were constructed to regulate outflows to the Waitaki Dam downstream. Work restarted in 1944, and the power station, now known as Tekapo A, came online in 1951.[19]

Diagram of the completed hydro scheme

Water from the lake is diverted through a 1.4-kilometre (4,600 ft) tunnel under the town to the power station, with the water originally being returned to the river. With development of the Upper Waitaki hydroelectric scheme in the 1970s, water is now fed into a 26-kilometre (16 mi) canal which leads to Tekapo B on the shores of Lake Pukaki.[19]

Tekapo-Pukaki canal

Following a turbine failure in 1986, a new Kaplan turbine was installed, with a more efficient design and higher output (42 000 HP) than the original. Today, the power station produces an average of 160 GWh annually, from a 25.2 MW capacity generator. The net head of the station is 30.5 m.[19]

In 2008 Tekapo A and Tekapo B hydro stations were refurbished following the upgrade of Benmore and Waitaki.[20]

On 1 June 2011, Tekapo A and B hydro power stations were transferred from Meridian Energy to Genesis Energy on instruction from the Government.[21]

In February 2021, Genesis Energy finished an upgrade that strengthened the Tekapo A power station to withstand earthquakes. It involved five years of planning, two years of construction and cost $26.5 million. It was a challenging build to upgrade the infrastructure and tunnels which were built in the 1940s. The Tekapo A power station provides power to almost 100,000 homes.[22]


On the north side of the lake, 24 km from the Tekapo township is the Roundhill Ski Area situated in the Two Thumb Range, which caters primarily to beginner and intermediate skiers. For advanced skiers, Roundhill Ski area also has the world's longest and steepest rope tow which runs to the top of the Richmond Range (2133m).[23][24]

Buildings and other structures[edit]

Dog statue with plaque

Church of the Good Shepherd[edit]

Situated on the shores of Lake Tekapo is the Church of the Good Shepherd, which, in 1935, was the first church built in the Mackenzie Basin. The church at Lake Tekapo was designed by Christchurch architect R.S.D. Harman, based on sketches by a local artist, Esther Hope. The church is one of the most photographed in New Zealand, and features an altar window that frames views of the lake and mountains.[25]

Bronze sheepdog[edit]

Close to the Church of the Good Shepherd is a well-known bronze statue of a New Zealand Collie sheepdog. The statue was commissioned by Mackenzie Country residents in recognition of the indispensable role of the sheepdog in their livelihoods. The sculptor was Innes Elliott of Kaikoura, with a dog called Haig, belonging to a neighbour, being the model. Elliott reported the sculpting process took approximately fifteen months. Clay for the model came from the insulator works in Temuka, with a plaster cast of it made and sent to London in 1966, where the statue was cast.[26]


Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo

Large brown and rainbow trout can be caught in Lake Tekapo. Trolling a lure from a boat is one option for fishing Lake Tekapo. Fishing from the shore is also possible. The best spots for fishing from the shore are to be found around the mouths of the many small streams that flow into the lake. These include the Cass River; Mistake River; Boundary Stream; Glenmore Station Tarn; Coal River and the Macauley River.[2] In 2016 the Fish and Game Council released 45,000 baby salmon into Lake Tekapo to improve fishing stocks[27] and a further 50,000 were released in 2020.[28] The upper half of the Tekapo Canal will be closed to fishing over the winter of 2021 to conserve stocks while spawning. The Tekapo canal is known for very large (trophy size) rainbow trout.[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Irwin, J. (September 1978). "Bottom sediments of Lake Tekapo compared with adjacent Lakes Pukaki and Ohau, South Island, New Zealand". N.Z. Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. Vol. 12, no. 3. pp. 245–250. doi:10.1080/00288330.1978.9515749. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Lake Tekapo". Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  3. ^ Irwin, J.; Pickrill, R. A. (June 1982). "Water temperature and turbidity in glacially fed Lake Tekapo". New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 16 (2): 189–200. doi:10.1080/00288330.1982.9515962. ISSN 0028-8330.
  4. ^ "Why Tekapo keeps its dead". Stuff. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  5. ^ Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "Climate, vegetation and wildlife". Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Tekapo or Takapō? One of NZ's world famous lakes could be in for a name change". Stuff. 13 July 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  7. ^ Nov '20, Matthew Cattin 17 November 202017 (17 November 2020). "Spelling may change for Wakatipu and Tekapo". Wilderness Magazine. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  8. ^ "Mackenzie District council to start using dual name of Takapō/Tekapo". RNZ. 27 February 2021. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Atlas — Cultural Mapping Project — Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu". Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  10. ^ "About AMIDSR - Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve". Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  11. ^ "GO NZ: A South Island family road trip from Christchurch to Tekapo". NZ Herald. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  12. ^ "Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand)". International Dark Sky Association. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  13. ^ "Tips on How and Where to Find Lupins in New Zealand". A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. 15 December 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  14. ^ "War of the lupins". New Zealand Geographic. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  15. ^ Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "The impact of lupins". Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  16. ^ "The mystery of Tekapo's disappearing lupins: Who killed the social media star?". Stuff. 17 December 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  17. ^ "Motorists warned to take extra care on busy tourist route". Stuff. 30 December 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  18. ^ "Three injured in single vehicle crash in Tekapo". Stuff. 1 January 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  19. ^ a b c "Discover the Waitaki Hydro Scheme" (PDF). Meridian Energy. p. 5. Retrieved 31 August 2021.
  20. ^ Bruce, David (30 October 2008). "Benmore gets more with first full rebuild". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 30 October 2008.
  21. ^ "Genesis Energy set to acquire Tekapo A and B power stations". Genesis Energy. 13 May 2011. Archived from the original on 13 October 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  22. ^ "$26.5 million earthquake-strengthening work at Tekapo power station completed". Stuff. 22 February 2021. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  23. ^ "Featuring Lake Tekapo - A new rope tow for Tekapo's Roundhill Ski Area. A feature page providing greater details on exciting aspects of tourism in Lake Tekapo". Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  24. ^ "Roundhill". Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  25. ^ "Church of the Good Shepherd". New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  26. ^ Elliott, Innes (1967). "Statue to a Working Sheepdog". In Henderson, Jim (ed.). Return To Open Country. A.H & A.W. Reed. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0589003062.
  27. ^ "Fish and Game release 45,000 more salmon into Lake Tekapo to enhance fishing". Stuff. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  28. ^ "Major salmon smolt release in Lake Tekapo". Stuff. 11 November 2020. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  29. ^ "Precautionary closure to Upper Tekapo Canal trout fishery". Stuff. 4 August 2020. Retrieved 15 February 2021.

External links[edit]