Most places in New Zealand are known for the attractions that make the area famous. In the case of the Mackenzie Basin, however, it’s what isn’t here—rather than what is—that make it such a legendary spot. Located between the cities of Queenstown and Christchurch, the Mackenzie Basin is a vast swath of dry, undulating grasslands, where the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps dramatically rise above the plains. Of the five villages inside of the basin, Twizel is the largest with about 1,000 people, whereas Tekapo, Omarama, Fairlie, and Mt Cook Village all have fewer than 800.
With the dry, clear skies and lack of development, the stars at night shine brighter here than anywhere else in New Zealand, which has led to the establishment of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. By day, the famously turquoise Lake Tekapo is a favorite of South Island photographers—not only for the stunning Church of the Good Shepard that silently sits near the shore, but also for the epic alpine backdrop that’s formed by the Southern Alps.
The town of Tekapo, at the center of the Mackenzie Basin, is 2 hours and 45 minutes from Christchurch and 3 hours from Queenstown. The drive on Route 8 connecting the two towns is one of the best in New Zealand, and you can break up the drive by staying in Twizel—enjoying the stargazing at night.