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Coffee with a View at Mount John Observatory, Tekapo

Coffee with a View at Mount John Observatory, Tekapo

Mount John Observatory is the ultimate lazy person’s viewpoint. You can drive right up to the café at the top of the mountain and from there you can see 360-degree views of the stunning surrounds, including lakes, mountains and the little town of Lake Tekapo. It’s one of the best things to do in Lake Tekapo, and if you want a bit more of a workout you can tackle the (quite easy) Peninsula Walkway nearby.

Driving to Mount John Observatory

As is often the case in New Zealand, the journey is reason enough to take the trip to Mount John. It’s only around 8 km from Tekapo and once you leave the main road behind the views really start to open up. A narrow gravel road winds up the hill and there are several places to stop and take in the views. It costs $8 per car to drive up the road to Mount John Observatory, or if you can save some money and walk up  from the track starting close to Tekapo Springs (spending the $8 was an easy decision for us – why walk when you can drive!). The road is open from 9 am – 5.30 pm in summer and 9 am – 4.30 pm in winter.

Astro Café

I haven’t been to every café in New Zealand, so this is just a guess, but this place must be one of the most scenic places to get a coffee in the country. I say coffee, but I haven’t quite matured into a coffee drinker yet, so I had a milkshake. Food and drink is a little overpriced (which is to be expected at a place like this) but it was a good and worth it for the views.

READ MORE: Check out our awesome two-week South Island itinerary, which includes Lake Tekapo and so much more.

Exploring Mount John

While most people spend their time at the café and the areas close to it, you can go for a little walk to the higher peak for more great views over Lake Tekapo. There’s a weird little seat resting on rocks up there and it’s nice to get away from the crowds for a bit. To get there you have to head down a track and back up another one – it’s pretty obvious when you’re there. You can also walk down the hill a little from the café for more photo opportunities – there’s a big rock there which seemed like a popular spot.

The views from Mount John are spectacular in every direction, although it’s obviously hard to capture the spots where you’re looking into the sun. I’m not sure when the best time to go is but we went in the afternoon (around 2 pm) in winter and the views were awesome over Lake Tekapo but hard to capture on the other side towards Lake Alexandrina and beyond. It might be worth two trips (on in the morning and one in the afternoon) if you really want to capture every angle.

The Peninsula Walkway

It’s a good idea to combine a trip to Mount John Observatory with a walk along the Peninsula Walkway. The views are great and it’s a nice easy 90 minute (or less) walk. Check out the post I wrote about it for more information.

Star Gazing at Mount John Observatory

The area around Lake Tekapo is a Dark Sky Reserve, and we were invited by the Dark Sky Project to do a stargazing tour at Mount John. It was a fun trip and we learnt so much, as well as getting some up-close views of the solar system. If you’re going to splash out on a tour in this part of New Zealand I’d highly recommend it, especially if you love space as much as we do!

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our thorough South Island travel guide!

Disclaimer: We were hosted by Dark Sky Project on our stargazing tour. All thoughts and opinions are our own.

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.