Kia ora: Twizel

The Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed in Twizel for 'The Lord of the Rings'.
The Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed in Twizel for 'The Lord of the Rings'.

Origin of name: John Thomson, who surveyed the area, was from a place called Twizell in Northumberland. This part of New Zealand reminded him of home, but in naming it an L was dropped.

Population: 1500. In summer, or during rowing events, it more than triples.

Where is it: In Canterbury, in the Mackenzie Country in the Waitaki district in the centre of the South Island. It's 282km from Christchurch.

Origins: Twizel was established in 1968 to accommodate people working on the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme; 1300 sections and 24km of road were rolled out and by 1975 there were 6000 residents.

The town slogan: Used to be Town of Trees, but quite a few trees have been felled of late, so now it's Gateway to Aoraki/Mt Cook.

The town mascot: Maybe the rabbit? There are enough of them.

Get this: In the early 80s when the work was all done, the town was to be dismantled and returned to farmland but loads of locals thought this a bad idea and fought hard to keep their town.

Most famous locals: Legions of orcs, the Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed here for The Lord of the Rings. Also Fred Strachan the famous rowing coach.

Best websites: beautiful-waitaki.co.nz; twizel.info; mtcooknz.com; alps2ocean.com is a thing of beauty.

Major employers: There are three salmon farms in the region that use the hydro canals - watch them, feed them, eat them.

Source of pride: Supplying the North Island (and the country) with power.

Town competition: The Hard Labour Weekend during Labour Weekend. Includes The Pyramid Run, jogging into the hills, The Dusky Trail, a mountainbike track and The Canal Caper with one event a day. twizelhardlabour.org.nz

Best reason to stop: Tekapo is tourism, Fairlie is farmers, Omarama is gliders, while Twizel thinks of itself as a proper town and the people are friendlier than anywhere else.

Best place to take the kids: Just off the Wairepo Rd there's a graveyard of equipment that was used to build the hydro dams, including diggers and graders.

Best place for a drink: Lake Ohau Lodge. Sit on the spacious decks overlooking the lake, with the ski field behind you. Remote and beautiful.

Best food: Shawty's Restaurant, Cafe and Bar. Super quality food, wine and craft beer. Poppies Cafe and Restaurant, Mike the chef does the best steak. The Musterers' Hut Cafe and Gift Shop.

Best flat white: Shawty's. Some say you'll get the world's best flat white here.

Best bakery: Twizel Bakery. In summer, when they start baking at 2am they open the shop to feed the late-night riffraff.

Best museum: The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre near Mt Cook. Filled with fascinating information about the wider region.

Best walk: The loop track round town goes through pine trees, along the river, to a lookout called Manmade Hill. This huge heap of gravel and slag resulted from the dam construction and is now a pine-covered hill. Dusky Trail, also used by mountainbikers, is great walk too.

Best view: When you leave Tekapo and head through Simon's Pass you come around a corner and get your first view of Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki. But don't stop, it's a 100km zone and while it's beautiful, it's not worth having an accident over.

Best place to pull over: A little further on from the best view, the Lakeside reserve on State Highway 8 at the bottom of Lake Pukaki. You can even buy salmon there.

Best playground: Right in the town centre. The shops all sit round the town square, which has the playground right in the middle.

Here for a short time: Take a helicopter ride. Pukaki Airfield is right next to Twizel on the main road and you can go up for as little as 25 minutes. On a clear day you can see forever.

Best kept secret: The town itself. A lot of people don't know it's there, and so close to the skifields and those five stunning lakes.

Best shop: Southern Alps Outdoors, everything you need for fishing, hunting, camping, climbing, binoculars, camera gear, souvenirs. And it's a post shop.

Best swim: The picnic area at Lake Ruataniwha off the main highway. Or by the hydro canal on Loch Cameron.

Wildest wildlife: The New Zealand falcon. And this is the last place that black stilts, the rarest wading bird in the world, still reside. DoC operates a conservation programme that's boosting numbers, but they're still endangered. There is also an abundance of salmon and trout.

Extreme: Temperatures range from -10C in winter to 40C in summer.

When a local has visitors staying: They take them on the Alps2Ocean Cycle Trail, either to do little bits - say from town to Lake Ohau Lodge - or the whole fabulous 300km. Give yourself at least six days to go end to end.

Safety warning: Stay out of the canals, the waters are swift and deep. Beware.

Locals say: In winter, the roads are really treacherous so please slow down.

Visitors say: Sorry for stopping in the middle of the road, I just wanted to take a picture.


Thanks to Jazrod from MacKenzie Country Building Supplies for sharing his enthusiasm for Twizel.

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