Lake Tekapo (town)

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Lake Tekapo
Rural settlement
Lake Tekapo (shopping line).jpg
Coordinates: 44°00′14″S 170°28′37″E / 44.004°S 170.477°E / -44.004; 170.477Coordinates: 44°00′14″S 170°28′37″E / 44.004°S 170.477°E / -44.004; 170.477
CountryNew Zealand
Territorial authorityMackenzie District
WardPukaki Ward
 • Local authorityMackenzie District Council
 • Regional councilEnvironment Canterbury
 • Total4.19 km2 (1.62 sq mi)
 • Total558
 • Density130/km2 (340/sq mi)
Lake Tekapo, viewed from the township, looking towards Mount Cook National Park.

Lake Tekapo (often known simply as Tekapo to avoid confusion with the lake itself) is a small town (township) located at the southern end of the lake of the same name in the inland South Island of New Zealand. It had 558 residents according to the 2018 census, being one of five settlements in the sparsely populated Mackenzie Basin.[3]

SH 8 runs directly through the township – 227 km from Christchurch and 256 km from Queenstown. Daily shuttle services link Lake Tekapo to Christchurch and Queenstown. The lake is a popular tourist destination, and several resort hotels are located at the township. Lake Tekapo Airport is located 5 km west of the town. Chartered flights are available at locally based Air Safaris.[4] Twizel lies 60km (39 minutes drive) south of Lake Tekapo via Lake Pukaki and Burkes Pass lies 21km (15 minutes drive) west along state highway 8.


The Māori were the first people to discover the Mackenzie Basin. The name Tekapo, a misspelling of Takapō, derived from the te reo Māori words taka (sleeping mat) and po (night). Takapō means "To leave in haste at night".[5] The Mackenzie Basin became known to Europeans in 1855 when, in order to find a less conspicuous route, James Mackenzie, a Scottish sheep thief, ventured inland and discovered the high country that now bears his name. In 1857, John and Barbara Hay established the first sheep farm in Mackenzie on the shore of Lake Tekapo.[6]

Church of the Good Shepherd, Taken from the YHA at Lake Tekapo Township
The Lake Tekapo control gates regulate the amount of water reaching the Tekapo river (July 2020)

Lake Tekapo township started to grow after the construction of hydropower stations in the 1930s. The project was delayed due to World War II, but it was eventually completed and commissioned in 1951.[6] The control gates built across the outlet of Lake Tekapo regulate the amount of water entering the Tekapo River. These were completed in 1940. State Highway 8 runs across the top of them.[7]

Tekapo is expected to grow significantly between 2020 and 2050. The MacKenzie District Council expects the district’s population will jump from 4950 to 9050, dwellings 3872 to 6120, jobs 1876 to 4618, and peak day visitors 17,378 to 61,253.[8]

The MacKenzie District Council announced in 2021 that it will start using the dual names of Tekapo and Takapō when referring to Lake Tekapo (Tekapo is an incorrect spelling of Takapō, the Maori name for Lake Tekapo).[9]

The Lake Tekapo YHA backpacker hostel which was built in 2019 (costing $9 million) is due to close permanently due to the Covid-19 pandemic in December 2021.[10][11][12]


Lake Tekapo is described by Statistics New Zealand as a rural settlement, and covers 4.19 km2 (1.62 sq mi).[1] It is part of the Mackenzie Lakes statistical area.[13]

Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
Source: [2]

Lake Tekapo had a population of 558 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 198 people (55.0%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 240 people (75.5%) since the 2006 census. There were 180 households. There were 273 males and 285 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.96 males per female, with 60 people (10.8%) aged under 15 years, 183 (32.8%) aged 15 to 29, 267 (47.8%) aged 30 to 64, and 48 (8.6%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 60.2% European/Pākehā, 3.8% Māori, 1.6% Pacific peoples, 31.7% Asian, and 8.1% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 58.1% had no religion, 27.4% were Christian, 3.2% were Hindu, 1.6% were Muslim, 2.2% were Buddhist and 2.7% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 162 (32.5%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 33 (6.6%) people had no formal qualifications. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 372 (74.7%) people were employed full-time, and 66 (13.3%) were part-time.[2]


Lake Tekapo has an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification: Cfb) with mild, sunny summers and cool winters, sometimes snowing in the township once or twice a year. On average, Lake Tekapo has 2180 sunshine hours (200 hours more than the New Zealand average) and 78 rain days producing 600 mm rainfall annually.[3] Temperature is generally warm in summer and extremely cold in winter, by New Zealand standards.

Climate data for Lake Tekapo (1981−2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 21.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 15.2
Average low °C (°F) 8.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 43.6
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 5.8 5.3 5.5 6.0 6.7 7.5 6.5 7.4 7.3 7.6 6.2 7.1 78.9
Average relative humidity (%) 66.8 74.9 75.3 76.9 78.7 83.9 83.1 81.2 72.5 68.7 65.0 67.4 74.5
Mean monthly sunshine hours 253.8 220.9 230.9 199.4 145.4 139.9 149.7 170.1 200.0 231.7 241.5 234.0 2,417.4
Source: NIWA Climate Data[14]


Mount John University Observatory[edit]

Lake Tekapo township as seen from the nearby Mount John University Observatory

Selected for its very clear atmosphere, large number of clear sky nights, and relative freedom from light pollution, Mount John University Observatory is located on a small hill to the north of the town, and south of the small Lake Alexandrina. Originally set up by the University of Pennsylvania (looking for a southern hemisphere location), it is now operated by the University of Canterbury. From 1969 to 1982, the United States Air Force had a satellite tracking station adjacent to the observatory. In June 2012, an area of 430,000 hectares (1,100,000 acres) around Tekapo was declared the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association, one of only four such dark sky reserves around the world at the time.[15][16]

Star gazing tours[edit]

The YHA (left) and the Dark Sky Project Observatory (right). (October 2019).
The Brashear Telescope, Built in 1894.

The Dark Sky Project runs star gazing tours from their award winning[17] observatory building on the foreshore of Lake Tekapo. The observatory building contains a restored the Brashear Telescope. It is built of brass, iron, steel and wood and stands nine meters high. It has an 18-inch refracting lens. The Brashear telescope was built in 1894. This telescope was brought to New Zealand in 1963 by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Canterbury. [18][19]

Tekapo Hot Springs[edit]

Tekapo Hot Springs is a major tourist attraction. It has three hot pools designed for soaking in, which range in temperature from 36.5 to 38.5 degrees Celsius. These are designed in the shape of Lake Ohau, Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo. A further two cooler pools are designed for children and a splash pad is also present. Tekapo Hot Springs also has an ice skating rink and a snow tubing park.


Roundhill Ski Area is located on the Two Thumb Range overlooking Lake Tekapo. It is approximately 32 kilometers from Lake Tekapo Village. Roundhill's base is at 1350 meters above sea level and the highest point the lifts rise to is 2133 meters above sea level. It comprises 550 hectares of terrain.

Church of the Good Shepherd[edit]

The Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1935. Now, it opens to the public from 9am to 5pm during summer (Oct to Apr) and 10am to 4pm in winter (May to Sept). Next to it is a statue, which is dedicated to the working collies of Mackenzie. This was commissioned on 7 March 1968.[3]

Lake Tekapo foot bridge[edit]

Lake Tekapo footbridge (July 2020)

The $2 million, 125-metre bridge was opened in 2015. This crosses the Tekapo River and connects the Church of the Good Shepherd with the rest of the Lake Tekapo township.[20]

Military base[edit]

The New Zealand Army has a small training base located 6km to the west of the Tekapo township.[21] It is used for general military exercises and was used for pre-deployment training of forces being sent to Afghanistan.[22]

In 1968, a major fire at the military base during winter lead to several buildings being burnt to the ground.[23]

The base encompasses approximately 1700 hectares of terrain which sits approximately 1000 metres above sea level. It continues to be an important training site for the New Zealand Army for initial field training and battle handling exercises.[23]

In 2016, the New Zealand Government announced that $16 million dollars was going to be spent upgrading the military base. Improvements would include accommodation upgrades, communications, security fencing, extensions to heavy and light vehicle tracks and a new main camp gate.[24]

Tekapo Military Base (2021)

An unformed road that runs along side the Tekapo Military base was sold by the Mackenzie District Council to the New Zealand Defence Force in 2021 for $1 in order to address safety concerns of the public getting too close to military training activities such as live firing of weapons.[25]


Tekapo is part of the Waitaki electorate.[26] The MacKenzie District Council is responsible for providing local government services to Lake Tekapo.[27]


Lake Tekapo School is a contributing primary school serving years 1 to 6,[28] with a roll of 33 students as of March 2021.[29] The school opened in 1940.[30]


  1. ^ a b "ArcGIS Web Application". Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c {{NZ census 2018|7027553 and 7027554}
  3. ^ a b c "Information on Lake Tekapo". Tekapo Tourism. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Tekapo Tourism - Lake Tekapo". Tekapo Tourism. 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Mackenzie District council to start using dual name of Takapō/Tekapo". RNZ. 27 February 2021. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b "History of Mackenzie Country". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  7. ^ "Hydro generation at Lake Tekapo with the Tekapo A and Tekapo B power stations". Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  8. ^ "Mackenzie District Council releases growth projections report". Stuff. 9 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  9. ^ "Mackenzie District council to start using dual name of Takapō/Tekapo". RNZ. 27 February 2021. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  10. ^ "YHA New Zealand closes all hostels after 90 years". Otago Daily Times Online News. 25 November 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  11. ^ "YHA Tekapo a 'shot in the arm' for Mackenzie District". Stuff. 12 April 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  12. ^ "Youth hostel closures in Tekapo and Aoraki/Mt Cook a double blow for Mackenzie District". Stuff. 25 November 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  13. ^ 2018 Census place summary: Mackenzie Lakes
  14. ^ "Climate Data and Activities". NIWA. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  15. ^ "New Zealand's Aoraki Mackenzie Named World's Largest International Dark Sky Reserve" (PDF). International Dark Sky Association. 9 June 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 July 2012. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  16. ^ "Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand)". International Dark Sky Association. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  17. ^ Saturday; October 2020, 31; Building, 7:28 am Press Release: NZ Institute of. "NZIOB Congratulates The Winners Of The 2020 NZ Building Industry Awards | Scoop News". Retrieved 8 November 2020.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ "Brashear Telescope - Restored Masterpiece". Dark Sky Project. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  19. ^ "Tekapo's Dark Sky Project attraction combines Māori astronomy and science". Stuff. 1 July 2019. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  20. ^ "Lake Tekapo Footbridge reopened". Stuff. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  21. ^ "Survey and assessment of the Tekapo Military Training Area". Wildlands. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  22. ^ "Lake Tekapo". New Zealand A to Z. 11 April 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  23. ^ a b "Tekapo | NZDF". Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  24. ^ "Tekapo military training area to be re-developed". Stuff. 16 November 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Defence Force pays $1 for 78 hectare paper road to stop public access to training site". Stuff. 5 January 2021. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Waitaki: Electoral Profile - New Zealand Parliament". Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  27. ^ "Mackenzie Tomorrow - Community Outcomes". Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  28. ^ Education Counts: Lake Tekapo School
  29. ^ "New Zealand Schools Directory". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  30. ^ Kanwal, Sahiban (21 September 2015). "Lake Tekapo School celebrates 75 years of history". Timaru Herald.

External links[edit]