There’s a place you’ll find, on a gorgeous South Island road trip, wth a reputation for rowing, power and delicious salmon - and an excellent reference to the Māori chief, Ruataniwha. It wasn’t even meant to still be here, but how tremendous that Twizel was born about 50 years ago, and continues today….
A town from nowhere
Twizel is now the largest town in the Mackenzie district, in the Canterbury region of New Zealand's South Island. But it was founded only in 1968, for construction workers busy on the Upper Waitaki Hydroelectric Scheme. It can thank the nearby Twizel River for its name, the river in turn named for Twizel Bridge - in Northumberland - by Otago surveyors back in the day.
The town was built, but intended to be temporary, only for the life of the hydro project - and then revert to farmland. So you’ll notice many “temporary” features. Most houses were prefabricated, and portable. But then in 1983, as the project was winding up, residents fought to save the town itself - and with obvious success in that effort.
There’s a tremendous collection of classic kiwi outdoor activities here. Think cycling, skiing, fishing and rowing. Not to mention classic kiwi food. And much of it involves the alpine mountains and lakes near here. They’re beautiful spots.
With a beautiful lake full of activity
A famous lake around here is Lake Ruataniwha, just a little way out of town, an artificial lake formed by the Waitaki hydro scheme, and named after Ruataniwha Station, a large sheep station. And there’s the Māori chief’s reference. Ruataniwha was a chief who drowned when the canoe Araiteuru sank near Moeraki in the 12th century. And, in Māori history, Araiteuru was the canoe which brought the Ngāi Tahu people to the South Island.
The lake’s where sailing, water skiing and famous rowing events take place.
You’re in the home of South Island rowing.
Ask any New Zealand rowing family, and they’ll tell you stories of the Maadi Cup - the New Zealand Secondary Schools Rowing Regatta - in Twizel. It’s held annually in late March, alternating between the country's two main rowing venues, Lake Karapiro near Cambridge in the north (in odd years), and here at Lake Ruataniwha in the south (in even years).
And it’s during those summer and rowing months that Twizel’s population more than trebles, the residential population of about 1200 people swells. They come to holiday, participate and no doubt check out fabulous food here too. You need a lot of food for teenage rowers….
Delicious salmon to find
Nearby there’s a fly fishing paradise, with lakes and rivers full of excellent trout and salmon. Make sure you get to find and sample some while you’re here, and learn all about the special alpine salmon from this place. There’s even a spot to feed the fish.
And, for inspiration back at home base, if you’ve picked up salmon on your road trip, check out our salmon ideas here. It’s a true expression of New Zealand culture, to enjoy the food of this beautiful land, in reference to a town of powerful origins.
And for more…
To find more on The FoodPath NZ’s handpicked eateries and food producers, for our collection of spot on New Zealand food moments to check out on your next road trip, including around the Twizel and Ruataniwha area, download our New Zealand Food Trail Guides app here.