Buses travelling through the Mackenzie Country all stop briefly at Omarama (Maori for "place of light"), little more than a road junction with a couple of petrol stations, a few cafés and some places to stay.
Prevailing westerly winds rise over the Southern Alps and create a unique air-wave across the flatlands of the Mackenzie Country, providing ideal gliding conditions. Omarama airfield was the one-time playground of Dick Georgeson, pioneer of New Zealand aviation and the South Island's first glider pilot, back in 1950. In the 1960s he held all manner of world gliding records, reaching a height of almost 11,000m in 1960. Southern Soaring (Tel:0800/762 746, Web: www.soaring.co.nz ) take advantage of the conditions to offer spectacular flights in two-seater gliders, with a chance to take the controls of amazingly responsive technological masterpieces (30min $285; 1hr $395; 90min – including a trip to Mount Cook – $595).
The land and rivers around Omarama are prime territory for hunting chamois and red deer and fly fishing for trout and salmon. The fish and the venison are delicious, but no one seems to know what to do with the chamois – except hang their heads on walls. Bookings for fly fishing can be made through the Sierra Motel and Tackle Shop, just north of the center on SH8 (Tel:03/438 9785), who can sell you a fishing licence ($19 for 24hr) and put you in touch with fishing guides ($350 a half-day, $600 a day for two people).