Big views and bigger adventures in Mackenzie Country

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One of the most compelling reasons to explore New Zealand is the diversity of landscapes. You don’t have to go far to experience completely different climates and ecosystems and, of course, Instagram-worthy views.

In many ways, each region is like its own little country worth exploring. As someone who has made a living exploring, photographing and documenting the world, I am always fascinated by the fact that here in New Zealand you can go from rainforest to wild beach, to snow capped mountains and dusty volcanoes in the span of a day. Where else in the world can you experience such varied landscapes in such a small package?

The Northern Lights dance on the horizon of Lake Ruataniwha.

Liz Carlson

The Northern Lights dance on the horizon of Lake Ruataniwha.

One of the best areas to view this has to be South Canterbury, where once you head inland towards the Mackenzie Basin you’ll have your socks knocked off.

With the Southern Alps as a backdrop of canals and turquoise lakes, the dry wind blowing off the mountains, gliding through the Mackenzie Basin, makes you feel like you’re on another planet.

READ MORE:
* Skylark Cabin: Twizel’s private luxury escape for stargazers
* Mackenzie Country: The only area Kiwis must see before the borders open
* Glentanner Station: the most spectacular new promenade on the South Island

The Mackenzie region packs a punch, and the best way to appreciate it is on a good old-fashioned roadie. From Christchurch, it’s a three-hour cruise to Lake Tekapo, where the big views begin.

Lake Tekapo is simply magical.

Liz Carlson

Lake Tekapo is simply magical.

Home to the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the Southern Hemisphere, there is no shortage of star gazing in these regions. Wherever you stray from the city lights you’ll get epic views, and there are informative conservatory tours worth signing up for. Be sure to give yourself a few nights to ensure you have every chance of a cloudless night. True astronomy enthusiasts will be sure to stargaze when it’s a new moon, so the bright moonlight doesn’t obscure the stars.

For a real taste of adventure, head to the Tasman Glacier on a helicopter ride.

Liz Carlson

For a real taste of adventure, head to the Tasman Glacier on a helicopter ride.

Further inland, you can take a detour along the long, beautiful road that ends in a dead end at the small but charming village of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Dominated by mighty Mount Sefton with its tumbling glaciers, you are nestled in the best place to experience the Southern Alps.

A great base for adventure, there are plenty of day walks and thigh-burning climb walks here, all offering stunning views. The Hooker Valley Track is beautiful and easy with stunning views over Aoraki/Mt Cook to the Glacial Lake.

A night at Mueller Hut tops the bucket lists of many.

Liz Carlson

A night at Mueller Hut tops the bucket lists of many.

If you want to burn some serious calories, you can head to Muller Hut for the day or night (book ahead during tourist season). You can also follow the Sealy Tarns track for lovely views across the valley.

With 19 peaks over 3,000 meters high, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park has long been a mecca for mountaineers. But for those of us who yearn for alpine adventures but don’t necessarily have the baggage or the experience, there is a way to have a taste without the risk.

Mt Cook Glacier Guiding offers heli-hiking, ice climbing and snowshoeing on the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier. Crossing the blue ice under the shadow of Mount Cook is something you won’t soon forget.

Skylark Cabin overlooks the Ben Ohau Range near Twizel.

Liz Carlson

Skylark Cabin overlooks the Ben Ohau Range near Twizel.

Whenever I visit the Mackenzie region I tend to sneak into Twizel. Full of quirky old tarps, delicious cafes and close to the outdoor action, Twizel is the perfect base for exploring this incredible region. Just outside of town, along the back canals near Ben Ohau station, you’ll find lovely cabins that have been built overlooking the rolling planes and mountains.

Skylark Cabin is a luxury getaway featuring a large domed skylight so you can stargaze from the comfortable bed. Nearby is the High Country Cabin, a wooden delight where you want to curl up by the fire and never leave. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing or adventurous vacation, the Mackenzie region certainly has something for everyone.

Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions on covid19.govt.nz.

The writer has already been hosted by several quoted operators.

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