Burkes Pass in South Canterbury’s Mackenzie Country is a mountain pass with a namesake heritage village tucked at its base. First utilized by indigenous Maori people, the outpost later grew into a township around a hotel that was opened for weary Mackenzie pioneers. Today, it makes an ideal base for outdoor explorations.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Burkes Pass had a population of 143 and a school with three teachers. St. Patrick’s Church, built in 1871, is one of the oldest union churches and serves as a landmark on the New Zealand Heritage Register. Travelers on a scenic excursion from Christchurch often stop here en route to destinations such as the Mackenzie Basin, Mt. Cook, Wanaka, and Queenstown.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A parking area at the summit of the pass leads to the Burke Memorial.
- The Burkes Pass Heritage Walk (see below) is wheelchair-accessible.
- Burkes Pass Accommodation & Gallery offers the perfect pit stop for travelers.
- The village does not contain a supermarket or any restaurants, but there’s a gift shop, coffee caravan, and picnic spots.
- There is no cellphone coverage in the area, but there is Wi-Fi.
How to Get There
Located on State Highway 8 at the entrance to Mackenzie Country, Burkes Pass is situated at the halfway point between Lake Tekapo and Fairlie, a 15-minute drive from either one. Bus service is available one-way or round-trip from Christchurch, which is about two hours and 45 minutes away. Guided tours include photo stops at scenic view points.
When to Get There
Located 1,805 feet (550 meters) above sea level, the mountain setting offers hiking, fishing, and horseback riding in warmer months. Backcountry skiing is a popular activity in winter, with the Mt. Dobson ski field located nearby.
The Burkes Pass Heritage Walk
This self-guided walking tour explains the history of the area while sharing information about specific sights, such as the heritage cottages, schoolhouse, and cemetery. The easy path takes about 30 minutes to walk and travels about 1 mile (1.7 kilometers) of maintained grass and boardwalk. Pick up a pamphlet at St. Patrick’s Church or the nearby Musterer’s Hut.