MacKenzie Country and Mount Cook
Over the years, we've tried to visit pretty much every place in New Zealand there is to visit. To date, there are still a few regions which remain unvisited by us - the East Cape/Gisborne area between Napier and Tauranga being the most significant.
One of the places which we hadn't visited was the South Canterbury region called the MacKenzie Country; named after a sheep rustler - James Mckenzie (yes, spelt differently) who hid out in the sparsely populated region with his rustled sheep. The area remains sparsely populated today, but is rapidly developing a strong pull for tourists to visit due to it's fairly unique, if somewhat stark, landscape.
Starting off from Christchurch, we headed South on State Highway 1 before cutting inland on to State Highway 79 at Geraldine about 150km away. From here, we drove for another 100km or so to the village of Lake Tekapo, situated on the Southern shores of the lake of the same name. The weather was perfect for the visit and we were able to enjoy a walk in the hills around the village, play a round of mini-golf and have a look at the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd - surely one of the most photographed landmarks in New Zealand.
From Lake Tekapo, we continued West before taking the road up along Lake Pukaki towards Mount Cook and the little village which lives in its shadow. There isn't much too Mount Cook, but there is a huge hotel there called the Hermitage from which you can see views of the tallest mountain in New Zealand - Aoraki/Mount Cook. The mountain is 3,754m tall and is apparently 37th tallest in the world in terms of prominence. It was also a mountain on which Sir Edmund Hillary practiced before his successful ascent of Everest. The Hermitage hotel originally dates back to a small original built back in 1884, but in the intervening years it has become a bit of a behemoth which dominates the village.
Anyway, whilst in Mount Cook, we stayed for a night and enjoyed a star gazing tour which took advantage of the lack of light pollution to allow you to view stars through a telescope unimpeded. During the day, we also took a decent hike up to Kea Point which overlooks the terminal moraine of the Mueller Glacier and then decided to take a steep uphill walk to the Sealy Tarns - supposedly a fantastic viewpoint from which to see both Aoraki/Mount Cook and the valley below. Unfortunately, the weather turned whilst hiking upwards and made the view decidedly poor.
Following those little excursions, it was time to hit the road back to Christchurch. However, we took the long way round, first heading South to Twizel and then Omarama stopping at any little walks or places that looked interesting. In Omarama we enjoyed some time in the local spa pools. The Omarama spa pools were like huge barrels where you could stand in up to your neck. Great to relax after a good long walk the day before. From Omarama, we turned back towards the coast. Some more spectacular views were on offer as we drove along, past Benmore and Aviemore lakes, before hugging the braided Waitaki River down to the coast. A brief stop to stretch the legs in Timaru and then back to Christchurch for our flight home.