Maori were the first people to travel through the Mackenzie District to gather the natural resources (mahika kai). The Takata Whenua (people of the land) are descendants of the tribes of Kati Mamoe, Waitaha and Kai Tahu. There are many places throughout the District which have been used and occupied by Takata Whenua and the District remains spiritually and culturally important to them.
The District was first settled by Europeans in the 1850s and the first elected representatives served on the Mount Cook electorate of the Canterbury Provincial Council in 1862. The forerunner of the Mackenzie County and District Councils was the Mount Cook Roads Board which was set up in 1864.
The Mackenzie District has been blessed with a wonderful and unique natural environment which includes wide open spaces, outstanding landscapes, rivers and lakes, mountains (including Aoraki Mt Cook) and both high and low country.
In population, the Mackenzie District is the third smallest territorial authority in New Zealand with a normally resident population count of 3,801 on census night in 2006. Only Kaikoura District and the Chatham Islands have smaller residential populations. In the five years between 2001 and 2006, the population increased by 84 people.
In contrast to its small population, the area of the district is large, comprising 745,562 hectares.
Fairlie, Lake Tekapo and Twizel are the main towns and there are villages at Albury, Kimbell, Burkes Pass and Mount Cook.