There is a lot to love about New Zealand, and anyone who has spent any amount of time in The Land of the Long White Cloud (a rough translation from the Maori Aotearoa) will tell you that New Zealand’s small size should not be taken as an opportunity for a short break. Even our Three-week road trip from Auckland to Christchurch (see our itinerary here) was far too short a time to spend in the country. Of all the things we loved in New Zealand, one of my favourite stretches of the journey was between Queenstown and Christchurch – the Mackenzie Country.
My family – all of whom grew up in New Zealand – are quick to reference this area as one of the more spectacular in the world, and I am inclined to agree. The first hint of the epic route came just 15km out of Queensland at Roaring Meg, a hydro-electric power station fed by a stream of the same name (as you can see, the word stream can be deceiving in New Zealand). As we descended – and often climbed – through the hills, the country flattened and we found ourselves on a flat plain, bordered by snow-capped mountains.
I fell in love with the Mackenzie Basin immediately, and I now harbour a not-so-secret ambition of starting a lodge in the Hamlet of Ohau, which sits between the ski field and the lake of the same name. We took a detour from the road north towards Aoraki/Mt Cook to check out Ohau’s ‘Club field’ a non-resort style snowboarding option. The snow had failed to fall, however and we were forced instead to take in the spectacular landscape. It was here that I found a block for sale and my desire to run a lodge was born. (I am aware that Ohau sits in the Waitaki District, which is next to the Mackenzie District, but forgive the simplification of New Zealand political boundaries for now)
Leaving my future home behind, we journeyed on to the village of Twizel and a brief stop at High Country Salmon, a roadside salmon farm on the highway not far from town. After a quick look and a bit of fish feeding we headed down the road to Lake Ruataniwha, an awesome rowing and water sports location, then on towards New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mt Cook. We spent a night in the shadow of the Alps and wandering around the imposing, yet rapidly receding Tasman Glacier, before heading on to Tekapo where we hoped to see the stars from the Mt John Observatory, take a dip in the hot pools and explore the lake and surrounds.
Unfortunately, the late winter weather and waxing moon dashed our hopes of the Dark Skies experience, but the hot pools, and scenery certainly soaked up our disappointment. Tekapo is a well-known stop along the road to Christchurch as the location of the Church of the Good Shepard – a brilliant photo opportunity, and a shrine to the trusty New Zealand sheep dog.
While staying in Tekapo, we took a drive on to the Mt Dobson Ski Area – another club field – and got a look at what non-resort skiing might look like. The snow was still lacking, but with a bit more time up our sleeves and the snow gods on our side, I reckon it would have been a brilliant option. After our morning’s exploration, we made our way to the top of Mt John for a bite at the observatory café and a final look over the dazzling Mackenzie Country before heading into Christchurch. As a last word, make sure you stop in Fairlie, at the Fairlie Bake house, for one of the best pies you’ll ever eat. Linh took a liking to the Salmon pie at Twizel and we followed our noses from there!