5 Neat Mackenzie Activities and Where to Treat Yourself Afterwards

Aoraki Mt Cook on a sunny day.

The scenic Mackenzie Region is filled with a multitude of activities and experiences. The stunning landscapes of vast plains, snow covered mountaintops and glimmering turquoise lakes create a picture perfect backdrop to these outdoor activities; all which are complemented by the region's ever growing quality hospitality offerings.

Words by: Petra Nyman

Photos by: Supplied 

Whether you choose to explore the region on two wheels or rise to the skies on board a helicopter, soak in hot pools or visit an ancient Māori rock art site; stargaze under a clear night sky or take a stroll in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, there are mountains of opportunities for broadening your horizons. 

We have gathered together a guide filled with a number of activities that will have you experiencing the wonderful Mackenzie Region in the best, most authentic possible way; plus, of course, help you point your nose to the finest spots for refueling afterwards.

Hot Pools + Dark Sky Diner + Stargazing Summit Experience

Lake Tekapo

Found yourself at Lake Tekapo and unsure of what to do? Fear not, as we have got an activity pack designed for you to enjoy your time in the lakeside town. Begin your exploration with a bit of relaxation at the Tekapo Springs Hot Pools. The warmth of the purpose built pools reflect the warm hospitality of the people of the Mackenzie Region, and invite you to unwind in a unique setting. With five pools of varying temperatures to choose from, plus a sauna and steam room accompanied by a cold plunge pool, you will feel revitalised and ready for more action. 

All scrubbed up and ready to roll, head back to the town centre and find your way to Dark Sky Diner to dine in style on the lakefront. With unobstructed views of the stunning scenery through floor to ceiling windows and dim lighting to avoid adding to light pollution, the setting at Dark Sky is hard to match. On the food side you’ll find a menu filled with South American inspired dishes, such as Beef and Chorizo casserole, together with a wide selection of tapas. Pair your meal with a Berry Mojito or a glass of New Zealand wine, and your taste buds will thank you.

Finish off the day with an unforgettable stargazing experience at the world-renowned astronomical centre: UC Mt John Observatory. Immerse yourself in the stories and science of the Southern skies all told by expert guides, and take in some of the most pristine night skies in the world with sophisticated viewing technologies. This interactive experience is something you’ll undoubtedly cherish for years to come, and it’s worth booking well in advance in order to avoid disappointment.

Lake Tekapo at Night

Aoraki / Mount Cook Heliski + Snowline Bar

Aoraki Mt Cook

If you happen to find yourself in the Mackenzie region during the winter months, head to Aoraki / Mount Cook, for the ultimate heli-ski adventure. Usually operating between the months of July and September, Mt Cook Heliski’s packages will have you making tracks in the white stuff like you’ve never done before. The terrain is suitable for everyone from first time heliskiers to experts, and the friendly and professional guides will help you make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime venture. There are plenty of different tours available, and it’s best to book well in advance. 

Warm up afterwards at the Snowline Bar in the heart of the Hermitage Hotel. Snuggle up in a comfortable chair or on one of the lush sofas and take in some of the most spectacular views in the country, all while sipping a beverage of your choice.

The bar boasts a great snacks menu, and we do think nibbles like the polenta fries and crispy coated chicken wings work a treat after all that time spent outdoors. The bar is open to all, so whether you are staying at the hotel or not, rest assured you will be welcomed to enjoy this special spot.

A pool of water surrounded by snow capped mountains.

Hooker Valley Track + The Old Mountaineers Café Bar & Restaurant

Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park

Walking one of the tracks is the best way to appreciate the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, and if you’re pressed for time, the Hooker Valley Track is your best option. With a length of only 5km and a height of about 100m, the well-formed track is an easy and fast walk for all levels of fitness, while still offering outstanding views of the highest mountain in Aotearoa and the icy, rugged surrounds. Along the way you’ll encounter swing bridges, icebergs, glaciers and of course, some majestic mountains, so make sure that the camera battery is charged.

Afterwards, rest your legs and grab a bite to eat at The Old Mountaineers Café Bar & Restaurant. Currently operating as a takeaway business only due to current covid-19 restrictions, the café serves up classic homemade burgers and pizzas made with quality ingredients, plus ice cream and drinks.  There’s also an off-licence for excellent wine and beer. You can still view the souvenirs and books available in store while you wait for your order, and then find an outdoor spot to enjoy the magnificent setting and your yummy food.

Snow capped mountains reflecting in a lake.

Cycle Journeys bike hire & Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail day ride + Mint Folk & Co

Twizel

Explore the Twizel region on two wheels by heading over to Cycle Journeys depot for a bike hire and find yourself riding the day away along some remarkable scenery.

There are several ride choices to suit all levels of bike riders and you can select from trails between 24-55km that will take you along some of the best sections of the longer Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. Find yourself pedaling past fields of golden grass framed by mountaintops and bright blue lakes. On a clear day, the brilliant views of Aoraki / Mount Cook will help you keep going even if the trail gets tough.   

Reward yourself for all that exercise with a delicious meal and drink at one of the hippest Mackenzie eateries around: Mint Folk & Co. Entering this café will immediately hit the spot with its visually appealing styling paired with subtle hues and natural materials. To top it all off, dishes here are designed to complement the overall sophisticated yet casually cool mood of the eatery, so you are in for a culinary treat as well. Perhaps a coffee is in order to re-boost your energy levels or for a non-caffeinated option, go for a cold pressed juice.

Walk at Pioneer Park & explore an ancient Māori rock art site + Farm Barn Cafe

Fairlie

A wonderful hidden gem of the Mackenzie Region, Pioneer Park, a 390-hectare conservation area, is a mere 20km from Fairlie. A variety of native and exotic trees surround the area with multiple different length walks available for all abilities and groups. You can camp, picnic, swim and explore this special spot where the entire family will be easily entertained. While here, make sure to visit a sign-posted site of limestone shelters where Māori rock art adorns the walls. The area was an important temporary refuge for Māori for over 800 years as they passed through the area. Take a moment to honour the past and the ancestors who once walked on this very land. 

On return to town, make a stop at the wonderful Farm Barn Café on top of Mount Michael. The beautifully styled café instantly invites you to wind down and relax. The vintage touches and high country feel harmonises with the impressive location of this special cafe. Food in the cabinet and on the menu is all made on site, bar the famous Fairlie Bakehouse pies, and coffee is crafted to perfection every time. Make sure to wander down to the garden as well and meet the friendly animals that are always up for a pat and a feed.

The view of Pioneer Park from above.

Neat South Canterbury Places

The Little Red Fox

The inside of The Red Little Fox store in Fairlie.
Place South Canterbury

The Little Red Fox is a contemporary fashion store located in the Mackenzie country town of Fairlie. Housed in a high ceilinged, stone-clad building in the centre of town, natural tones and raw wood beams set the scene for a pleasurable browsing experience.

Susan Badcock Gallery & The Mailroom

Artwork and sculpture at Susan Badcock Gallery,  Geraldine.
Place South Canterbury

Explore this unconventional gallery space where contemporary artworks by Susan Badcock and the wider creative Badcock family are showcased alongside other New Zealand artists.

Ministry of Works

Interior view of table at Ministry of Works, Twizel.
Place South Canterbury

Ministry of Works is the social go-to for both Twizel residents and visitors alike.

Hydro Café & Twizel Bookshop

A door to the entrance to the bookshop from Hydro Café in Twizel.
Place South Canterbury

Hydro Café has been keeping the good people of Twizel well hydrated for nearly a decade.