Outdoor living in the heart of New Zealand


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.

Twizel reminds me of an unpretentious Wanaka, 20 years ago – a little quieter without the fuss.
— Chris White, Founder of Merino Downs

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 and his team really appreciate the natural gifts of this region and its landscape, and they are working to build a community with people who share this appreciation of the outdoors.
— Simon Cameron, Runholder of Ben Ohau Station

Simon Cameron shepherding on Ben Ohau Station.


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.

Nothing is more valued to us than time. Especially when it’s spent outdoors with friends and family. When on holiday, we want to connect to the outdoors, not spend time in traffic, waiting in line, or making reservations.
— Haley White, Expedia

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 Downs is remote, yet connected to the world. It’s not cut off from my international day-to-day work, and has the peaceful outdoor environment I’m looking to experience with my Kiwi mates, yet not skip a beat from EARTHx. Bungee jumping I can do without!
— Trammell S. Crow, Founder of Merino Downs
There’s only one word for New Zealand – epic.
— Bear Grylls, Adventurer and TV Personality

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.

The Mackenzie is like no other outdoor experience I’ve had in the world. With opportunities ranging from big game in the mountains, waterfowl in the local ponds and creeks to world-class fishing in the streams out your back door, the options are endless. The breathtaking backdrop only adds to the adventure.
— Scott Robinson, Founder of First Lite Merino Clothing

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.

Adventuring can be for the ordinary person with ordinary qualities, such as I regard myself.
— Edmund Hillary, Explorer and Philanthropist

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.