McKenzie Country


We have been spending time with my cousin Jon at his place just out of Timaru he offered to take us on a guided tour of the back and the McKenzie country so Sunday morning we jumped into his Landrover and off we went. First stop just up the road was the Maori rock art.

I must say that although I knew there was Maori art that predates European times I have never seen any and had no idea where in the country it could be viewed so when we pulled up at this remote little valley I wondered the history behind the art. It was great to see this board fully explaining what we where about to look at.

The art itself was at first difficult to spot with the cliff in shadow and the different colours of the rock but as our eyes become accustomed to the light we started to notice the shapes that had been drawn. Although the art is not as extensive or as detailed as you see in some other parts of the world it is one of the few areas in NZ with rock art making us glad we came to view it.


Right next to the rock art wall was this piece of farming history reminding you that you are now on a working farm, I could not make up my mind if it was disappointing to see it or I was made aware that they had been farming here for quite some time now.

From the rock art it was onto the McKenzie Pass proper with Jon giving us a running commentary about the history of the area and how McKenzie was minding some sheep in an area called Cave when he decided that he wanted these sheep to be his own rather than the owners with this plan he started to move the sheep up the valley. The valley was tussock grass brown and strangely devoid of sheep on this day. It is sad to see the high tension power lines strung across the valley as it rather spoils the remoteness of the area. The power lines are the ones that take power from the Benmore scheme up all they way to Auckland.



The road contains multiple fords with some almost flat with the road whilst others had steep banks that made Sarah and I glad we where sitting in a 4WD. Trying to drive the campervan along this road would have been impossible with the overhang at the back we would have become stuck at the first ford we encountered.

The memorial stone above is where McKenzie was finally captured by two Maori trackers and a Policeman he did however escape the same night only to be recaptured a couple of days later taken back to Christchurch and hanged for rustling. The memorial is in English, Maori and Gaelic (McKenzies language) according to Jon the Gaelic words differ slightly from the other two versions but he was unsure what the difference was.


The importance of the capture site is also that this was the first sighting of the now named McKenzie Basin which you can see in the distance in this shot.Before this police chase nobody knew that the land existed. So once it had been sighted there was a rush to settle the area. Apparently the dog that McKenzie used to herd the sheep only responded to Gaelic so ended up with one of the few people to speak it, the local governor.

The McKenzie country is a barren rough landscape but with stunning vistas of the mountains on the far side and the streams flowing from the ones on the nearside there was a great contrast. We followed the road onwards towards Kurow through the back country stations where it got rougher and narrower. If I had thought we could get the campervan over the first bit of road there was absolutely no chance here.

At the border of the Waimate and McKenzie districts we reached this signpost that various hunters had obviously used for target practice over a long period. Jon had told us that Wallabies are a real pest in this area reaching almost plague proportions although we didn’t spot any live ones we came across four road kill examples. It’s hard to judge from this photo but the Wallaby would be one metre from nose to tail so without a bar on the front of your vehicle it would make a significant dent if you hit it.

Once off the back roads and back in “civilisation” we stopped for a bite to eat in Kurow then back down State Highway 82 we where able to stop and grab some photos of this Cobb house built by the original farmer in the area. They are slowly restoring the house and we made a donation through the slot in the front door. It’s well worth a short stop if you are on this road.

Before we returned to Jon’s place he took us up the White Horse Hill behind Waimate which offers a spectacular view of the town you can also see the NZMCA camp quite clearly from here. We were there on the day of the Rodeo and you could hear the announcer calling times for an event that was going on down below us, just showing what a still day it was. The White Horse comes from a concrete monument that has been laid into the hillside, It was impossible to get a photo of but is large enough that it can be clearly seen from the town.

That evening we went with Jon to Caroline Bay in Timaru for a bite to eat at the local Little India restaurant then a stroll around the beach area. What a great park this is so well looked after as well as according to Jon the safest and best swimming beach in the South Island.

Continuing our stroll we reached a fabulous rose garden with hundreds of varieties on display most in flower making a great display. As we wandered back towards the car we reached the Hydroslide (Just kidding) just a kinetic sculpture. At the top of quite a long set of steep stairs we came saw these firefighters training running up and down in full kit, Wow, talk about fit!

From there it was back to Jon’s house for a cup of tea a chance to water the dog (Boy) and watch another great sunset. It was a day that Sarah and I will remember for a long time to come full of fabulous sights that photos can only try and capture. I would say go and visit but you would struggle in your motorhome if it’s one of the European vans I would think our old Mitsi would be fine because of the shorter overhang at the rear and a much higher chassis. Overall 11 out of 10
If you would like to see all the places we have visited click here

If you would like to see the ratings of the places we have stayed click here

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.





6 thoughts on “McKenzie Country

  1. So glad that you had such a fabulous time with Jon. Hope you missed the worst of the cyclone. Did you see the boulders at Moeraki on your way to Oamaru?

    1. Boulders are further down the coast so that’s probably tomorrow. We went to the movies today to hide from the rain

  2. What an awesome day and an extra special adventure in such a remote high country area. Love your stories and photos. Big question – do you reckon the TrailLite would cope with the road? Should we put it on our to do list? Seeing the roadkill reminded us of the dozens of Was-a-roos we encountered in NT & WA last year. Keep posting – we’re enjoying being on virtual tour with you. 👍

    1. Thanks Glenis yes I think that you would make it in the Trailite but it’s pretty narrow in places and you might want to walk a couple of the fords first just to make sure.

  3. Wow how awesome! So many parts of our beautiful country I never knew existed! Thanks so much for the commentary and pictures John, it was almost like being there 😊

Please feel free to make comments they will help future posts