Top 12 things to do in Mackenzie Country

Tasman Glacier. Image: Miles Holden

Takapō. Image: Miles Holden

Mt Dobson

Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. Image: Miles Holden

Fairlie Bakehouse

Top 12 things to do in Mackenzie Country

Stunning landscapes to satisfy any appetite for nature, whether you’re setting out on a relaxing lakeside walk, a multi-day hike or bike ride, or simply finding a quiet place to enjoy the view.

Hit the slopes of Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, or ski the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest. Get out on Lake Tekapo, or relax in the soothing alpine waters of Tekapo’s hot springs. And don’t miss your opportunity to get in some serious stargazing in this International Dark Sky Reserve.

Experience Lake Tekapo (Takapō)

With its turquoise waters and stunning mountain backdrop, Lake Tekapo is a sight to behold at any time of the year. Enjoy the majesty of this scenic hard-hitter by getting out on the water. Kayaks and paddleboards can be hired from the lake’s shores, or take the jet boat or jet ski out for a side order of adrenaline-pumping action to go along with your scenery. There’s also some excellent trout and salmon fishing in this area if you’re handy with a rod – try your skills from the lake shore or from a boat.

Gaze up at millions of stars

They call it dark, but the sky is alight with stars brighter than you’ve ever seen. The Mackenzie region was officially declared an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012, which means it’s one of the best places in the world for stargazing due to the lack of light pollution. Stare in wonder at the seemingly endless night sky from any dark spot in the area, or visit the Mt John University Observatory to get a closer look at the universe with a Dark Sky Project stargazing experience.

Ski the Southern Alps

Get on the slopes at any of the Mackenzie district’s four main ski fields to enjoy spectacular scenery and exhilarating snowsport action. Fox Peak Ski Field is your local club field with some great long runs high on the Two Thumb Range, while Mount Dobson and Roundhill both have fantastic facilities for beginners. Ohau Snow Fields offer uncrowded slopes and plenty for skiers and boarders of all levels. If you’re searching for some thrilling off-piste action, check out a heli-skiing experience, where experienced guides take you via helicopter to the purest wilderness skiing you’ll find anywhere.

Take a photo at The Church of the Good Shepherd

This is  one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why. A picturesque little church with a jaw-dropping backdrop of the shimmering Lake Tekapo and Southern Alps behind, this spot is a postcard come to life. Time it early in the morning or at dusk to catch this historical stone church away from the crowds.

Go a-walking for some wicked views

Walks in the Mackenzie District range from peaceful river tracks to stunning lakeside paths and hardcore mountain climbing. The Hooker Valley Track is a popular three-hour walk, traversing swing bridges and ending at a glacier lake with views of Aoraki Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. The Mueller Hut Route and Mt John Summit Circuit Track are steeper climbs that reward you with panoramic views at the top. For shorter, gentler walks, the Governors Bush Walk, Lake Tekapo Walkway, and Peninsula Walkway are all manageable one-to-two-hour tracks taking in a range of native bush, lake and mountain vistas.

Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre

Get inspired to knock the bastard off! This tribute to New Zealand’s great explorer (the first in the world to climb Mount Everest) also showcases the history of the Mount Cook region through transport, climbing, and its people. One of the highlights is the custom designed theatre, the only theatre in the world with 2D, 3D and a digital dome planetarium. Recline in your seat and watch the cinematic marvel of Mount Cook Magic, the next best thing to climbing the mountain yourself.

Catch and eat at High Country Salmon

Fresh as a mountain daisy, these salmon come straight out of the glacial water and onto your plate. High Country Salmon is a boutique, family owned salmon farm, and it’s the place to go for mountain salmon raised in a hydro canal system for a clean, delicate flavour. Try it for yourself at the café, which serves a range of mouthwatering glacier-to-plate salmon dishes as well as vegetarian and chicken options. You can also stock up your freezer from the shop, feed the salmon, or catch your own.

Get up close to the Tasman Glacier

In the heart of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, the Tasman Glacier is the longest in New Zealand, over 600m deep and stretching for 27km. Get up close by air, on foot, by water, or even on skis. Walk from the Blue Lakes Shelter to get a good view of the glacier, or take a guided heli hike to explore on the ice – there are several operators running tours from Mount Cook Airport, and you get a stunning scenic flight into the bargain. On a Glacier Explorers Boat Trip, you’ll cruise through the terminal lake, touch icebergs and learn the history of the glacier and the surrounding national park. And with Ski The Tasman, you’ll travel by helicopter to New Zealand’s two longest ski runs, green-to-blue grade ideal for intermediate skiers.

Find your bliss at Tekapo Springs

Steam all your cares away at this alpine day spa and hot pools complex. The soft alpine water will leave you feeling revitalised and refreshed, and you can level up your self-care with a massage or facial at the spa. In summer, the inflatable obstacle course and 150-metre water slide provide hours of entertainment, and in winter, enjoy some snow action off the mountain with a 150-metre downhill snow tube, and get your skates on at the scenic outdoor ice skating rink.

Wheely good cycling trails

The Mackenzie region is positively crawling with beautiful mountain biking and cycling tracks. The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is an epic ride showcasing the best of the South Island’s scenery – the whole trail takes four to six days to complete, or you can choose to take in a small section in a single day. The Richmond Trail is for those of you with a bit of mountain biking experience, presenting sweeping views of Lake Tekapo and the Alps on a clear day. Cowans Hill runs alongside the Tekapo River from the township, into native bush, grassland and wetland, and rewards your efforts with stunning views of the lake and mountains.

Have a famous pie at the Fairlie Bakehouse

This bakery is the stuff of legend – a regular appearance on top pie lists and a favourite stop for locals and passers-through. You’ll find all the traditional flavours like beef steak and creamy chicken here, but you’d do well to try a signature flavour, like Pork Belly with Apple Sauce and Crackling, or Bacon and Salmon. For dessert, we recommend the cream buns – a soft, pillowy doughnut filled with the freshest whipped cream – yum.

Walk or drive up to Mt John Observatory and Astro Café

It’s a bit of a thigh-burn to walk from the lake to the top of Mount John – well worth it for the views. And if you’re not into that exercise scene you can drive up the back way. At night the incredible dark sky makes you feel like you’re looking directly into the universe, and the daytime views of Mackenzie Basin, Aoraki Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo are just as breathtaking. Plus, the daytime hours are when you can treat yourself to a Saturn-themed cappuccino and a piece of the famous carrot cake at Astro Café.

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