Lake Tekapo sits right in the center of New Zealand's South Island. It's in a mountainous part of the country so there aren't very many ways to get there, but it's accessible by road from the major towns and cities of the South Island. Here's how to get to Lake Tekapo.
Many travelers to New Zealand like the freedom of having their own wheels, even more so in the sparsely populated South Island. Driving to Lake Tekapo is the most convenient way of getting there from many parts of the South Island, and allows you to stop at the many points of interest en route, whichever way you're coming from.
By Car, From the North and East
There are no roads from Lake Tekapo leading north, so if you're coming from northern parts of the South Island—such as Nelson, Picton, or Kaikoura—you'll have to go via Christchurch or the Arthur's Pass National Park first.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island (the second-largest in New Zealand), and is 140 miles (230 kms) east of Lake Tekapo. Take State Highway (SH) 1 south-west out of Christchurch and keep going until you see signs for Geraldine/Aoraki/Mount Cook, when you'll turn onto SH 79. If you drive directly, this takes about three hours. The first part of the journey across the Canterbury Plains is flat, but then gets more hilly, and the views more attractive, after Geraldine.
By Car, From the South
The major towns of Dunedin and Queenstown are to the south of Lake Tekapo, and are connected by various routes.
Dunedin is 180 miles (290 km) south-east of Lake Tekapo. The most direct route takes about 3.5 hours, and travels north along the coast from Dunedin on SH 1 until just before Timaru, when it turns north-west along SH 8. The Moeraki Boulders, north of Dunedin, are a must-see attraction along this route.
Queenstown is 160 miles (250 km) south-west of Lake Tekapo. The journey along SH 6 and then SH 8 (from Cromwell) takes about three hours. It's quite a straightforward journey as it skirts the mountains, passing Cromwell, Twizel, and Lake Pukaki.
By Car, From the West
There are some rather large mountains standing between Lake Tekapo and the West Coast of the South Island, so getting from towns like Haast and Franz Josef is a round-about journey. Cross the challenging Haast Pass through the mountains, and then connect to SH 8 heading north from Cromwell (as above). The 200-mile (330 km) journey between Haast and Lake Tekapo takes about four hours.
If you're coming from towns further north on the West Coast—such as Hokitika, Greymouth, or Westport—it's more direct to go via Christchurch.
If you'd rather not drive yourself, you can make versions of the above-mentioned journeys by long-distance bus. There are direct buses between Christchurch and Queenstown and Lake Tekapo, but from some other places, you'll have to change buses somewhere en route. Traveling by bus is slower than traveling by private car, but you'll get to enjoy the views. Buses are reasonably comfortable and spacious and make comfort and meal stops often enough.