New Zealand has become the hottest destination in the world in the last decade. Hailed as the best country in the world to visit by numerous UK tourism boards, NZ continues to draw crowds for many reasons. With its unbelievably dramatic landscapes, New Zealand proves to be heaven on earth. Used in many films including the ever popular Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, NZ is pure magic. One of the most magical locations in the country is located in the middle of the South Island. The Mackenzie District is home to a vast array of attractions, activities and landscapes. Its buzzing anytime of the year, especially in the winter when the mountains are snow capped, making it picture perfect. Read on to see why I think the Mackenzie is simply the best!
The highest lake in the country Lake Tekapo is a sight for sore eyes. When the sun shines down on this massive lake, the colors change from a deep turquoise to a bright blue right in front of you. It’s a breath-taking site. The lake is surrounded by mountains that make the lake look even more fake with the contrast of colors. Lake Tekapo is booming in both winter and summer, being a big tourist destination. The wee village of 400 bubbles to over 4,000 in winter, making it a buzzing spot of activity. It’s also home to hot springs, and the darkest skies in the world. You can take a tour to the top of Mt. John and look through the largest telescope in NZ at the clusters of starts above. There’s also horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking, and skiing in the winter. For the outdoor enthusiast, Tekapo is a great place to visit.
Mt. Cook National Park
Driving into the park feels like you’re on the set of Jurassic Park. The mountains squeeze the valley and loom overhead. This is by far the most dramatic of landscapes around. Mt. Cook-called ‘Aoraki’ in Maori, means ‘Cloud Piercer’ and they named it that for good reason. The mountain in the highest peak in the country at over 14,000 feet. It’s also famous for being Sir Edmund Hillary’s training route when he trained for climbing Mt. Everest. With plenty of camping, hiking, helicopter riding, glacier hiking and everything in between, Mt. Cook National Park has something for everyone. It’s also a great day trip from Tekapo which is only a little over an hour away. My personal favorite is the Hooker Valley Track. The three-hour hike takes you to Hooker Lake which is at the base of the mountain with a clear shot of Mt. Cook in the background. It’s unbelievable!
Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail
Officially not open until 2017, this 301 kilometric trail goes from Mt. Cook to Oamaru; a seaside town on the eastern coast of the South Island. This impressive off-road trail goes through so many different regions, you landscape changes in the blink of an eye. You can choose to do sections of the trail or give it your all and do the entire trail over a course of a week. For cycle lovers, this is one of the best trails in the world. The Alps 2 Ocean Trail gives you the best views and experiences of the Mackenzie District. Majority of the trail is along the lakes, up and around the beautiful, vast flats and mountains ranges before it drops down into the valleys through wineries and old mining towns.
Mt. John Is the local hill in Tekapo and it offers up the best views of the lake and the surrounding region. From the top you can see the Southern Alps, Mt. Cook on a clear day, and all the way to the end of the lake. Mt. John walkway is a spectacular hike that provides you with the best reward at the summit; a café. Sit inside if it’s cold and enjoy a nice coffee and a sweet treat or snag one of their lovely tables outside for the view. I’ve spend many hours out there taking photos and loving the changing of the lake colors.
Roundhill Ski Area
In the wintertime, Roundhill Ski is pumping with locals and visitors alike trying to get their taste of fresh powder. Not the biggest ski hill by any means, but Roundhill makes up for its small stature with insane views. It’s great for both beginning and those who have a bit of experience. For those who want the views but don’t want to ski or snowboard, they have two cafes and bars up there to relax in. One of them is ski-in only so you may want to learn the basics if you want that drink!