Get a detailed description, photos, and a video of this scenic walk up Mount John, which provides scenic views of Lake Tekapo and surrounding mountains.
The Mt John Walkway is a 3 hour loop track up to the summit of Mount John (at 1,031 meters elevation with an elevation gain of 311 meters in the first 2 km) and then down and around the mountain via a track that runs alongside the shores of Lake Tekapo.
The Mt John Walkway offers 360 degrees scenic views of Lake Tekapo, the Southern Alps, the Mackenzie Basin flats and beyond.
However, you do not have to walk up Mt John if the only thing you want to do is enjoy the views.
In the latter case, you can just drive up to the Mt John Observatory (accessible via the Godley Peaks Road) and take a more relaxing approach to enjoying the scenery surrounding Lake Tekapo.
I’m a glutton for pain, agony, and mental challenges, so I prefer to take the hard way up the mountain.
How to get to the Mt John Walkway in Tekapo
You can follow the best driving route from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo to get to Tekapo.
Once in Tekapo, follow the signs to the ice skating rink (alpine springs, spa, and winter park). Before you reach the ice skating rink, look on your left for a clearing and path in the forest.
You’ll see a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign for the Mt John Walkway and another information panel with history of the area, details of the walk, and a map.
Walking the Mount John Walkway in Tekapo
When I did this Lake Tekapo walk for the first time, I made the mistake of doing it in a counterclockwise direction, so walking on the trail that skirts the shore of Lake Tekapo and then going up Mount John.
If you do the Mt John Walkway this way, a. it will take you longer before you start enjoying views (you’ll get delayed gratification), and b. you’ll have to walk for at least one hour before you start climbing up Mount John.
Going around and then up Mount John takes approximately 2 hours to reach the summit, while doing this walk in a clockwise direction takes approximately 1 hour to reach the summit, as the street signs near the hot pools and winter park in Tekapo clearly indicate.
Department of Conservation sign at the start of the Mt John Walkway, Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
While I do like delayed gratification, I’d recommend doing this walk in a clockwise direction, so taking the path that goes up through the forest instead of the one that follows the shore of Lake Tekapo to reach the summit of Mount John.
All in all, whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise, it will take you approximately 3 hours to complete the entire loop track of the Mount John Walkway.
This article assumes that you’ve decided to walk the Mt John Walkway in a clockwise direction, so have taken the path next to the Department of Conservation sign in the forest clearing.
Forest on the Mt John Walkway, Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
The first part of the Mt John walk in Tekapo goes up through a mixed forest, which can get very cold in autumn or winter in New Zealand, so take gloves or mittens along with you if you tend to get cold hands.
The trail is steep in some places, but generally offers a mostly gradual ascent. You’ll pass a gate on your way up, which you’ll have to open (and close).
Locals often use this first part of the Mount John Walkway as grounds for getting daily exercise by doing a brisk walk uphill.
After about 45 minutes, you’ll exit the forest and arrive at an open tussock grassland field. From this point on, the trail is exposed to wind, rain, snow, sun, or anything mountain weather brings. So come prepared for any type of weather.
Continue to follow the trail uphill.
Scenic view south as seen from Mt John at Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
Before you reach the junction at the top of the hill, there are 26 steps for you to climb. Don’t forget to look back to enjoy the views of the Mackenzie Basin flats south of Lake Tekapo.
Once you reach the junction, go right and follow the trail for the South Summit unless you want to stop at the Astro Café for a drink and bite to eat.
DOC sign on the summit of Mt John, Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
The South Summit trail will take you up and around the summit of Mount John. You can either stop and take a rest at the summit or continue following the trail around the mountain.
This part of the trail offers scenic views of Lake Tekapo and the mountains to the east and north of the lake.
Mountains north of Mt John, Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
Bench at the top of Mt John, Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
Before you start your descent, you’ll come up to a bench where you can sit and enjoy the views and an information panel that lists the names of several of the mountains and valleys to the north of Lake Tekapo.
Winding road and mountains, Mt John Walkway Tekapo, Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
As you start to descend, you’ll continue to enjoy views of the mountains north of Lake Tekapo, some of which include Mistake Peak, Mt. Sibbald, Mt. Erebus, and Mt. Chevalier.
Mt John Observatory at top of hill at Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
As you continue to descend and look back, you’ll see the Mount John Observatory at the top of the hill.
Unlike the first part of the Mount John Walkway that goes through the forest and has several switchbacks, the trail that goes down the hill is pretty straight, exposed, and surrounded by tussock grass.
Road and Southern Alps from Mt John Walkway, Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
As mentioned previously, there is a road that goes up to the Mount John Observatory. You’ll be able to see – and hear – cars going up and down the hill, because some sections of the Mt John Walkway are located close to the road.
Mt John lakeside trail, Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
Follow the trail that runs along the shore of Lake Tekapo back to the starting point of the Mount John Walkway.
This section of the trail is pretty long and you won’t see much other than Lake Tekapo itself and the mountains in the east, amongst which Two Thumb Range.
Kayakers on Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
Especially in spring, summer, or autumn you might see kayakers, jet skis, water skiers, and boats on Lake Tekapo. During winter in New Zealand, Lake Tekapo tends to be less busy.
Basic info for the Mount John Walkway at Lake Tekapo
|Trail length:||8 km (5 mi) loop|
|Walking time:||3 hours loop|
|Difficulty:||Moderately hard for the first hour through the forest and up Mount John, then easy on the descent and lakeshore walk.|
|Trail type:||A mixture of dirt, gravel, and rocks; expect snow on the trail in winter|
|Trail condition:||Very good to average|
|Fitness level:||Moderate to high|
|Best time to walk:||Morning or afternoon depending on the views you want to get; morning for the mountains north of Lake Tekapo and afternoon for those east of Lake Tekapo.|
|What you’ll see:||Trees in a forest, Lake Tekapo, the mountains around Lake Tekapo, the Mackenzie Basin flats.|
The following map shows the location of the start and end of the walk (the flag symbol). The trail you’ll have to follow approximately for the Mount John Walkway is indicated with a red line.