High in the Southern Alps is the historic stretch known as the McKenzie Country. Situated at the base of the towering Alps and majestic Aoraki-Mt Cook, the inland McKenzie basin encompasses some of the most spectacular scenery in the South Island.
Conveniently part of the inland motoring route between Christchurch and the Southern Lakes, the McKenzie Country includes beautiful Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, the outdoor adventure centre Twizel and the alpine village of Mt Cook.
Situated in the centre of the South Island, the McKenzie Country and Aoraki Mt Cook are 2.5 hoursdrive from Christchurch in the north and Queenstown in the south.
The region has a rich history; from early Maori settlement to the Europeans who started to graze cattle and sheep in the 1850s.
The McKenzie Country draws its name from the legendary rustler, James McKenzie. Together with his famous dog Friday he managed to steal varying numbers of sheep from local run-holders. He was eventually imprisoned in 1855 but managed a number of escapes (and recaptures). What happened to McKenzie and Friday after their release in 1856 remains a mystery. A visit to Lake Tekapo is not complete without a visit to the sheepdog statue, important partners in farming in the area whether within the law or without.
The entrance to the McKenzie Country from Christchurch is the pretty farming township, Fairlie. The town is an important farming centre surrounded by outstanding countryside and offers farm
visits, golf, hiking and lake and river fishing.
Lake Tekapo has some of the best southern skyscapes available. Clear, fresh air ensures fantastic night sky viewing. The lake itself is a deep turquoise blue with the colour created by fine particles
from glaciers in the headwaters of rivers feeding into the lake.
Alongside the lake is the Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the McKenzie Country. The church has fabulous views of Lake Tekapo and mountains through
its altar window.
Accessible by a fascinating scenic drive is Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3,754 metres. Set in the heart of the Southern Alps, the alpine village of Mt Cook is a popular centre for numerous outdoor adventures, experiences and sightseeing.
Scenic helicopter flights into the alps with spectacular snow landings provide an unequalled alpine experience. Excellent accommodation makes Mt Cook Village an ideal base for hiking, mountain climbing, tramping, horse trekking and boating on glacial lakes, and shows nature at its very best.
Not far south of Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook is a substantial salmon farm raising what are reputed to be some of the finest salmon in the world. The quality of the fast flowing glacial rivers ensures that the salmon thrive in the highest salmon farm in the world, free of pollutants and run-off. Look out for directions to Mt Cook Salmon, take a visit and enjoy the taste.
The township of Twizel was originally established as part of a local hydro scheme but has now developed into a wonderful tourist centre with five lakes nearby and the opportunity to fish for salmon, brown or rainbow trout in the numerous waterways.