The Ultimate 12 hr Mackenzie Loop!

By Cross Country Kiwis

When you’re making your morning coffee and you get a text from your fellow adventure mum-friend, Chanelle, that says, “I’m picking you up in 1 hour. Pack a bag!”, you better down that coffee and get to packing!

That’s exactly what happened one day last summer holidays when the husbands were working, the kids were restless and the mum’s were keen to get OUT! Best cure for whiney kids & house bound mums? ADVENTURE.

Chanelle had a plan in mind, but decided to surprise me. Lena and I hopped in the truck with Chanelle and her two, Izzy and Hunter, and we headed south from Timaru past the Waitaki River… were we headed to Oamaru? Moeraki Boulders? Then we turned inland at Pukeuri and ended up at Kurow for a food stop. I still had no idea where we were headed but the kids were happy, so life was good. We drove through Otematata, and made a stop at Lake Benmore to jump in the lake and cool off -it was hot!! The kids were in heaven. Three nudey little kiwi kids squealing with laughter as they cooled off in the lake, and not a single argument.

Our little cross country kiwis! Photos by  Sarah Drummond

Our little cross country kiwis! Photos by Sarah Drummond

As we continued to drive, I saw a sign for Omarama and it finally clicked - the Clay Cliffs!!! We had both always talked about heading there, and today was the day. The Clay Cliffs are an incredible geological site off the beaten path, down a long dirt road with an honesty box to chuck a $5 note in and then a further 15 minute walk. You’d never know this place was here. It’s a couple hours from both Mount Cook National Park and Wanaka in the other direction but it looks like neither. Jagged clay cliffs shooting out of the earth, creating the most magical of mini canyons to walk through and explore. What a beautiful, dusty, confusingly delightful landscape. 



Exploring the Clay Cliffs, Omarama. Photos by  Sarah Drummond

Exploring the Clay Cliffs, Omarama. Photos by Sarah Drummond

And then the day took a turn. It was 5pm. Anyone with children knows what that means. Witching hour. No, you can’t even escape it when you’re off on brilliant adventures with mates in some ethereal clay cliff wilderness. Arguments ensued, somebody fell and scraped a knee while trying to scale a small cliff, another one got a stone to the head by a sibling. Blood was spilled. We looked at each other with wide eyes that said, “I hope you got enough pictures and enjoyed the peace, cause WE OUTTA HERE.”

So off we went to find the only thing that never fails to curb the grumpy attitudes of three children in the backseat - FOOD. We headed straight for Twizel with the promise of summer berries and managed to score some great food truck pizza. We made a rookie mistake by giving the kids a punnet EACH of berries. Yes, we did indeed pay for this over the course of the next few hours as the phrase “I need to do poos!” cropped up several times at the most inconvenient of moments until we were down to our very last collective baby wipe.

Aside from that minor amateur move, the evening was looking up. The kids were fueled up, back to their happy adventuresome selves, and very much on their second wind. It was somewhere after 7 or 8pm. We decided to take the scenic route/back roads along Lake Pukaki on Hayman Rd as far as we could go. There was not a single other soul around. The clear skies would give us a perfect sunset view of Mount Cook, and the warm summer air made it perfectly comfortable to play at the lake’s edge in our shorts and t-shirts for another couple hours as the sky turned pink.

Chanelle  and Aoraki Mount Cook. Photo by  Sarah Drummond

Chanelle and Aoraki Mount Cook. Photo by Sarah Drummond

Sarah  in her happy place. Photo by  Chanelle O’Sullivan.

Sarah in her happy place. Photo by Chanelle O’Sullivan.

After traipsing through tall grass, another bloody injury (literally) from a prickle plant, we made it to the lake front. The kids engaged in hours of imaginary play with nothing but themselves, the stones and boulders and a few sticks along the shoreline. We sat in relative peace (aside from the occasional (happy) screams of children and passed the time taking photos of the reflective lake, the swirling colours of the clouds from the setting sun, and the real star of the show across the way, Aotearoa’s tallest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook.

As the last light began to fade, we dragged the reluctant kids back to the car and took the back way to Tekapo and watched out the windows as the stars began to appear. One by one the kids drifted off to sleep, we blasted all our fave tunes without any requests from the backseat, and had a great relaxing drive home.

The kids in their element. Photo by  Chanelle O’Sullivan

The kids in their element. Photo by Chanelle O’Sullivan

Aoraki Mount Cook. Photo by  Sarah Drummond

Aoraki Mount Cook. Photo by Sarah Drummond

Twelve hours, several towns, a few lakes, yummy food, a few injuries, and a couple of stunning, unforgettable places. All within a three hour drive from home. You know that blissful exhausted feeling you get after a really great day full of adventures? Yeh, we were that. And definitely in need of a shower!

Check out our route!

Check out our route!