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Travel Guide

MacKenzie Country, Alpine South Island: what to see & do

Iconic Church of the Good Shepherd @peterham

MacKenzie country, alpine South Island is New Zealand’s high country landscapes dominated by native tussock, sweeping views of mountains, ravines and deep blue lakes reflecting the sky and earth. [new text MacKenzie is a photographer’s delight with its depth of light, sweeping views of mountains, lakes and rivers and the contrast between winter and spring.

Your first impressions will be of a world where people have lightly trod. It is an ecosystem, designed by the millenium for the birds and wildlife inhabiting this world. The climate is alpine, with its ability to turn on and off the sunshine with a bout of crisp, sharp wind flurries. Even in the depths of summer anticipate four seasons in one day.

Lake Tekapo @sebastiengoldberg

What are the best towns to stay in?

  • Probably Lake Tekapo, as it is the home of astronomical observations.
  • Of course there is always Twizel which is about 1 hour drive from most activities.
  • Then there is Aoraki / Mount Cook village perched among the mountains. It is difficult to beat the views of an alpine range tipped in snow, glinting light against the rocks when you get up in the morning.
  • I recommend you pick your must do activities and work out travelling distances and go from there.
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand @Tekapo Heights
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand @Agoda

What is the best time to visit?

Year round there is something to do.

  • Winter activity classic is ski/snowboarding with heliskiing as a bonus. Walking, hiking or extended tramps are problematic in winter due to snow, ice and the sheer difficulty of a mountain climate in winter.
  • Spring / autumn provide perfect photo moments with light, shade and the bronze tipped leaves encouraging photographers to reach for their cameras.
  • Summer is walking, tramping, being immersed in the landscape.



Scenery, nature is in charge of what is on view for the day. If it is cloudy with a chill breeze then the sun could peep out making for a great photo moment, be prepared with your camera for the magic of the MacKenzie country light.

Twizel @josemizrahi
Aoraki / Mt Cook & alpine ranges

Truely majestic alpine ranges, the South Island clothes rack with glamorous scenery that is world class. There is an enormous range with the alpes from sugar white powder to ski to quiet glacial lakes where the keas soar.

Aoraki Mt Cook National Park @WOWabouts
Lakes for fishing or boating

You are spoiled for choice from lakes where a day’s tramp is required to waterways just a stone’s throw from Lake Tekapo. Fly fishing is a national pastime and you are invited to the party.

Lake Tekapo @dmaginley
Walks, tramps and hikes ranging from 15 minutes to multiple days

The sheer depth and grade of walk means disabled visitors, where small children can participate in exploring the great outdoors. Everyone is welcome to take a walk in the MacKenzie country.

Short Walks, Lake Tekapo @Mackenzie Region
Wildlife encounters with Kea parrots

There is something magical about a parrot that has figured out people’s weakness for an adorable cute rounded green and red bird. No wonder the Kea is a survivor. Be Kea smart and let’s not feed the cheeky parrot.

Kea parrots @eBird
Tekapo Observatory

Observe the night skies at Tekapo Observatory and perhaps dinner under the twinkling stars. Night lighting the dinner makes for a very romantic evening. A special place in our great outdoors.

Tekapo Observatory @Earth & Sky
Iconic Church of the Good Shepherd for a photo moment

Sometimes being stunningly attractive is not a good thing, hordes of people wanting a photograph. Pick your moment and you can take pleasure in a picture postcard church against the lake and framed by the alpes. The large tour bus bays are empty, now is the time to savour the spaces it gives the locals.

conic Church of the Good Shepherd @julzhod
Visit a salmon farm

Feed the salmon while munching on a salmon pie or purchase ready to cook fresh salmon fillets. It is very delicious and salmon is high in lots of good stuff for us. A very good reason to have a second helping.

@High Country Salmon
@High Country Salmon
Omarama and gliding

Feed the salmon while munching on a salmon pie or purchase ready to cook fresh salmon fillets. It is very delicious and salmon is high in lots of good stuff for us. A very good reason to have a second helping.

Omarama and gliding @Must Do New Zealand
Helicopter flights

Helicopter flights for a birds eye view of the panoramic landscape. A fabulous way to get around and visit those places where footsteps are few and far between.

@Mackenzie Helicopters
@Mackenzie Helicopters

The journey is worth it.

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