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Travel Guide

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

  • 4 minutes

Canterbury, South Island

MacKenzie country attractions, things to do from Mount Aoraki (Cook), the Hooker walking track and alpine lakes. MacKenzie country, South Island is New Zealand’s high country landscape dominated by native tussock, sweeping views of mountains, ravines and deep blue lakes reflecting the sky and earth. The scenery is a photographer’s delight with its depth of light, sweeping views of mountains, lakes and rivers and the contrast between winter and spring.

Lake Tekapo reflections, Canterbury, New Zealand. Panorama in winter.
Lake Tekapo

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. 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.


Alpine with hot dry summers, brightly lit days and cool summer evenings. 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. Winter expect snow, ice and sub-zero conditions.

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 Sunset, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo Sunset
Lake Tekapo Wilderness, motorhome, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo Wilderness, motorhome

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Sunset Mueller glacier Aoraki mt Cook, New Zealand
Aoraki mt Cook
Kea alphine parrot Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Kea parrot
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Sunrise at Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand
Sunrise at Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo
@Mackenzie Helicopters
@Mackenzie Helicopters
  1.  Omarama and gliding.  Silent winged flights as an alternative to a helicopter ride. You are soaring with the birds in the quiet with the world stretched out behind your winds.  What a place to be.
  2. 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.

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