For travellers who visit the South Island, Tekapo is always at the top of the list. It’s not hard to figure out why: that picturesque lakefront and alpine scenery is quintessentially New Zealand! But the key question is, how do you get there? Most travellers take the southwestern route along State Highway 1 from Christchurch, the main artery through the South Island.

HANDY HINT -> Read more on what to do in the Mt. Cook & Lake Tekapo area.

This is the most direct route, but not the most interesting; the first section of the journey until you reach Geraldine isn’t particularly scenic. However, there is another option – taking the scenic route to Tekapo. State Highway 77 west of Christchurch takes travellers through the heartland of rural Canterbury. It’s a slightly longer route, but a much more spectacular one! Note: stay on SH 77 first. Just after the Rakaia Gorge the route continues on SH72. From near Geraldine you will be travelling on SH79 all the way to Lake Tekapo.

The Scenic Route to Tekapo – State Highway 77 + 72 + 79

The scenic route to Tekapo 275km and will take you roughly 3 1/2 hours from start to finish. If you start off early in the day, you will have plenty of time for some scenic stops along the way. And trust us, this is a trip where you will want to take a leisurely pace. There is a beautiful variety of scenery as you travel further into the Southern Alps, and some fantastic photo opportunities.

The best thing about this scenic route? It’s so much quieter, even in peak season. State Highway 1 is the most-used route through the entire island for tourists, work commuters and cargo alike. In many places, the development of the road hasn’t kept pace with the increase in traffic. Towns such as Ashburton create large bottlenecks which will take you a while to pass through. So even though the route is shorter on paper that the scenic route to Tekapo via State Highway 77, the chance is it will take you much longer.

If you have a bit more time of your travels, we urge you to check out other travel routes through the South Island:

Dunedin to Lake Tekapo

Wanaka to Fox Glacier

Nelson to Fox Glacier

The Scenic Route to Tekapo: Exploring the Canterbury Plains

You’ll start the scenic route from the Canterbury Plains – a flat patchwork quilt of wheat and grazing pastures which spans right from the coast all the way out West. This is what helps give Christchurch and the region such a quintessentially English look. The first settlement you will pass through is Darfield, which is where you will find the turn-off for State Highway 77.



Before you know it, things get a lot greener. All it takes is a quick check of a map – and the minute you look up, you might think you’re in a different region. Once you hit Glentunnel and Windwhistle (well-named!) everything is suddenly much more lush with a lot more trees, and the land begins creeping up around you. SH 72 begins here.

We passed these cyclists this morning – it looked like an enjoyable ride as they had the sun on their backs.  Little did they know, the weather was about to change!

The scenic route to Tekapo – The Rakaia Gorge

It’s such a neat experience on the scenic route to Tekapo when you first catch sight of the Southern Alps. At first, gently rolling hills appear – classic Lord of the Rings Country! Michael expects that I should be able to name each individual mountain (he actually can!). After Glentunnel, it’s up and around to the beautiful sight of the Rakaia Gorge. The Plains has its fair share of rivers coming off the mountains, and the Rakaia River is one of the most striking.

‘The water of the Rakaia is typical of a New Zealand high country river. The unusually milky green colour is the result of sediment released from the movement of the glaciers. It’s one of the highlights on the Tekapo scenic route. It’s definitely worth a photo!

HANDY HINT -> Read more on key New Zealand travel experiences.


Rakaia Gorge Bridge


Rakaia Gorge river

The scenic route to Tekapo: Geraldine

The next stop is the town of Geraldine. SH 79 begins here. We really recommend checking out the family-owned Barker’s Store. This brand is a kiwi favourite, and was established right in this very town. The shop is actually just down the road from the original family farm. They sell quality preserves, sauces, and other homemade products. This shop has been going for years, and it’s always nice to buy local on your travels. My only gripe is that they’ve changed the recipe for their blackcurrant jam! Further down the road, you’ll find a very good artisan cheese shop, Talbot Forest Cheese.


Barkers Shop Geraldine on the way to Tekapo


A great thing about Geraldine is that it has an excellent Fresh Choice Supermarket off the main road just as you come in. If you’re staying in Lake Tekapo, you might want to stock up now. On the whole, supplies tend to be much cheaper here than in the supermarket in Tekapo. This is common across rural areas across NZ. Unless you can’t avoid it, we recommend trying to do your grocery shopping in urban centres.

The cafes in Geraldine provide the generic filled bread rolls and paninis – enough to keep the masses happy. As a small town, Geraldine isn’t really the place to go looking for exciting fare. However, the coffee we had at Plum Café is excellent!

As we left Geraldine, the weather is turning and much-needed rain is beginning to fall. I swear there are farmers doing cartwheels of joy as I speak!


Geraldine cloudy skies on the way to Tekapo

Check out this 18 days South Island sample itinerary for additional inspiration on your plans!


The scenic route Tekapo – Arriving in Lake Tekapo

It’s taken us four and a half hours, including all of our stops, and we’ve arrived at Lake Tekapo. This is truly one of the most peaceful vistas in the whole country. It’s always incredible to take in the colour of the lake – it looks as though it’s been put through a filter! Be sure to check out the St. John Observatory while you are here: the dark skies around Tekapo are breathtaking!


Lake Tekapo shorefront


The time has flown and the journey has been relaxing. That’s the beauty of the scenic route to Tekapo, and of all the other scenic routes throughout New Zealand.

Check out these South Island hidden treasures sample itinerary to kick-start to travel planning.

Happy travelling on the scenic route to Tekapo!

17 responses to “The Scenic Route: Travelling from Christchurch to Tekapo”

  1. Jan Roberts says:

    Oh gosh you are so right – that inland scenic route is a sight to behold. Coming down into the Rakaia Gorge and seeing the turquoise waters – magic! Wonderfully described drive Pam and Michael. Enjoy your time at Lake Tekapo – hope the weather co-operates for some star gazing, although I know they, like us are desperate for the rain.

    • GuestNZ says:

      Jan, I couldn’t believe the colour on the Rakaia and this morning the waters on Lake Tekapo were the brightest turquoise. Rediscovered the hot pools and the café there and went for a long walk around the lake. It’s really sunny here at the moment.

  2. Jane Smith says:

    What a great trip – and the promise of jam at the end! The water is such an amazing colour.
    Wishing you clear skies. J X

    • GuestNZ says:

      Hey Jane, we’re having very clear skies at the moment and holding our breath that it will last until tomorrow, because we’re doing the Mt John Conservatory tour. Hoping for some great stargazing moments (the Jam can wait).

  3. Murat says:

    I am going to fly from Auckland to Christchurch this Saturday then I am going to visit Lake Tekapo, I`ve just seen your this article and I want to use this scenic route. Thank you for sharing it with us 🙂 So I just want to know is this the same route?

    Thank you!

  4. Murat says:

    Thank you very much 🙂

  5. Kirthana says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. We went to Lake Tekapo today , and followed all your suggestions. The scenic route really is spectacular. About 45 mins after leaving Christchurch, we stopped at a small cafe called The Butchers Pies in Hororata on Hobbs Street, for breakfast. Was really good. So glad I came across your blog, otherwise I’d have gone along SH 1 , faster but less interesting as you pointed out.

    • GuestNZ says:

      Great to read you had a good time driving this lovely route instead of the SH1. Enjoy the rest of your trip! Michael

  6. Vicki says:

    We attempted this scenic route for the first time today. The scenery was spectacular! Unfortunately, as the author referred to Route 77 throughout the article, we took him literally. After going through Windwhistle, Route 77 took a left turn. We followed it down past Methven to Ashburton and then once we realised we had gone the wrong way, we ended up on Route 1 and finally Route 8. This took us 4.5 hours. Perhaps it would be helpful to mention that you do not follow Route 77 all the way! Google maps weren’t much help. We recommend buying a physical map and drawing the suggested route in.

    • GuestNZ says:

      Hi Vicki, thanks for pointing this miscommunication out. We have changed the roading numbers accordingly to State Highway 77 + 72 + 79. By following the route Darfield – Staveley – Geraldine this trip to Tekapo is much more enjoyable than through Ashburton.

  7. Amy Malaysia says:

    Can I know whether the route is equally scenic if i travel from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch? Just afraid that all the beautiful sceneries are “behind” me as I drive along. thanks!

    • GuestNZ says:

      Hi Amy, the scenery is pretty much the same. You want to make sure to stop at viewpoints and don’t ‘rush thru’ 🙂 Especially on a nice day. Enjoy your time!

  8. Jay Yelt says:

    Do you think this would be drivable early June?

    • GuestNZ says:

      Generally yes, but weather conditions can change fast in NZ. June is the beginning of the winter season. There is always a chance for early snow. As long as you keep your eyes on the weather forecast 2-3 days ahead you should be fine.

  9. Laura LeFever says:

    Hi- I was wondering the same- we will be in Christchurch 6/23-26. We are wishing to see the aurora Australia. Is it safe to drive from Christchurch to the darkest sky reserve near lake Tekapo or to drive from Christchurch to Akaroa at that time? Alternatively we were thinking of flying to Queenstown to the Skyline restaurant/resort stargazing platform. Any advice ?

    • GuestNZ says:

      June is winter season in NZ, so the weather is colder and snow and icy roads is possible. Generally you can travel from Chch to Tekapo, but, as weather is unpredictable, you will need to check forecasts and road warnings. Yes, the night sky around Lake Tekapo (and many other places in NZ) is fantastic, but the aurora is a natural phenomena and does not occur on a regular base. Hope that helps.

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