If the one thing that springs to mind when mentioning Mackenzie Region is the Church of the Good Shepherd (that small stone chapel by the lake in Tekapō, where everyone interrupts Sunday service to take a selfie), then now is the time to upskill your central South Island knowledge.
The Mackenzie District has Lake Tekapō as its centre point and spans outwards to encompass Aoraki Mount Cook, Fairlie and Twizel, to name a few. This region is 2.5 hours’ drive from both Christchurch and Queenstown, so is the perfect midway pit stop when planning your South Island roadie.
Known for its idyllic turquoise lakes, epic glaciers and awe-inspiring night skies, Mackenzie is the place to be for romantics, adventure seekers and families alike. Mackenzie Region follows a classic seasonal calendar with crisp and snowy winters, dropping below zero degrees overnight.
* Winter wonderlands: Where to see the best scenery
* A guide to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park: When to go, where to stay and what to do
* Exploring the South Island by motorhome and e-bike
* Tekapo: New Zealand’s most beautiful view
The long, hot summer days will often find you baking in temperatures around the 30-degree mark. Set aside 48 hours to explore the region and discover some of New Zealand’s hidden gems.
First on the agenda after leaving Christchurch is morning tea in Fairlie. Yes, you can get in the queue and wrap your mitts around a famed Fairlie Bakehouse pie. However, if you’re after something a little more luxe, give Farm Barn Café a go.
Known for its delicious sweet treats and stellar views across the hills, this family-operated business sits pretty at the top of Mount Michael. Farm Barn Café uses locally produced ingredients where possible. After you’ve had a bite to eat, it’s time to introduce yourself to Daisy the deer, and hand-feed some farmyard animals.
With your stomach lined, head across the mainland (around 1.5 hours’ drive) west towards Aoraki/Mount Cook. This National Park is a sightseer’s dream and boasts the tallest peak in New Zealand (3724 metres in altitude). You can partake in a number of hikes, ranging from multi-day tramps to day trips such as the Hooker Valley Track, which can be walked in around three hours return.
Overnight adventures like the Department of Conservation’s Mueller Hut Route come with spectacular panoramic alpine views. The 28-bunk hut has seasonal restrictions and bookings are required between November to April. Channel Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and pack your ice axe and crampons if you’re attempting any of the longer hikes during winter.
If you’d rather experience these views from much greater heights, book in a scenic flight or skydive. A number of tour companies operate from varying convenient locations around Lake Tekapō, Twizel, Glentanner and Mount Cook. The alpine climate can be very changeable, so be sure to come prepared. As always when you’re off the beaten track, merino layers, extra water and snacks are your friend.
While in the area, opting to stay at The Hermitage is a great choice. This proudly New Zealand-owned lodging was first established in 1884. The site started out as a rudimentary cob-walled building used as a base for climbers. A couple of severe floods and fires later, The Hermitage now sits at an elevated point against the mountain, guaranteeing stunning views. The main building is conveniently located next door to the Aoraki DOC visitor’s centre and a number of the track entrances.
Another item on your Mackenzie Country bucket list should be the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail. Starting at the base of Mount Cook, the trail takes you along the shores of Lake Pukaki. From here, head either to Lake Tekapō township or continue South to Twizel, Omarama and finally end at the coast in Ōamaru. You can stretch this out over seven days, or do a section of the trail as a day ride. Suggestions for bike hire, luggage transfer and tours are all available via their website to make planning and logistics a breeze.
Once nightfall hits, explore another galaxy via telescope with Dark Sky Project’s Summit Experience at Ōtehīwai, Mount John Observatory. Interestingly, this observatory was commissioned back in the 1960s by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania. They were after a location for a Southern station with minimal light pollution, yet not too far from an accessible major city. Our friends in the US then teamed up with the good folks at the University of Canterbury to develop the site.
After some developments in technology, the Americans relinquished their reign and the site is now locally owned and is leased to Canterbury Uni. The Summit Experience lasts for over an hour and a half. Extreme weather jackets are provided, but make sure to don your layers. Even in summer the evening wind chill can see temperatures dip below zero.
SkyScape is one for the romantics. The luxury escape is nestled in the hills overlooking Mackenzie countryside, only a ten-minute drive from Twizel town centre. The team here recently picked up the Small Business Award at the Ara South Canterbury Business Excellence Awards. Pay them a visit and you will see why.
Each secluded accommodation pod is constructed nearly entirely of glass. The units lead on to private outdoor bathtubs filled with water from the nearby Ben Ōhau Range springs. Located in the middle of an International Dark Sky Reserve means the clear-skied evenings will blow you away.
Snuggle into your king bed, and we challenge you to find a more comfortable spot with as many shooting stars, or moon as bright. A continental breakfast is included in your booking. If you’re after a quick takeaway meal, we can recommend ducking in to Fishtail Restaurant and Bar in town for some Indian takeaway delights.
Before finishing your stint in magnificent Mackenzie Country, unleash your inner hunter-gatherer. Apart from dishing up some of the freshest salmon eggs Benedict in town, High Country Salmon offers a Catch-A-Fish Experience where you can reel in your very own Chinook (king salmon). No personal fishing gear is required and what’s even better, the team will take care of all the messy bits such as filleting and gutting your catch. You pay by the kilo, so it will be just your luck to catch the biggest fish in the pond. No throw-backs allowed.
Rates at The Hermitage start from $205 per night. See hermitage.co.nz
The Dark Sky Project’s Summit Experience is $149 for adults and $85 for children. See darkskyproject.co.nz
Accommodation at SkyScape starts from $600 per night. See skyscape.co.nz
High Country Salmon’s Catch-a-Fish Experience costs $30 per kilo of fish caught. See highcountrysalmon.co.nz