Mackenzie Country

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Mackenzie Country overlooking Lake PukakiOverlooking Lake Pukaki

Mackenzie Country

The Mackenzie basin or Mackenzie Country as it is often called is an area in the centre of the South Island that is a great place to visit and spend time in all seasons. Popular destinations in the Mackenzie basin include Tekapo and Twizel.

There are numerous lakes and rivers for summer fun and in the winter there are the skifields for mountain fun.

The Mackenzie basin lies between Burkes Pass and Lindis Pass on State Highway 8 and has the majestic Southern Alps on the western border. The area contains New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook, and is also home to some of the country's most important lakes providing hydroelectricity.

If you are heading to Queenstown or Wanaka from Christchurch, you will pass though the Mackenzie basin and there are lots of photo opportunity spots on the way. However, if you have time, we would recommend you spend a bit of time exploring this beautiful part of the country rather than just passing through.

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Lake Pukaki Visitors CentreLake Pukaki Visitors Centre Aoraki Mount Cook in distance

Geraldine To Burkes Pass

Even though the Mackenzie Country doesn't officially start before Burkes Pass, if you are heading from Christchurch, you will likely be driving through Geraldine and onto Fairlie before turning left onto Hightway 8 to head towards Tekapo via Burkes Pass.

There is a little gem you might want to explore just outside Geraldine called Te Moana Gorge. Take the right turn into Te Moana Rd after you cross the bridge across Speechlys river about 3-4km outside Geraldine. The gorge is 13km along this road which is sealed early on but is unsealed for the last few km. The road does narrow near the end on the 'No Exit' section but you will love the native bush. There is flat land for a picnic and basic toilet facilities when you reach the gorge. I love the bubbling brook, the swimming waterhole and the sound of birdsong.



See and Do


Visit the art galleres in Kimbell which is just a bit outside Fairlie

  • Have fun with Alpine Lakes Adventures in Burkes Pass - for kayaking and mountain adventures
  • In the winter, ski at Mt Dobson which is reached from the road between Fairle and Burkes Pass

Eat and Drink

  • Stop at the Gallery and Cafe in Burkes Pass

Stop Awhile

  • Fairlie Top 10 Holiday Park

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Te Moana GorgeTe Moana Gorge

Burkes Pass To Tekapo

As you come down Burkes Pass you will see the expanse of the Mackenzie Basin in front of you. It is majestic in the winter when the ground is covered in snow and the basin stretches out before you with the Southern Alps rising in the distance.

And then as you drive, you suddenly turn a corner and there in front of you is Lake Tekapo. Tekapo is a vibrant village and there are so many visitor attractions, it's worth a stop over. Lake Tekapo is a Dark Sky Reserve so this is a special place at night.



See and Do

  • In winter, ski at Round Hill Ski Area
  • In winter, enjoy the Ice Rink and the Hot Springs
  • In summer, there is the new Cold Water Aqua Park for hours of fun
  • The iconic Church of the Good Shephard is a must photo-stop
  • Book a Star Gazing tour at Mt John Observatory (ask at the iSite in Tekapo)
  • Book an air safari in a fixed wing plane or a helicopter - ask at the iSite in Tekapo

Eat and Drink


Robin's takeaway is a favorite of ours for fish and chips in Tekapo

  • Run 76 is a cafe, deli and general store in the Tekapo village complex
  • Tekapo Thai is great for a more formal evening meal

Stop Awhile

  • Sit in front of the lake and enjoy the view - it's great whatever the season
  • Lake Tekapo Holiday Park and BackPackers is right on the lake front set among the trees
  • Take the road to Lake Benmore Haldon Arm at Dog Kennel Corner and stay at the camping ground

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Lake RuataniwhaLake Ruataniwha rowing complex 2000 meter start

Tekapo To Twizel

If you are driving in December / January, you will likely be greeted by bright pink and purple lupins along the roadside between Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki. There are known as Russell Lupins and are an invasive species in New Zealand, but visually they are spectacular.

We have covered the drive to Mt Cook on our <a href="http://www.new-zealand-campervan-holidays.com/christchurch-mount-cook.html" title="Chch to Aoraki" target="_blank">Christchurch to Aoraki/Mount Cook page.

The largest lake on the northern side of the Mackenzie basin is Lake Pukaki which has the regal Aoraki Mount Cook as a backdrop. There's something magical about being out on a a hot sunny summer's day and sitting at the lakeshore looking across the glacial blue water towards a towering snow capped mountain. The Lake Pukaki Visitor's centre is the perfect place to stop for photos.

We would like to introduce you to a new route along the canals between Lake Pukaki and Twizel.

As you drive out of the visitor's centre, go straight across the road rather than taking a right on State Highway 8 towards Aoraki/Mt Cook. Follow the sealed road around to the right until you come to the canal. Turn right and cross the bridge. Follow the canal, with it's sparkling aquamarine colour. At the end, turn left onto Highway 8, cross the bridge and then take a right back onto the canal road.

This road eventually heads towards the Ohau Power Station where you will take a left and head into Twizel via Lake Ruataniwha. Lake Ruataniwha has an internation rowing complex so if you are lucky, you will be there at the same time as a regatta so you can enjoy the spectacle.

See and Do

  • Stop on the canals to go fishing
  • Enjoy watersports on Lake Ruataniwha

Eat and Drink

  • Get Salmon at the Lake Pukaki Visitors Centre

Visit Shawtys in Twizel for coffee or lunch

Stop Awhile

  • Stop for a lunch and a swim at Loch Cameron on the canal road. No camping is allowed but it's a great spot for a short stop
  • There are plenty of free camping spot around Lake Pukaki - there are faciilites at the visitor's centre. Please make sure you don't leave any evidence of your stay when free camping around the lake as having the opportunity for free camping here is such a gift
  • There are free camping spots at both ends of Lake Ruataniwha - at the southern end, follow the signs that say 'Boat Ramps'. Alternatively head to the 2000m start line of the rowing complex.

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Lake Ruataniwha Rowing CourseLake Ruataniwha Rowing Course

Twizel To Lindis Pass

Head back out to State Highway 8 from Twizel village towards Omarama and Lindis Pass. You can take a road off to the right to Lake Ohau to explore that region more.

At Omarama, you can head take the road to Lindis Pass and onto Cromwell or you can head east towards Kurow and Oamaru.

If you take the road east, you will come to Lakes Benmore and Aviemore on the southern border of the Mackenzie basin. These are great destinations for summer fun especially if you have some form of water craft - a kayak, jetski or motor boat.

This ends our tour of the Mackenzie Country



See and Do

  • In the winter, ski at Ohau
  • Enjoy watersports on Lake Benmore, Lake Aviemore or Lake Ohau
  • Visit the Wrinkly Rams in Omarama for a sheep mustering experience

Eat and Drink

  • You can eat at the Wrinkly Rams and there is a play area for the kids
  • Merino Country Cafe and Gifts in Omarama is another good food stop

Stop Awhile

  • There is camping around Lakes Benmore and Aviemore as part of  'Waitkai Lakes Camping' run by Waimate Council. There is a fee and the camp is not open for the whole year
  • Omarama Top 10 Holiday Park
  • Lake Middleton Camping Ground, Lake Ohau

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