Taking you from Christchurch all the way into the beautiful Mackenzie Country and back again, this weekend roadie is not one to put aside for a rainy day, it’s for the do-as-soon-as-possible pile. Not only will you come across all the landscapes and attractions this region is famous for, you’ll also find all-too relaxing hot pools, unbelievably scenic walking tracks, top-notch food, and a whole lot of stars (the sky-high kind, although the locals are pretty dazzling too).
The Mackenzie Region is a treasure trove of impossibly stunning scenery, but its positioning in the midst of the Southern Alps means getting there is not so appealing. Don’t be put off by the winding and the climbing of the road, once your windscreen opens up to the sight of Lake Tekapo and its surrounds, you won’t regret a second of the 3 hour drive. And if you’re driving an EV, there’s absolutely no reason to be hesitant about making the journey into the Mackenzie Country, as the road is blessed with charging stations all the way along. Just follow our guide and you won’t have any trouble.
A weekender is unfortunately a bit too short to get all the way to the heart of the Mackenzie Region at Mount Cook, but there’s nothing holding you back from spending a couple more nights if you’ve got a few extra days off and a soul for adventure. Can we come too?
Rising from the post ’quake ashes of the beloved Caffe Roma, Miro is one of Christchurch’s most special spots for brunch. Finding a charming middle-ground between café and restaurant, you won’t find a cabinet of pre-made food here, just friendly table service and a patient, thoughtful atmosphere. Everyone who is here is looking for a relaxed, drawn-out morning and a heavenly breakfast meal, and they’ve come to the right place. When it comes to choosing, you seriously can’t go past the Miro breakfast board. You’ll feel all sorts of Parisian as you devour a bowl of granola with Raglan coconut yoghurt, seasonal fruit and manuka honey, ‘dippy egg’ with soldiers, croissant with homemade preserves and freshly-squeezed orange juice.
This one isn’t so much an exciting place to stop, rather a pretty cool place to drive, being New Zealand’s longest road bridge at over 1700m long. That actually makes it the champion by more than 700m, with the next longest, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, clocking in at a mere 1020m. Pretty impressive, huh? Completed in 1939, the Rakaia Bridge spans the braided Rakaia river, which travels all the way from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean, making it a fascinating natural feature to look down at when you travel above. Make like the locals and see how far across the bridge you can hold your breath. Unless you’re driving, of course… we wouldn’t want to be responsible for anyone passing out at the wheel.
If you’re in an EV, best charge up on your way through Ashburton so you can head a little off the beaten track. Plug in to the rapid chargers provided by EA Networks in the West Street car park, which can be found off the main road opposite McDonalds. Crank it up well, it’s another 70km to your next charging point.
Breathe in a bit of that famous South Island air with a stroll through Peel Forest, a nature reserve full of ancient native wonder. There are all sorts of walking tracks to be explored in the depths of Peel Forest, from 30 minutes to 7 hours long, and everything in between. For the purpose of this trip, (and getting to its all-too exciting end destination), we’d recommend the 30 minute return ‘Big Tree Walk’. For something that sounds like it was named by a preschooler, it’s a pretty awe-inspiring place, surrounded by a forest of native totara trees that are thought to be around 1000 years old. One even has a trunk span of three-metres across, so hey, we can understand the name. Start at the Te Wanahu picnic shelter and wander through these gentle giants, hopefully feeling that little bit more fresh when you get back to the car.
The Fairlie Bakehouse is a little bit iconic in these parts. With a finger-licking range of pastries, baking and other delicious treats, this place will turn your face into a real-life heart eyes emoji. If you can only pick one thing, believe us when we say that their Lieber Pies are little morsels of too-good-to-be-true-ness. Hearty, hunger-busting and health-... Okay, maybe not so healthy, but are we even human if we don’t allow ourselves an indulgence every now and then? A pie is the ultimate Kiwi roadie snack, so it’s only fair you take one for the road. Those little flakes of pastry that end up in every nook and cranny are all part of the fun.
How good is a pamper session after a long day of driving? You can find just that upon your arrival to this jaw-droppingly stunning part of New Zealand, by sliding into one of the three hot pools at Tekapo Springs. Overlooking the icy turquoise water of Lake Tekapo, outlined by the golden hues of the surrounding mountains, or lying back and looking into the deep, clear blue of Mackenzie Basin sky, there is something so tranquil about this spot that just can’t be matched. Although the water isn’t geothermal, it does come straight from an underground source near the glacier-fed Lake Tekapo, so you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s as pure as the air you’re breathing. Don’t blame us if no other hot pool feels quite so special after treating yourself to this one.
It’s got a pretty unassuming exterior, but this place has got to have one of the best dining views in Tekapo, unless you’ve pulled up a picnic rug on the banks of the lake itself. But if you did that, you wouldn’t get to experience the food behind the cult following of Kohan Restaurant. Offering authentic Japanese cuisine, from beautifully-prepared sushi to complete (and completely delicious) bento boxes, Kohan is must-try. Sashimi lovers, prepare to go weak at the knees… the wealth and quality of salmon that comes from the alpine waters of the Mackenzie region means the fish is fresher-than-fresh, and you can really taste the difference.
You will have seen the iconic shot of the Church of the Good Shepherd in front of an unbelievably starry sky. Well, it may seem unbelievable, but when you see the night sky in this region for yourself, you’ll see just how real and completely incredible it is. This is thanks to the region’s recognition as an international dark sky reserve, which protects its surrounding 4300 square-kilometre area from any light pollution, resulting in perfectly dark nights, covered in sparkling stars. The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the Southern Hemisphere’s only dark sky reserve, meaning there is no better place on this side of the world to kick back your feet and look at the stars. If you have money to splash out for a stargazing tour, Earth & Sky have many different (and all bewitchingly beautiful) options to suit any preference. But if you’re on a money-saving trip, a blanket on the grass will leave you just as starstruck. Geddit?
There are plenty of different accommodations in Tekapo, ranging from the most basic facilities to the top of the tops. Wherever you go, you will be surrounded by the natural beauty of the region, as Lake Tekapo Village is peaceful and picturesque at every turn. Our pick is the Tailor Made Backpackers Hostel, which offers cosy private and shared rooms for prices that won’t make you regret eating any of that sashimi you splurged on. Even better, they welcome EV drivers with open arms and an open (and free) charging spot. Recharge your vehicle and your body after a long day and night of activities, because the next day is going to be chock full of more adventure.
You can either start this one at the bottom of the hill, next to the Tekapo Springs complex, or drive up and complete the summit circuit loop from the top (but be aware that there is an $8 vehicle fee for this road). If you kick off at the bottom, it’s a relatively steep climb up the hill, followed by the loop track around the top of Mt John. It’s a bit more (okay, a lot more) of a thigh burner than driving up to the summit, but the sweat will make those next-level views that much more breathtaking. Or maybe that’s just you being out of breath. Either way, this summit is one of the best spots to look out over the Mackenzie Region, with 360 degree views over Lake Tekapo, Lakes McGregor and Alexandrina, and across to the Southern Alps. You can either return the same way (2 hours return) or take a longer route down the other side of the hill and back along parallel to the lakefront (3.5 hours return).
Okay, we know we said Kohan Restaurant has the best dining view in Tekapo, but this one truly takes the cake. Before you head back down the hill (either by foot or wheels), stop in at the mountaintop Astro Café for a plate full of food and an eyeful of the Mackenzie Basin from above. Walled completely by glass, there’s no seat in Astro that doesn’t have a view as tasty as whatever you choose to order for your stomach. Start your day with a bagel topped with some more of that deliciously fresh local salmon (gotta make the most of being in the region!), or tuck into a warming toasted sandwich for the more chilly mornings. Claimed by Lonely Planet to be “quite possibly one of the planet's best locations for a cafe," you won’t have any regrets over having your morning caffeine fix in front of this view.
After a short visit filled with pampering, adventuring, indulging and all sorts of sense-tingling, it’s time to head back towards Christchurch. But not, of course, before you check the spot of all spots in Tekapo, the oh-so iconic Church of the Good Shepherd. It gets around 100 000 visitors per year, some of whom also join in on their public Sunday services, but there’s no number of people that could make this place any less special. Perched above the unimaginably vibrant waters of Lake Tekapo, surrounded by tussocks and rocks and, if the season’s right, vivid lupin flowers, this small stone church has got to be one of the most picturesque scenes you’ll ever see. Get that camera out, but make sure you also take a screenshot in your mind so you can keep looking at this spot forever.
On your way back through Burke’s Pass, stop for a break at this quirky collection of vintage stores and displays. Channel your inner retro enthusiast as you check out the 1950s General Store, Service Station, Blacksmith Shop and Trading Store at Three Creeks, which house a wildly funky range of art works, crafts, giftware, retro collectibles, wooden furniture and much more. Surrounding the stores are classic cars and farm machinery, vintage petrol pumps, and beautiful macrocarpa slab furniture. Hope you brought a trailer on the road with you, because you’re going to want to take everything back home.
Soak up the relaxing way of life in rural Canterbury with lunch at the Farm Barn Café, just north of Fairlie. It’s like dining at the home of a dear friend, only probably with a better view and much better food. Sitting pretty atop a hill, overlooking the beautiful surrounding valley and mountains, this place has a cosy and welcoming farm barn feel to it (wonder where it got its name from?), with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. If the weather is kind, enjoy a hearty lunch out in the fresh air overlooking your newly-adopted kingdom. And we’ll let you in on a secret, they also sell Fairlie Bakehouse pies. Round two, anyone?
Whilst in Geraldine, spend a bit of time exploring this small town, which has lured people in for decades to experience its laid-back country lifestyle. Set on the backdrop of a tree-filled valley amongst the foothills of the Southern Alps, this friendly town has a proud community spirit and passionately artsy vibe. Our pick of the many art attractions in the town is the McAtamney Gallery. Owned by locals Carolyn McAtamney-Rasch and Andrew Rasch, this spot is a haven of the region’s art, showcasing a range of emerging and established artists’ works from New Zealand and abroad. From painting to photography to sculpture, prepare to have your arty interests piqued and your hidden talents inspired.
Probably the one thing on most Kiwis’ minds when thinking of Geraldine would be Barkers, New Zealand’s iconic makers of jams, chutneys, syrups and condiments. Working off the family farm since 1969, Barkers now employs around 200 locals to make these delicious goodies, making it a hugely important business in the region. You can visit the Barkers of Geraldine store to see their full (and delicious) range, and stock up on their products to take home. A free tasting of all their treats wouldn’t go amiss either.
Make one last stop in Ashburton to charge up your EV, so you can make it back to Christchurch without any qualms. It’s about 90 km back to the city, so this charge should be enough, but there are additional charging stations in both Rakaia and Rolleston if you think you’re going to run into trouble.
Quell that rumbling in your tummy when you get back to Christchurch, with a booking at one of the coolest dinner spots the city has to offer. Self-proclaimed to be a ‘refreshing gastronomic paradise,’ Amazonita is inspired by the spirit of the Amazon, with culinary influence from their Mediterranean roots. We don’t know about you, but that itself is enough for us to drop everything to give it a go. And that’s before you even get to the food. There’s too many great choices, so opt for some small plates to share. Our table is filled with the line-caught ceviche, chicken wings with buffalo yoghurt and the chicken liver pâté. You’d best hope that at some point through your meal you’ll need to have a toilet break, because Amazonita might just have the coolest bathrooms we’ve ever set foot in. Just enough funky to be fun but still classy, we could stay in here all night. But then again, that would mean missing out on the beautiful food on your plates, and that would be a true tragedy.
Banner Photo Credit: GeoZoneUserId_172092