When visiting a country, the driving to get from one city to the next is usually just a means to an end. However, when dealing with driving in New Zealand, the driving itself can be a highlight on its own.
That is exactly what the Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook drive is all about. During this 104 km / 65 mile long drive, you will be able to take in views of two beautiful lakes and the scenic Mount Cook National Park further out in the distance.
Not only will you get some stunning views while driving, but there are also several spots to stop at along the way to make the day even that much better. This guide will go into detail about the Road to Mount Cook and how to make the most of this route.
1) About the Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook Drive
Below you can find some helpful things to know about the Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook drive along with some helpful tips:
→ Near the center of the South Island of New Zealand, you will find the small township of Lake Tekapo, which shares the same name with the lake which it sits on.
→ The village of Mount Cook (named after the tallest peak in the country) is located just west of Lake Tekapo. However, to get there you must first drive around the beautiful Lake Pukaki.
→ The driving distance between Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook village is 104km / 65 miles. It should take about 1 hour and 15 minutes to make the drive between the two with no stops.
→ However, driving straight through is certainly not recommended. As you are driving along between Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook, there are many highlights you will not want to miss out on.
→ In turn, this 75-minute drive can really turn into a multi hour experience. I spent nearly half a day enjoying all the various highlights and viewpoints along the way.
→ Throughout the drive, be on the lookout for “scenic viewpoints”. Some may be signposted while others may not be as obvious. I pinpointed some of them down to give you a better idea of where they are.
→ Driving in New Zealand can be a whole new type of experience for most. Take a look at the New Zealand Driving guide to learn more about the rules of the roads.
→ Be sure to check out Rentalcars.com when it comes to renting a car in New Zealand. The site will show you car options & prices from a variety of companies. This ensures that you will be able to choose the perfect car (and deal) for your trip to the country.
2) How to Add to a New Zealand Itinerary
While Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook are perfect places to visit during your time in New Zealand, you may be wondering how to add them into an overall itinerary.
There are really two main ways of doing this depending on if you are coming from Christchurch or from Queenstown (two of the main South Island hubs).
The drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo should take just around 3 hours. Once you arrive there, you can continue on with the drive to Mt Cook village.
This will end up being a full day of driving as you make your way along the road, stopping at the various attractions. After visiting Mt Cook for a few days, you can then retrace your route back down alongside Lake Pukaki and continue the drive to Wanaka or Queenstown.
If you are coming from Queenstown, odds are you will be doing the above route in the opposite direction. You first will drive from Queenstown to Mt Cook, which should take just over 3 hours (if coming from Wanaka, it will be closer to 2.5 hours).
After enjoying Mt Cook, you can then make the drive to Lake Tekapo as you enjoy the scenic route. From Lake Tekapo, you can then continue onwards to Christchurch or whatever your next stop may be.
→ Add the Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook drive onto your New Zealand South Island itinerary
3) Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook Map
Below you can find a map that indicates the driving route between Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook. Also, on the map are some of the top places to stop at and enjoy along the way.
I will touch upon these additional stops throughout the remainder of the guide.
4) Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook Highlights
Now it’s time to go into some details about the highlights that you will find along the way. This is not an exhaustive list. Rather just the main places that I stopped at during the drive.
If you find other interesting points of interest or want to swap some things in and out, you can easily do that during your time on the road.
The Church of the Good Shepherd
First up, is the Church of the Good Shepherd, which can be found right alongside the shores of Lake Tekapo on the outskirts of town.
This may very well be one of the best church views you will find in the entire country. From the church and alongside it, you will get stunning views of the vast Lake Tekapo with Mount Cook National Park further out in the distance.
The church itself was built in 1935 and was designed by R.S.D Harman. As the church was being built on the property, none of the surrounding nature was removed or changed. The rocks, bushes, trees all stayed in place as the church was constructed.
Surprisingly to some, the church is still used to this day and is also an interdenominational place of worship. So, whether you want to join for Sunday service, or just want to take a photo from the outside, a stop here is a must add to your trip.
Lake Tekapo Scenic View
While you can certainly get some nice shots of the church with the lake in the background, you can also walk along the shoreline here. Behind the church, there is a pretty vast open rocky area.
All around this space, you will have some great landscape out in front of you. Whether it is the lake itself, Mt Cook National Park, or the nearby mountains. It really is just a great place to hang out and enjoy.
Mt John Observatory
Moving onto the western shores of the lake, you will find the Mt John Observatory. The observatory is one of the best in the world and many come in the dark of the night to observe the stars and planets.
However, you do not need to only visit at nighttime. The mountaintop observatory is also open during the day for visitors. Now, obviously you wont be able to join an observatory tour of the night’s sky. However, you can take in the view of Lake Tekapo from above.
As you are leaving the town of Lake Tekapo towards Mt Cook, you will see signs pointing you up to the Mt John Observatory off of the main road and onto Godley Peaks Road. The road wraps around the mountainside and up to the observatory. Note that there is a small fee for using the road that you must pay.
Once up top, go ahead and enjoy the view all around you. The elevated view of Lake Tekapo is a special one to have and I am sure you will find yourself walking all along the area to take it all in.
After finishing up top, you can then drive back down the winding road, which offers some mind blowing scenery out in front of you. It is then back onto the main road to continue on with the drive.
Note: while driving up is one option, you can also decide to hike up the track that starts on the shores of Lake Tekapo. You will find the start of the trail right next to Tekapo Springs (another potential add on to your day).
Lake Pukaki Viewpoints
The next 30 minutes of driving won’t offer as much compared to the two lake areas, but continue on with the route towards Lake Pukaki as you get ready for the next few highlights.
The road will soon then wind its way right up to the southern shore of the second lake of the day. All along the southern end of the lake you will find some of the best viewpoints you can ask for.
On the map above, you can see I pinpointed down three different locations. When looking at Google Maps these are named Lake Pukaki View Point, Mount Cook View, and Punatahu Visitor Center.
You don’t need to go overboard here, but you can decide to stop at one or more of these viewpoint spots. In addition, you will find other potential viewpoints along this portion of road too.
Note: there is also a walking trail that makes its way all along the southern shore of the lake if you want to make more of a day out of it
Below are some shots from behind the Punatahu Visitor Center overlooking Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook National Park. The water color is just out of this world!
The Road to Mount Cook
A true highlight of my overall time in New Zealand is the road to Mount Cook. As you turn the corner around Lake Pukaki, and begin the drive northbound, the views just get better and better.
The drive from the bottom of Lake Pukaki up to Mount Cook village covers around 56 km / 35 miles of road. So, this should give you plenty of time to truly enjoy the drive and the views.
Similar to the drive along the southern shore, you will find plenty of official and unofficial viewpoints to take in along the way. While you can see I pinpointed a couple down on the map named Pukaki View Point and Mt Cook Scenic View, there really are a ton of places to pull over on the route up.
Be very cautious and aware here though. If you are going to pull over to the side of the road, be sure to do it where there is a pull off section. Don’t just stop your car on the road itself. Throughout the drive, you should find spots to actually pull your car safely off the side of the road, clear of any oncoming cars.
As you get closer to Mt Cook village itself, the mountains will become larger and larger as you really see the scale of these snow covered peaks. If you are looking to take those fan favorite photos of sitting or standing in the middle of the road, be even more careful!
Soon enough, you will arrive in Mt Cook village. Head onto your hotel for the night and get ready to explore Mount Cook National Park.
5) Things To Do in Mount Cook
There is no doubt that Mount Cook National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand. You will find a whole bunch of hiking trails in addition to some more adrenaline inducing activities.
Some of the highlights include:
→ Kea Point Track: a short but scenic hike that takes you to a viewpoint of Mt Cook
→ Red Tarns Track: an uphill climb to view Mt Cook National Park from a more southern vantage point
→ Sealy Tarns Track: a hike that takes you up over the valley and to a stunning tarns overlooking Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains.
→ Mueller Hut Track: a continuation of the Sealy Tarns Track, that gives you arguably the best views in the entire National Park (on an official trail that is).
→ Hooker Valley Track: an easy and scenic hike through the Hooker Valley to get up and close to Hooker Lake
→ Blue Lakes & Tasman Glacier Track: a beautiful walk among the glacier lakes of Mount Cook National Park
Those are just some of the top hikes to choose from. I would recommend reading up in the hiking guides linked above. You can also check out this guide to all the Mt Cook hikes if you want to learn more.
In addition there are also some other great activities to choose from including glacier hikes, helicopter rides, and boating on a glacial lake.
6) Where to Stay in Mt Cook
Mount Cook Village is just a small little town located within the National Park. Options are certainly limited here and depending on season, accommodations will book up. I would recommend booking your hotel as soon as you know your travel dates.
Below are some of the top recommended options when it comes to Mount Cook Village:
3) Aoraki Court
There you have it. By now you should be all set to take on the Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook scenic drive for yourself. I am sure you will have a great time out on the road enjoying it all (on a good weather day at least).
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below. Also, don’t forget to check out the other New Zealand itineraries and guides up on the site.
Have fun out there and safe travels!