Lake Tekapo Camping Guide: The Best Campsites (2024)

Tekapo with Church of the Good Shepherd
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Lake Tekapo is a stunning gem in the Mackenzie District of New Zealand’s South Island. This tiny town is home to incredible mountain scenery, a giant turquoise lake and some of the best stargazing in New Zealand. Despite its popularity, camping options in Tekapo are quite limited. In this guide, I’ve shared all you need to know about Lake Tekapo camping, including freedom camping options.

Hiring a campervan is a popular way of exploring both the North and South Island of New Zealand. It gives you complete freedom of your itinerary and allows you to explore at your own pace and change your plans. As renting a campervan in New Zealand is so popular, laws have been introduced to control where people can park overnight.

To put it simply, campervans can only be parked overnight in designated areas. Parking wherever you like in New Zealand is not allowed. The best way to find campsites in New Zealand is by downloading the CamperMate app. This incredibly useful app lists all the campsites in New Zealand. It will tell you about any costs and if there are restrictions such as self-contained vehicles only. Users are also allowed to submit reviews of the campsite.

The CamperMate app is an absolute must when hiring a campervan in New Zealand. If you’ve already downloaded the app and are reading this post, you’ve probably noticed that camping in Tekapo is extremely limited. I’ve done my best to round up all your options for Tekapo campsites.

Lake Tekapo Freedom Camping

Unfortunately, freedom camping is prohibited in the town of Tekapo. This means you’re not allowed to stay in a campervan overnight anywhere in the town itself, even if you’re in a self-contained vehicle (unless you’re in a holiday park).

If you’re keen to avoid the costs of a holiday park, here are your only freedom camping options.

Campervan in New Zealand
Campervan in New Zealand

Mackenzie Waitaki RV Camping

This beautiful overnight camping spot is your best option for freedom camping near to Tekapo. It’s a 5-minute drive from the main town and sits on a hill overlooking the Tekapo area. It’s a very serene camping spot.

This Tekapo campsite is only for self-contained vehicles. It’s free and the only facility is a drop toilet.

Being the closest freedom camping spot to Tekapo, it can fill up quickly, especially in the summer months. I’d suggest arriving as early as possible to avoid missing out on a space.  

Note: this campsite is also known as Sawdon Edwards Stream.

Address: 3540 Fairlie-Tekapo Road, Tekapo 7999, New Zealand

Mount John in Tekapo
Views from Mount John in Tekapo

Lake Pukaki

The Lake Pukaki overnight freedom campground is one of the best campsites on the South Island of New Zealand. This magnificent spot overlooks the incredible blue lake with Mount Cook as a scenic backdrop.

It’s a 25-minute drive from Tekapo, so not in the most convenient spot if you’re joining a stargazing tour, but it’s completely free. If you’re driving between Mount Cook and Tekapo, it’s a great overnight stay.

The campsite itself is very simple. There are drop toilets but no other facilities. Your vehicle must be self-contained to stay in the Lake Pukaki overnight campground.

I stayed here several times while in New Zealand and it’s without a doubt one of my favourite spots. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Address: Lake Pukaki Overnight Campground, Pukaki 7999, New Zealand

Lake Pukaki overnight freedom camping, one of the best campsites near Tekapo
Lake Pukaki Campsite Views

Lake Opuha

If you’re driving from Christchurch to Tekapo and want a freedom campsite, consider looking at Lake Opuha and the Ashwick Flat area.

It’s still a 45-minute drive from Tekapo, but there are a couple of freedom campsites here including the North, West and South campsites. These freedom campgrounds are for self-contained vehicles only and offer incredible views of the area.

There are no facilities other than toilets and a few picnic benches. It’s worth noting these toilets are sometimes closed in the winter.

While these campgrounds aren’t exactly close to Tekapo, if you’re on a tight budget and not bothered about staying in Tekapo itself, they could be a good option.  

Address for west campsite: Opuha Gorge Road, Ashwick Flat 7987, New Zealand

Lake Tekapo Campsites

While free campsites are limited in Tekapo, there are a couple of paid-for campgrounds including holiday parks and more basic options.

Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo

Lakes Edge Holiday Park

The Lakes Edge Holiday Park is a great option for overnight camping in Tekapo and is one of the best holiday parks in the area.

The holiday park offers powered sites for campervans and motorhomes, as well as unpowered sites where pitching tents is allowed. The campsite is a ten-minute walk from the hot springs and the main area of town where there is a Four Square and several cafes and restaurants.

It boasts scenic views of the Tekapo area and has all the facilities you need. There are also motel style rooms and studios available if you want a break from your campervan.

Prices for powered campsites start at $70 NZD so it’s not cheap, but with freedom camping in Tekapo so limited it’s a convenient option.

Address: 2 Lakeside Drive, Lake Tekapo 7999, New Zealand

Lake McGregor Campsite

For a basic and cheap campground, consider heading to Lake McGregor. It’s a 15-minute drive from Tekapo and will cost you $10 per person. The site operates on a first come first serve basis and there is an honesty box for paying the campsite fees.

The campsite lies on the shores of the beautiful Lake McGregor. It’s a nice spot to go off grid and relax in nature. There are no facilities except toilets.

Note: this is a popular campsite for long-term campers. It’s often full and visitors struggle to find spaces. I managed to stay here for one night but got the last space.

Address: Lake Alexandrina Road, Tekapo 7999, New Zealand

Lake Alexandrina Campground

This basic campground is right on the shores of the lovely Lake Alexandrina. It’s another basic campsite and costs $20 NZD per night.

Like the Lake McGregor campsite, Lake Alexandrina operates on an honesty box system. It’s another popular site for long-term campers and it’s difficult to find a space in the summer months.  

Address: 217 Lake Alexandrina South Road, Tekapo 7999, New Zealand

NZMCA Park Tekapo

The NZMCA Park is a few minutes drive from the main Tekapo town. Unfortunately, to stay here, you need to be an NZMCA member. For those visiting New Zealand for a few weeks, I’m not sure paying the $240 NZD joining fee is worth it.

If you’re already a member, the NZMCA campsite is a fantastic option for camping in Tekapo.

Address: Te Araroa Trail, Canterbury 7999, New Zealand

Accommodation in Lake Tekapo

If you’re struggling to find camping spots in Tekapo, consider staying in one of the several hostels or hotels.

While it can be annoying to pay for accommodation when you have a campervan, options in the Tekapo area are so limited that sometimes it’s the only choice. Having stayed in a campervan for two months in New Zealand, I have to say it’s also sometimes nice to have a night off from camping.

Here are five options for where to stay in Tekapo.

Haka House Tekapo (YHA)

Haka House in Tekapo is a modern and clean hostel which offers both dorm rooms and private rooms. There is parking outside the hostel where you can leave your vehicle.

The YHA hostel overlooks Lake Tekapo. There is a stunning upstairs lounge area that has giant glass windows boasting incredible views of the mountains. This hostel also has a kitchen and a movie room. It’s right next door to the Dark Sky Project and Four Square Tekapo so it’s in a very convenient location.  

If you’re planning to ski, Haka House has a drying room where you can dry all of your wet clothes each day.

Views from Haka House, budget accommodation in Lake Tekapo
Views from Haka House

Stay in Tekapo Backpackers

Stay in Tekapo is another hostel in the town. It’s not quite as modern as Haka House, but it’s conveniently located and offers budget accommodation. There is a car park outside where you can leave your vehicle overnight.

Tailor Made Accommodation

Tailor Made is another budget accommodation option in Tekapo offering both dorm rooms and private rooms.

The accommodation is a little further back from the lake so doesn’t offer the same views as Haka House, but it’s still very conveniently located. There is also a shared kitchen.

Galaxy Boutique Hotel

If you want a bit of luxury, the Galaxy Boutique Hotel is a fantastic option. This 5 Star hotel sits on the top of a hill overlooking the town and lake. It really is incredibly beautiful here and the views are stunning.

There are a few accommodation options including regular rooms and suites which also have kitchenettes. While staying at the Galaxy Boutique Hotel doesn’t come cheap, it’s a unique experience and the definition of luxury.

Lake Tekapo Cottages

The Lake Tekapo Cottages offer a range of rooms ranging from budget studios to two-bedroom cottages. They’re in a fantastic location just a few minute’s walk from the Church of the Good Shepherd.

There is free parking on site so you can leave your vehicle overnight. The only catch with Lake Tekapo Cottages is it operates on a minimum of a 2-night stay. This could be quite limiting for those who only want to spend one night in Tekapo.

Summary

I hope you’ve found this post on camping in Tekapo useful. Unfortunately, camping options in Tekapo aren’t readily available.

As another option, you could consider looking at the nearby town of Twizel or Fairlie for accommodation or camping options. They’re a bit of a drive from Tekapo but might work with your itinerary.

Wherever you plan to stay, Tekapo is an absolute must visit on your South Island road trip. It’s full of epic activities including amazing hikes, relaxing in the hot springs and of course, stargazing.  

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Lake Tekapo Camping Guide
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