5 Neat Mackenzie Activities and Where to Treat Yourself Afterwards
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 of 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 refuelling afterwards.
Hot Pools + Dark Sky Diner + Stargazing Summit Experience
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.
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.
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.
Cycle Journeys bike hire & Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail day ride + Mint Folk & Co
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
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.
More South Canterbury Stories
Get to Know the Culinary Curiosities of South Canterbury
We've Done the Hard Yards to Bring You the Best Boutiques and Galleries of South Canterbury
The finest galleries and boutiques dotted around South Canterbury.
A Beginner’s Guide to the Southern Alps (for the Non-Outdoorsy Types)
A Drink & Dine Experience for Every Season in South Canterbury
From the hopeful splashes of spring colour to the thick of a white winter, no matter the outside air temperature, memorable dining experiences abound throughout South Canterbury.
12 Hours in Timaru
Make the most of your flying visit to Timaru with our 12 hour guide, which will have you sipping the best coffee, nipping into intriguing boutiques and galleries, learning about the ancient practice of Māori rock art and filling up on the best food in town.
Neat South Canterbury Places
A must-visit for anyone wanting to create a calm and considered home.
Ministry of Works
Ministry of Works is the social go-to for both Twizel residents and visitors alike.
The Yellow Door Café
One of the latest additions to Timaru’s café scene, The Yellow Door at the high end of Stafford Street is hard to miss.
The Running Duck
Stepping inside the Running Duck café in the heart of Geraldine is like stepping inside a proper kiwi bach, albeit with great coffee on tap.
Quite possibly the most scenic spot for a flat white in Aotearoa, Astro Café is a coffee shop experience not to be missed when visiting the Mackenzie region.