Twizel, a growing service town at the very centre of high country attractions, was built in 1969 as a base for the Upper Waitaki power development. It has a good range of accommodation and services, including an airfield, community centre, swimming pool and several sports facilities.

The Information Centre is an excellent starting point with a variety of displays, brochures, a presentation video and helpful staff to head you in the right direction.

Twizel History

A large part of the mid South Island was surveyed by John Turnball Thompson at the end of the 19th century. The local area reminded him of his homeland in Northumberland, England. He saw a particular resemblance to the area at Twizell Bridge, which spans the river Till, a tributary to the Tweed river.

The name Twizell in England comes from the old English form of Twislan, meaning at the fork or junction of two streams. Our bridge over the Twizel River (note it is spelt with only one “L”) is just downstream from the junction of the Frazer Stream and Twizel River.


How Twizel Began

A new town had to be built when it was decided to continue the power development at the top of the Waitaki Valley. After extensive investigations into the weather and availability of land, an area on Ruataniwha Station was chosen. Now the town needed a name; what better name than to use the same one as the river bordering the site. So Twizel was named.

The town was to supply accommodation for the hundreds of workers required to build the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme. Work was started at Tekapo A with the beginning of a canal system. It continued with:

Tekapo B Power Station (on the shore of Lake Pukaki),
a high dam at Lake Pukaki,
Ohau A Power Station,
a canal built from Lake Ohau to Ohau A,
a dam structure to form Lake Ruataniwha,
Ohau B Power Station
and finally Ohau C Power Station.

These were all linked by a series of canals.

This was a mammoth task. The main administration office, construction headquarters and laboratory were in Twizel. The workers and materials were ferried out daily.

In 1969 the site was opened and the machinery moved in to form the new town. There were 1300 sections to be developed along with 24kms of roads to be sealed. This was a huge task. The first house was moved onto its foundations on April 29th, 1969.

A large number of the original residents worked on the Aviemore and Benmore dams and lived at Otematata – 35 miles (56km) down the valley. With the help of the Ministry of Works these families were shifted into their new homes. It was great moving into a much bigger house with a good fire and insulation. There was even a garage and fences, which were not supplied in Otematata.

By 1975 the population of the town had risen to 6000 residents. To cope with this number of people there were two schools, a community hall complex, approximately 19 shops, a petrol station, motel and hotel. Flowing on from Otematata there were approximately 90 clubs and organisations. Plenty of activities for the locals.

Twizel Today

But sadly the project work was to come to an end, and the town was destined to be dismantled and the land returned to farmland.

A band of local residents were not too happy about this prospect and felt the town had a very bright future. With intensive lobbying to the authorities, the town was eventually offered to the Mackenzie County Council. In August 1983, the Council in turn surveyed to find out what interest there was for keeping the town.

The interest was there, so the council took over the town in 1984 and offered for sale 325 houses and 14 vacant shops. A community centre, ambulance hall and fire station, complete with fully equipped vehicles, were also handed to the council.

Twizel today is still continuing to grow. There is a very positive group of people working hard to help make this a place to visit and enjoy. Twizel is the service town for Mount Cook Aoraki, and supplies a pool of workers who travel daily to help make a visit to the “rock” memorable.

Twizel’s latest claim to fame has come with the Lord of the Rings production company deciding to film the Battle of Pelennor Fields in the local area. This battle is one of the most important clashes in the saga of Middle-Earth. This has made Twizel `Orc-land’ of the south.

Twizel Attractions

Lake Ruataniwha, just five minutes away, is a delightful recreation/motor camp area catering to all water activities. Its international standard rowing course is the main rowing venue in the South Island and hosts national events each year.

The two recreation areas at the top end of Lake Benmore, Haldon Camp and Falstone Camp, are 10 kilometres from Twizel and offer good fishing, boating and camping.

Other attractions just minutes from Twizel include Lakes Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo, as well as Mt Cook National Park, two skifields (Tekapo and Ohau), and the captive breeding centre of the world’s rarest wading bird, the Black Stilt. Built on Electricorp land three kilometres south of Twizel in 1987, and run by the Department of Conservation, the centre includes artificial incubation facilities and aviaries. Careful monitoring of breeding activities and the eradication of predators has increased survival chances from 1% to 35%. Public tours allow visitors to enter a hide to view this unique native bird.

The braided waters of the Waitaki led to the development of the world’s first jetboat. The late Sir William (Bill) Hamilton developed the world-famous jet drive at his home on Irishman’s Creek, located between Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo. The Jetboat Museum, at the site of his residence, is open by appointment.

Whether you go on some of the numerous walks, fish, ski, visit one fo the three salmon farms, check out the endangered Black Stilt colony, enjoy the international rowing complex or just do nothing.. Twizel is a place you can relax.

Mackenzie Country

As you drive over the Otematata Saddle heading west on SH83 you are greeted with the vastness of the Mackenzie Country. This intermontane basin, largely shaped by the last Ice Age, is the heart of the high country. It is surrounded by tussock grassland, big river valleys, endless hill country and awesome mountains.

The Mackenzie country was discovered by and named after James Mackenzie, a Gaelic shepherd who – rightly or wrongly – was accused of stealing sheep from South Canterbury runs for delivery to a Southland man. Mackenzie was imprisoned and his faithful sheep dog, Friday, taken away. After a series of escapes and increasing illness, he was released in 1856 and promptly disappeared forever.

Soon after, white settlers moved into the area and began extensive grazing of sheep with supplementary cattle herds. Their homes were built of cob (clay and chopped grass) and thatched with raupo, toe toe or flax. Food was basic – mainly mutton, potatoes, damper and tea. Bullock wagons transported wool out and food staples back.

Merino sheep are still important to the region and are a symbol of the South Island heartland. The Merino is a hardy animal which ranges freely and requires only light husbandry. Its wool is the finest of any sheep and is highly prized for fashion garments.

Beef cattle and red deer complement the Merino in farming operations. Venison and antlers in velvet (sold into Asia as a tonic and aphrodisiac) return a high profit for an animal which was routinely shot as a pest prior to the 1960’s.

The romance of the high country has not disappeared with the horses and bullock wagons. Helicopters, 4WD vehicles and powerful trucks aside, it is still the natural cycle of the land, the weather and hard conditions that test the mettle of the high country people and their dogs.