There’s no denying, the Mackenzie District on New Zealand’s South Island has some of the most beautiful natural landscapes on the planet. Home to blue alpine lakes, night skies filled with stars, and towering mountain ranges, if you’re visiting NZ, this is somewhere that should be on your list. So here are the best places to visit in the Mackenzie District, to help you on your way.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is one of the most famous places to visit in the Mackenzie District. The scenery here is simply stunning, with turquoise waters fringed by the southern alps. The township itself is very small, with only a petrol station and a couple of shops. So the best thing to do in Lake Tekapo is to just enjoy the peace, quiet and natural beauty.

And there are plenty of walks where you can do just that. These include the walk along the shore to Pines Beach as well as Cowan’s Hill Walkway and Mount John summit up on surrounding higher grounds. Whilst other popular activities include mountain biking, horse trekking and stargazing. Not forgetting a trip to the Tekapo hot springs to relax and unwind at the end of the day.

Top things to do in the Mackenzie District, Lake Tekapo

Church of the Good Shepherd

Sitting on the shores of Lake Tekapo, the Church of the Good Shepherd is a famous landmark that should be on anyone’s checklist when visiting the Mackenzie District. This charming stone church and it’s gorgeous backdrop is arguably one of the most photographed places in New Zealand. Although there are no photos permitted inside if you take a peek you’ll find the church’s highlight…A large window that perfectly frames the lake and mountains beyond.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

International Dark Sky Reserve

Little light pollution makes the skies in the Mackenzie District some of the clearest in the world. 4300 square kilometres of the area make up the southern hemisphere’s only Dark Sky Reserve, where on a cloudless night millions of stars can be seen. This rare chance to experience the night sky like never before and see constellations like the Southern Cross and the Milky Way attracts astronomers and astrophotographers alike. For keen stargazers, tours are available at the Mount John Observatory in Lake Tekapo where you can view the stars through their telescope. 

Dark Sky Reserve Mackenzie District

Lake Pukaki

Nestled in pure wilderness, Lake Pukaki is another beautiful place to visit in the Mackenzie area. Like Lake Tekapo, the water is also a bright turquoise colour and framed by the peaks of Mount Cook National Park. Despite its remote location, there are areas to park up, have a picnic and walk down to the shore to take in the stunning views.

Lake Pukaki, Mackenzie District

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Route 80 from Lake Pukaki to Aoraki/Mount Cook Village

This is one of the best drives on New Zealand’s South Island. Starting at Lake Pukaki, the route winds north along the shoreline and then up into the mountains of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park ending at the little Aoraki/Mount Cook village. With plenty of opportunities to stop along the way and take in the beautiful scenery, the drive is very much about the journey as much as it is the destination. So take your time and keep your camera at the ready!

Route 80 to Mount Cook, Mackenzie District

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is one of the best places to visit in the Mackenzie District. Home to both the tallest mountain and the longest glacier in New Zealand its natural wonders are truly awe-inspiring. To experience the best the park has to offer, stay in Aoraki/Mount Cook village which has some accommodation and a campsite. Most of the park’s fantastic hikes start from here, where you can get off the grid and into beautiful wilderness.

Mount Cook National Park

Tasman Glacier

As the longest glacier in New Zealand, the 27km Tasman Glacier is certainly one of the best things to see in the Mackenzie region. You can reach it by taking a short road just before Aoraki/Mount Cook village which will lead you to a car park. From there, there are a few easy walking tracks that offer stunning views of the glacier itself, the Tasman Lake and adjacent smaller Blue Lakes.

Tasman Glacier, Mount Cook National Park

Hooker Valley Trail

Set within Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, you’ll find one of the best walks in the Mackenzie District. The Hooker Valley Track.  This 10km return walking trail takes you into the heart of the valley ending at the Hooker Lake. Along the way, you’ll cross swing bridges suspended above alpine rivers, see ancient glaciers and trek on grassland boardwalks. As the terrain is fairly flat all the way, it’s a moderately easy hike that everyone can take at their own pace and enjoy the breathtaking views along the way.

Hooker Valley Trail, Mount Cook, Mackenzie District


On the outer edges of the Mackenzie District lies the little alpine town of Twizel. The town has some great cafes and restaurants to explore, as well as a supermarket and petrol station. It’s a good place to stock up on food and petrol whether you’re heading into or out of the district. There are also a few scenic walks that are well worth stopping off for including the Twizel Walkway and River Trail. These offer fantastic views of both the Mackenzie basin and Aoraki/Mount Cook as well as picnic spots along the way.

Driving to Twisel, Mackenzie District

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