Shearing shed at Ben Ohau, the working station adjacent to Merino Downs.
IN THE HEART OF THE MACKENZIE
Merino Downs is in the heart of New Zealand’s high country – the Mackenzie Basin Region – halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown on State Highway 8. This Central South Island location has a rugged, idyllic serenity that is difficult to experience in the more urbanised tourist destinations. Unlike nearby mountain destinations, the quaint, small Kiwi-town feel has survived in the Mackenzie, amidst large-scale high country runs. The landscape is full of untouched horizons so epic they have been the backdrop for stories like The Lord of the Rings. Under the wide-open skies, family memories are made that will be shared through the generations. This is a place to simply – and fully – enjoy the outdoors.
With big sky and big basins, the Mackenzie is to New Zealand what Montana is to the United States. The region has massive open plains and valleys within the mountains, along with the country’s largest watershed of rivers and streams. Merino Downs is the perfect junction for exploring the Mackenzie, Waitaki, and Aoraki Mount Cook areas. It is an outdoor paradise that can lead to both amazing adventure and unsurpassed tranquillity.
Minutes from Twizel, the Merino Downs location places you away from dense tourist populations without making you feel like you have actually travelled all the way to Middle-earth. The development is adjacent to (and formerly part of) the historic Ben Ohau Station and The Lord of the Rings film set – land that’s been in the Cameron family since 1897. The family – Simon Cameron, his wife Priscilla, and their daughters – still actively farm Merino sheep. Merino wool from New Zealand is sought-after worldwide for use in high-quality fashion and outdoor products. Ben Ohau Station is a proud five-time winner of the Loro Piana award for New Zealand’s best bale of fine wool. The Camerons are enthusiastic supporters of their new Merino Downs neighbors.
Chris White, Kiwi founder of Merino Downs, has been taking holidays in the Mackenzie for over 25 years, getting to know locals like the Cameron family. Chris lives in Dallas, Texas, and his trips to New Zealand are an escape from the big-city grind – a yin to the yang. The Mackenzie Basin is a place where he and his family can go explore the outdoors without having to fight the traffic, lines, and costs of New Zealand’s increasingly crowded tourist areas.
Chris has partnered with Trammell S. Crow – philanthropist, entrepreneur, preeminent environmentalist, and founder of the world’s largest Earth Day (EARTHx). Together they have engaged best-in-class architects, landscapers, and engineers and are working to make Merino Downs the most accessible and sustainable, intimate, luxury living community in the Mackenzie. This subdivision is not about maximising the number of lots, it’s about maximising lifestyle. With a total of 34 (5,000–6,000 m2 / 53,000–64,000 sq. ft.) lots, Merino Downs is a small, exclusive community of like-minded families who cherish nature and the laidback Kiwi connection to this unique environment.
Merino sheep are a common sight in the area.
Local farmers pride themselves on putting the dignity of the animals first in their farming practices.
Farmers and their work dogs guide sheep into the pens.
A sheep dog on Ben Omar Station waits for instructions.
Close encounter with some curious Mackenzie Merinos.
Enjoying a cosy spot by the outdoor fire pit and still connected to the world.
Twizel River as seen from State Highway 8.
Enjoying the mountain view and fly fishing in pristine waters.
One of the many rivers tumbling and meandering through the Mackenzie.
Trying to match the hatch just a short hike from Merino Downs.
A trophy-sized rainbow trout is caught by a local fisherman.
Chris makes a greeting call by a pond minutes from Merino Downs.
Success, and dinner!
Lake Poaka, five minutes from Merino Downs.
An early winter sunrise view of Merino Downs in May 2017.
Glassing on an evening stalk.
Vermont native and frequent visitor to Twizel, Maddie hikes the trails near Lake Ohau.
The brilliant colours of the fall trees on Ben Ohau Station in May 2017.
Backcountry roads and bike trails are some of the most scenic in the world.
A sign marking the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail along Glen Lyon Road.
Within 10 minutes of Merino Downs – a calm morning with a clear view of Mount Cook.
Stopping to fix a chain break while mountain biking from Merino Downs.
With a view of Mount Cook, and minutes from Merino Downs, Pukaki Airport houses a private/public runway and hangars for air travel.
A sunrise view of the Benmore Range from Merino Downs in May 2017.
A family from nearby Glenbrook Station take their horses out for a ride.
Ted, a Twizel junior schoolboy, takes the ball to the try line in a Saturday morning rugby game.
George celebrates his rugby team’s win from the back of dad’s truck on the way to check out the cattle.
An aerial view of Merino Downs and MatukaLodge in May 2017.
Locals challenge each other to a friendly game of curling (not pictured: whisky flasks).
A Merino sheep herd moving between hill blocks.
Resting after work.
A working dog taking a rest while keeping a watchful eye.
A young hogget Merino.
Early morning winter cloud cover.
Adventure at your doorstep
For the vast majority, the Kiwi lifestyle is about being active in the outdoors. The Central Mackenzie Basin location puts Merino Downs in the heart of the outdoors – perfect for families who enjoy spending time away from their hectic lifestyles. Twizel is the closest town to New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Ben Ohau Range, and majestic Mount Cook playground of Sir Edmund Hillary.
Because the property is rural, the joys of nature are close to home. The Merino Downs landscaping enhances the historic farming environment and natural fauna with over 16,000 tussocks, 150 native mountain beech trees, and almost 4 km (2.5 miles) of macrocarpa (Monterey cypress) post-and-rail farm-style fencing. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, a popular hiking and camping destination, is a short drive. Hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, and birdwatching are all accessible in the Ruataniwha Conservation Park, Ahuriri Conservation Park, and Ben Ohau Range.
The location places your property in close proximity to area lakes, rivers, and parks. Watersports such as kayaking the Ohau River, relaxing in one of the region’s hot pools, kite surfing on Lake Pukaki (from 7:52 to 8:52 is our location on this video), and rowing on Lake Ruataniwha are within a matter of minutes from your door. The Maadi Cup rowing regatta is the largest school sporting event in the Southern Hemisphere. It is held in Twizel biannually, making the region a weeklong destination for thousands of families and creating a rental opportunity for many property owners in the area.
Scenic trails and canals are ideal for competitive road cycling, mountain biking, heli-biking, heading into the hills on your own, or just touring along the local streams with the family. The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, New Zealand’s latest and longest mountain bike trail, passes right by Merino Downs. Homeowners will enjoy an exclusive access point. Twizel is a hub for cyclist accommodations, and the region is full of trails for riders of all levels to enjoy.
For the hunting inclined, the region is bountiful with wildlife including Himalayan tahr, chamois, and red and fallow deer. The Mackenzie is known for its prolific tahr populations, and responsible hunting is part of the local culture. The nearby glacial sinkholes, lakes, and ponds are perfect for early morning duck hunts as well as attracting black swans and greater Canadian geese.
Within walking distance from Merino Downs, the Fraser Stream and Twizel River have the only sockeye salmon spawn in the Southern Hemisphere. The region is also home to freshwater king salmon. World-class brown trout and rainbow trout fly fishing are minutes away, with the world’s largest brown trout caught within 10 minutes from the property in the Ohau Canal. The nearby Tekapo River has more rainbow trout per kilometer than any other river in New Zealand. You can navigate large-scale waters like the world-famous Ahuriri and Waitaki rivers as well as small-scale local streams that still hold 5-lb. trout – all on your own. With consistent water flows and pristine, nutrient-rich conditions, the hatches and terrestrial activity are as abundant as a New Zealand version of Yellowstone Park. New Zealand prioritises free access for all to all rivers and streams, called the Queen’s Chain. Where access is difficult, a visit with the local Merino run holder is generally well received.
Snowcat-accessible and skinning skiing experiences at the nearby Mount Cook and Southern Alps are less crowded and not as overpriced as other destinations. Taking the family up the mountain is easy and enjoyable. Ohau Ski Field, visible from the property, is a favourite of the US women’s ski team and local families alike.
The real magic of the area is experiencing the breathtaking outdoor vistas and activities. However, if you find yourself longing for more complex adventures, the region can accommodate with custom helicopter tours, gliding, riding a biplane through the alps, a Lord of the Rings Location Tour or an overnight stay in a glass house designed for viewing the dark skies of New Zealand.
Untouched by urban sprawl, Merino Downs is one of the most idyllic locations for living near outdoor experiences and adventures in the entire world.