Between mid-November through mid-December in New Zealand’s Mackenzie Basin, a magical sight appears: bursts of wild lupins bloom in abundance, in a rainbow of colours that are simply amazing to see.
The glacial turquoise blue of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, backed by soaring snow-capped peaks, are already a stunning sight…but add some wildflowers into the mix, and you’ll experience the most dreamy display of vibrant colours, all courtesy of Mother Nature.
Technically, lupins are an invasive weed in the high country area, and are a cause for concern amongst conservationists… all we can say is that we can’t imagine a more beautiful pest.
We recently visited the area on a quick weekend trip from Wellington – an hour flight to Christchurch on a Friday night after work, then a three hour drive to Lake Tekapo, made for a quick but very doable weekend getaway.
Here’s where we stayed and explored:
Lake Tekapo Holiday Park: This holiday park is right on the lake, and offers an array of accomodation options: choose from tent sites, powered campervan sites, glamping tents, motel units and cabins – basically, they have it all if you’re not after something fancy, and are budget-friendly, too.
We opted for a standard cabin, which came complete with fresh linen and towels, and shared the campground bathroom and kitchen. It came equipped with all of the basic cooking supplies you’d need (pots/pans, utensils, hot water boiler, etc.) and had a nice little porch with an outdoor table and chairs. The shared kitchen, barbecues and bathroom were super clean. We loved staying here!
Go lupin-hunting: During mid-November through mid-December, you’ll find lupins all around the southern end of Lake Tekapo (near the township area). Go for a walk through along the waterfront and you’ll stumble across patches of them – our favourite spot was along the walking path from the holiday park to the town centre; go at sunset on a clear day for the best lighting!
Additionally, you’ll find some lupins along Lake Pukaki, the start of which is about a 45-minute drive from Lake Tekapo. We recommend driving around the lake and on to Mount Cook if you have the time – more on that in a bit.
Visit Mount John: This is the best viewpoint in Lake Tekapo! We highly recommend going to the Astro Cafe up there on a clear day – grab a coffee and a local salmon bagel, and enjoy dining with an epic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. You can drive up (an $8 road user fee applies), or hike up there along the Mount John Summit Track.
Soak in Tekapo’s hot pools: When the lupins are out, it’s springtime – and that can sometimes mean inclement weather. If you’re in the area on a blustery day, soaking in these lakeview hot pools would be a great way to go – we didn’t end up having time to visit them, but have only heard great things about them! If you’re staying at the holiday park, you can walk to them in under ten minutes.
Hike in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park: This park is about 1.5 hours from Lake Tekapo… and it sure is gorgeous there. The drive is also stunning, as the majority of it weaves along turquoise-blue Lake Pukaki.
Our favorite day hike in Mount Cook is the Hooker Valley track, which takes 2-3 hours round-trip depending on how many photo ops you stop for. This hike is meant for a clear day, or at least a day when you can see part of Mount Cook – skip it on a clouded-in, rainy day.
The Hooker Valley track is a moderate hike without too much uphill, and involves a few swing bridges, a boardwalk over a grassy plain, glacial lakes, and epic views of Mount Cook along the way – on a sunny day, it’s one of the best hikes in the South Island. Expect crowds, though – you can avoid this by going early in the morning.
On the drive from Christchurch to/from Tekapo: A must-do on this roadtrip is a pie at Fairlie Bakehouse – their pork belly and applesauce pie is simply divine (and our favourite pie in all of New Zealand)!
In Lake Tekapo: We made our own food at the campground – Lake Tekapo’s sweet little Four Square supermarket is the perfect place to grab your own supplies. (Side note: make sure to have a swing at the flying fox right by the supermarket!)
If you don’t feel like cooking, this Japanese restaurant looks great and features lots of local alpine salmon on their menu.
Around Mount Cook: Food within the National Park itself can be expensive, but on the drive in/out of Mount Cook, stop here for local alpine salmon in all forms – fresh, sashimi-stye, and smoked, to name a few.
We also had a great casual lunch at the Tasman Delta Cafe at Glentanner, which is just 20 minutes out of the park and right on the way in/out – they have yummy burgers and fish ‘n chips, the perfect comfort food to restore you after a hike.
Between the walks and the wildflowers, the food and the fabulous views – we can’t imagine a better spring road trip. (Bonus points for the lack of crowds in comparison to the summer season).
Have fun frolicking in the flowers! xx