Re­gional Travel /

Latitude Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS Me­gan Miller

The magic of the Macken­zie Dis­trict

Just a few hours’ drive from Christchur­ch, the beauty of the Macken­zie is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble for a long week­end get­away or a week-long fam­ily hol­i­day. The main thing is to al­low plenty of time to ex­plore and dis­cover all the hid­den trea­sures and ad­ven­tures, large and small, that are on of­fer.

The Macken­zie takes its name, fa­mously, from an out­law. James Macken­zie, a Scots­man who got in some trou­ble steal­ing cat­tle in the High­lands, came to New Zealand and con­tin­ued his old tricks. He and one loyal dog, so the story goes, man­aged to steal 1000 sheep from a sta­tion near Ti­maru and drove them 40 miles to what is now Macken­zie Pass. He was found, cap­tured, and al­most im­me­di­ately es­caped, flee­ing into the rugged coun­try­side at night with­out boots. He reap­peared 10 days later and 200 kilo­me­tres away in Lyt­tle­ton, and was ar­rested, tried and sen­tenced to five years of hard labour. Through a bit of le­gal wran­gling he man­aged to se­cure a par­don the next year, boarded a ship to Aus­tralia, and van­ished from the record.

While the mod­ern-day res­i­dents of the Macken­zie are gen­er­ally more law-abid­ing, there re­mains some­thing in these grand vis­tas and wide-open spaces that feels wild, free and un­con­strained. Here, in the shadow of New Zealand’s high­est peak, life seems full of lim­it­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­plo­ration. From the Māori peo­ple who first trav­elled and hunted this land, to the mod­ern ex­plor­ers such as Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary, some­thing in this place stirred count­less ad­ven­tur­ers and still calls out to the vagabond in us all.

As the Can­ter­bury Plains give way to the rolling green foothills of the South­ern Alps, be­fore you know it you’re in Fair­lie, home to the in­ter­na­tion­ally-fa­mous Fair­lie Bake­house, which should cer­tainly be in the run­ning for the ti­tle ‘Best

Pie Shop in New Zealand’. Don’t miss the chance to stop for a clas­sic mince and cheese, or a deca­dent pork belly and ap­ple sauce pie com­plete with crispy crack­ling on top.

While in Fair­lie, take the op­por­tu­nity to browse the many

lovely shops and bou­tiques in the town cen­tre, and see if your ex­plor­ing leads you to the statue com­mem­o­rat­ing James Macken­zie and his faith­ful dog.

From Fair­lie it’s only a short drive to the lake­side re­sort town of Takapō/Lake Tekapo, but it’s well worth al­low­ing ex­tra time to stop off along the way at the art gal­leries in the tiny vil­lage of Kim­bell, as well as the shops and his­toric sites of Burkes Pass vil­lage. The small, quaint ap­pear­ance of the Burkes Pass set­tle­ment is mis­lead­ing – the lit­tle town has a rich his­tory and in the 1800s was briefly planned to be the cap­i­tal of the Macken­zie Dis­trict.

A few min­utes fur­ther on, the drive over a last rise and down into Takapō/Lake Tekapo of­fers the first views of one of the Macken­zie’s fa­mous turquoise lakes. The water, an oth­er­worldly milky blue, takes its colour from tiny par­ti­cles of rock ground down by the glaciers that scoured and carved the land­scape.

Those lakes were the in­spi­ra­tion for the man­made hot pools at Tekapo Springs, which are de­signed as smaller copies of lakes Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau. A soak in the hot pools is a glo­ri­ous re­lax­ation ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially in chilly au­tumn or on a snowy win­ter day. If you’re trav­el­ling with the kids, Tekapo Springs also of­fers plenty of fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties year­round. In sum­mer, their new Aqua Drop wa­ter­slide and gi­ant Jumper­naut in­flat­able ob­sta­cle course pro­vide hours of fun,

A soak in the hot pools is a glo­ri­ous re­lax­ation ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially in chilly au­tumn or on a snowy win­ter day.

while in win­ter the ice skat­ing rink and snow tub­ing are a per­fect way to spend an af­ter­noon.

It is sur­pris­ing how many Ki­wis have made the drive through the Macken­zie Basin, but never turned off for the side trip to Ao­raki/Mount Cook Na­tional Park. Vis­it­ing ma­jes­tic Ao­raki is truly a bucket list ex­pe­ri­ence that all New Zealan­ders should en­joy at least once. Views of Ao­raki are es­pe­cially spec­tac­u­lar from the Hooker Valley Track, one of our most fa­mous day walks and an out­ing for chil­dren as well as adults. In cold months, with a dust­ing of snow on the ground, it is trans­formed into a jour­ney through a hushed win­ter won­der­land.

The na­tional park is home not only to beau­ti­ful walks for all fit­ness lev­els, but also to some of New Zealand’s most iconic tourism ex­pe­ri­ences. This year Mount Cook Ski Planes and He­li­copters, based at Mount Cook Air­port, are cel­e­brat­ing the 65th an­niver­sary of the first land­ing of a ski plane on the Tas­man Glacier. Sir Henry Wigley pioneered ski plane flight in New Zealand by de­sign­ing the re­tractable skis which al­lowed planes to land on snow­fields. To­day you can still en­joy a ski plane flight and Tas­man Glacier land­ing in the same man­ner that Wigley first ac­com­plished back in 1955.

While spec­tac­u­lar year-round, au­tumn and win­ter just might be the best sea­sons to visit. For one thing, it’s the time of year that’s still undis­cov­ered by many in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, and any crowds that ac­cu­mu­late at pop­u­lar spots in sum­mer have moved on by late April. Then there’s the land­scape, which seems to grow even more dra­matic as the days grow shorter. Long golden rays of late af­ter­noon light set the Macken­zie Basin aglow, and the South­ern Alps are in their full glory, with

Macken­zie ski­ing is one of the bestkept se­crets of Otago res­i­dents, who have long es­caped the crowded Queen­stown ski fields.

fresh snow crown­ing the tops of the peaks. On cold, clear win­ter nights, the stars are es­pe­cially breath­tak­ing – it’s im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe the bril­liance of the night sky in the Ao­raki Macken­zie In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serve.

Sev­eral busi­nesses now of­fer a va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences to guide your ex­plo­ration of the stars. Dark Sky Project, for­merly Earth & Sky, pioneered as­tro­tourism in the dis­trict with its fa­mous stargaz­ing tours atop Mount John. The com­pany is still lead­ing the way with a new in­door dig­i­tal night sky ex­pe­ri­ence that tells the his­tory of Māori as­tron­omy and life by a sea­sonal cal­en­dar of con­stel­la­tions. Other stargaz­ing op­tions in­clude Tekapo Stargaz­ing, which of­fers a re­lax­ing soak in the hot pools while gaz­ing at the beauty over­head, and Sil­ver River Stargaz­ing, which guides guests onto a high coun­try sta­tion where the stars sparkle against a back­drop of clear, dark sky.

Then there’s the ski­ing, which is the heart of win­ter recre­ation for many lo­cals. The Macken­zie boasts sev­eral ski fields, with Round­hill Ski Area near Takapō/Lake Tekapo, Mount Dob­son near Fair­lie, Ohau Snow Fields near Twizel and the Fox Peak Ski Area club field. Macken­zie ski­ing is one of the best-kept se­crets of Otago res­i­dents, who have long es­caped the crowded Queen­stown ski fields for week­end get­aways to en­joy short lift lines and open slopes.

TOP / Chil­dren play­ing on the Lake Pukaki fore­shore, with Ao­raki/Mount Cook in the back­ground. Photo, Chanelle O’Sul­li­van.

TOP / Tekapo Springs of­fers a range of sum­mer and win­ter ac­tiv­i­ties for the en­tire fam­ily to en­joy. ABOVE / The hot pools at Tekapo Springs are de­signed in the shape of the Macken­zie’s three largest lakes – Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau.

ABOVE / Dark Sky Project, for­merly Earth & Sky, pioneered as­tro­tourism in the Macken­zie with its iconic Mount John Sum­mit Ex­pe­ri­ence stargaz­ing tour.

BE­LOW / Ski­ing is the heart of win­ter ac­tiv­i­ties in the Macken­zie, for lo­cals and vis­i­tors alike.

TOP / It’s not all ac­tive ad­ven­ture. Restau­rants and cafés through­out the re­gion use qual­ity lo­cal in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate ex­quis­ite din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

BOT­TOM / Sev­eral Macken­zie-based cy­cle tour com­pa­nies sup­port day rides on the beau­ti­ful Alps 2 Ocean Cy­cle Trail.

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