Aoraki / Mackenzie Country

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Te Manahuna / The Mackenzie Basin is an elliptical intermontane basin located in the Mackenzie and Waitaki Districts, near the centre of the South Island of New Zealand. It is the largest such basin in New Zealand and leads to the highest mountains of the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana as well as Lake Pūkaki and Lake Ōhau. It has a spectacular iconic Southern entranceway – Ōmakō /The Lindis Pass which holds some very special early morning and late evening light and shadows. The basin can be clear or filled with menacing clouds – either way it has a distinct ancient presence.

Aoraki/ Mt Cook and the mountains dominate the vertical landscape of the area, bold, upright and trying (unsuccessfully) to hold back the weather fronts banked up on the West Coast. It is not an area for the fainthearted. 

Aoraki (Mount Cook) is at the centre of the Ngāi Tahu creation traditions of Te Waipounamu. There are two specific traditions referring to Aoraki. In the first account Aoraki was an atua (demi-god) who arrived from the heavens with his three brothers. The return voyage went drastically wrong, and the waka crashed into Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean), forming what would later be known as the South Island (its earliest name being “Te Waka-o-Aoraki”). Aoraki and his brothers climbed to the highest side of the waka where they turned into the highest peaks of Kā Tiritiri-o-te-moana (the Southern Alps). In the second account Aoraki was a passenger on the Ārai-te-uru waka that crashed on the Otago coastline. After capsizing, many of the passengers went ashore to explore the land, including Kirikirikatata who carried his grandson, Aoraki, on his shoulders. The passengers needed to be back at the waka before daylight. However, most did not make it, and instead turned into many of the well-known landmarks of Te Waipounamu

I am most familiar with Lake Ōhau. I grew up here from the age ot two through to 21 where we had an annual winter holiday at Lake Ohau Lodge. Here, I learnt to ski tour back country and enjoy the spectacular reflections that the lake so often offered. I also worked as a general labourer and ski patrolled here for a year – it was a time of great learning, a time isolated from the rest of the world. It is a very special and magical place with an infamous northwest wind.


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