The small town of Twizel is the gateway to some of the best parts of the South Island like Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki, and Lindis Pass. In fact, many tourists choose to spend a few nights in Twizel and use it as their base to explore the region. This is because accommodation options here are cheaper and there are plenty of great cafes and restaurants in town – and of course, a town of fun things to do and see right at your doorstep!
Twizel is set among some stunning scenery and has a very “Lord of the Rings vibe” with a winding river, native forests, and mountain ranges, all within easy access of the town.
The best time to visit Twizel is during the summer when temperatures average 23 Celsius (73 Fahrenheit), and you can swim in the rivers or lakes here, or in autumn when the town explodes into a burst of fall colors.
In this blog, I’ll tell you about 12 of the best things to do in Twizel. From exploring Mount Cook National Park, watching the sunset at nearby Lake Ruataniwha, to snapping some photos at a Lavender Farm – there are so many activities on offer in and around Twizel!
Things to do in Twizel, New Zealand
1. Explore Mount Cook National Park
The majestic Mount Cook National Park is just a 45-minute drive from Twizel via the most stunning road you’ve ever seen. The park is famous for being the home of the tallest mountain in New Zealand – Mount Cook (or Aoraki, its Maori name), which stands tall at a huge 3,724 meters or 12,218 feet tall!
However, there’s also a surprising amount of amazing things to do in Mount Cook National Park – from scenic hikes to a helicopter tour. You can even try out the unique sport of glacier kayaking here. Mount Cook is, in fact, the only place in New Zealand you can try out this activity!
If you’re a hiker, there’s no better place to be – Mount Cook National Park is home to several hiking trails varying in difficulty and length. For example, the easy and super-popular Hooker Valley Track is just 10 km (6.2 mi) return and takes in 3 scenic swing bridges (you must snap a photo on one of these!) as well as views of Mueller Lake and Glacier and of course the stunning Hooker Lake at the end of the track.
A more difficult trail is the Mueller Hut route which will take between 7 to 8 hours to complete. The views of Mount Cook and Hooker Valley are stunning, but it is steep in sections, so I only recommend this for experienced hikers.
In my opinion, Mount Cook is well worth the short drive from Twizel. I advise allowing at least a half-day here to get a true sense of the area.
2. Ben Ohau Station
Next up is Ben Ohau Station, which is a favorite stop among Lord of the Rings fans because this scenic setting was where the Battle Of Pelennor Fields scene in The Return Of The King was filmed. In fact, on the day of filming, there were over 1000 crew members and 280 horses here!
Worth noting is that Ben Ohau is privately owned and is, in fact, a working Merino Sheep Station, as well as that you can spend the night here in a cute cottage. If you’re not staying overnight here, you can access it by booking a Lord Of The Rings tour with a local tour operator in Twizel. Ben Ohau Station is just over a 10-minute drive from Twizel town.
Fun fact: Disney’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, which stars Oprah Winfrey and Reece Witherspoon, was also filmed at Ben Ohau Station!
3. Visit a lavender farm
New Zealand Alpine Lavender, a 12-minute drive from Twizel, is one of the biggest certified organic lavender farms in the Southern Hemisphere.
Set in a stunning location just off Mount Cook Road and with Ben Ohau mountain as a backdrop, this lavender farm is certainly one of the prettiest I’ve ever visited. It’s quite a new farm, having only opened to the public in 2012. But despite only being opened for less than 10 years, New Zealand Alpine Lavender has won numerous lavender oil awards!
The best time to visit is between November and the end of January, as this is when the lavender is in full bloom, and you will get the best photos. Would you believe there are over 600 lavender plants grown here, and they vary from Avice hill, Pacific blue, and Violet intrigue varieties?
The on-site shop sells some beautiful lavender products such as certified organic oil, soaps, and aromatherapy oils. They would make quite a unique souvenir to take home! You can also stay nearby at one of their holiday homes which are just a few minutes away from the farm.
Related Read: Visiting a lavender farm is one of the best things to do in Wanaka too!
4. Watch the sunset at Lake Ruataniwha
The best place to watch the sunset in Twizel is at Lake Ruataniwha, 2 km (1.2 mi) from Twizel. At sunset, the pinky-purple hues of the sky reflect on the snow-covered mountain ranges behind and onto the calm surface of the lake. You are likely to get some awesome shots here on a clear night. During the day, the lake is equally as pretty and is a bright turquoise color.
It may appear like a natural wonder, but Lake Ruataniwha is, in fact, an artificial lake that was built in 1977 and was constructed as part of a hydroelectric project. This 4.5 km (2.8 mi) lake is quite shallow and so is very popular for swimming and fly-fishing.
On a warm day, you are likely to see lots of local families gathered here to relax and try out water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, and windsurfing – if you don’t have your own, you can rent these from Water Rides at the Holiday Park on-site.
There’s also a rowing course here that can accommodate up to 600 rowing boats, and this is where the New Zealand rowing championships are held every two years.
5. High Country Salmon Farm
High Country Salmon Farm is a great place to visit for the whole family as the grown-ups can taste delicious fresh salmon at the on-site cafe, and kids can try their hand at the ‘catch a fish’ experience.
Yep, here you can catch your own king salmon and you can even keep your catch for only $32 per kilo, and the staff here will do all the hard work in gutting and gilling the fish for you. If you want the salmon filleted, there is an additional small fee.
You can do this experience from 10am until 3pm Monday to Friday, and 9am until 3pm on weekends.
Make sure to book your free time slot here!
If you’re not into fishing but love seafood, you can buy raw salmon in sashimi packs to take home or eat in at the highly-recommended restaurant. They also serve chicken and vegetarian options as well as snacks.
Worth noting is the cafe closes at 4 pm.
6. Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail
The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is an epic biking trail that takes in the best of the region’s scenery, including mountains, lakes, and rivers. You can start the trail in Mount Cook National Park or from the town of Tekapo, with the trail ending next to the Pacific Ocean in the town of Oamaru. It takes between 5 – 7 days to complete the entire trail.
Of course, if you’re short on time, you can choose to do a short section of the trail.
From Twizel, there are a couple of trail options to choose from – you can start at Braemer Road on the shores of Lake Pukaki, which is 41 km (25.5 mi) in total and classed as easy. Or take on the more popular Lake Tekapo to Twizel section, which is longer at 54 km (33.6 mi).
Another option from Twizel is the 38 km (23.6 mi) trail which starts in Twizel and ends at Lake Ohau Lodge.
There are a couple of bike rental stores in Twizel where you can simply rent a bike and do the trail on your own or pay for an experienced guide to accompany you.
Related Read: If you love cycling and are heading to Queenstown, check out the best bike trails in Queenstown that I’m sure you’ll love!
7. Omarama Clay Cliffs
One of the best cheap attractions in Omarama is the other-worldly Omarama Clay Cliffs. Located a 26-minute drive from Twizel via SH8, the entrance fee here is just $5 NZD per car.
The cliffs were formed over a million years ago by water flowing from nearby glaciers. The “cliffs” are essentially a series of tall pinnacles that contain several strong layers of gravel and silt, which explains why they’ve been left standing after all this time.
It’s a 15-minute walk from the car park to the cliffs, and although the trail is considered easy, the ground is uneven, so suitable footwear (no flip-flops) is recommended. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go off-track to walk around the cliffs – it’s like being on another planet standing at the base of these tall pinnacles, some of which are up to 30 meters (100 feet) tall! Allow under an hour here to fully explore and take some great photos.
The entrance to the Omarama Clay Cliffs is located at Henburn Road, just off SH8 – this is a gravel road, so drive slowly. It can get pretty busy here, especially at weekends, so arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. If you can try to get here for sunset, it’s a pretty cool experience!
8. Twizel Walkway
A fantastic easy walk that takes in some of the most scenic parts of Twizel town and the surrounding area is the Twizel Walkway, a 9 km (5.6 mi) loop trail that should take most people around 2.5 hours to complete.
On this flat walking track, you will pass by the Twizel River and up Man Made Hill, which offers a scenic viewpoint. On a clear day, you may even spy Mount Cook through the clearings along the riverbank section of the track.
There are a couple of entrances and exits to the walk, but my suggestion is to start from the car park on Glen Lyon road. This track is also used by cyclists, so watch out for them when you’re walking – if you want to cycle this track, you can rent a bike from one of the few companies in Twizel town.
9. Visit Lindis pass
One of the best drives you can undertake in New Zealand is the Lindis Pass which is a popular section of the road from Twizel to Queenstown. It’s a unique experience for sure, and the scenery here is unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. In fact, it’s very Lord of the Rings-esque!
Giant tussock-covered mountains surround you at every turn, and there are some great viewpoints along the way, including the Lindis Pass Lookout, which is 971 meters (3,186 feet) above sea level and provides a great view of the Longslip Mountain range. The lookout is well signposted, so it should be easy for you to find.
Worth noting is the Lindis Pass is over a 45-minute drive from Twizel, and so if you’re short on time, you could give this a skip and save it for the drive to Queenstown. The Lindis Pass itself is quite a long drive at 63 km (39 miles) in total, but it is full of sharp twists and turns, so if you’re not a confident driver, I would avoid it. It’s particularly treacherous in the winter as it can get very icy.
10. Drive to the Lake Pukaiki Viewpoint
The most beautiful lake in New Zealand, in my opinion, is Lake Pukaki, a turquoise alpine lake that is directly fed by the Hooker and Mueller Glaciers! In fact, Lake Pukaki is at its bluest on a clear day! It’s one of the largest lakes on the South Island at 178 km squared.
Lake Pukaki is situated on the road between Twizel and Mount Cook, and even though it’s visible for most of the drive, the best view of the lake is actually from the camper van parking area, about 10 minutes from Twizel.
From here, you can walk the Lake Pukaki Shoreline Walk, which follows along next to the Southern part of the lake and is part of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail I mentioned earlier. It’s 13 km (8 miles) in length and will take about 4 hours to complete. Of course, if you don’t have the time for the full trail, you can walk just a small section of the track. Thankfully, at almost all points on the trail, you can see Mount Cook in the distance.
On the drive from this parking area into Mount Cook is where you can snap the famous Mount Cook road photo, which has both Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki in the background. There are several small sections to pull off the road to snap the shot, just be careful when pulling off as this road can be very busy!
11. Omarama Hot Tubs
The Omarama Hot Tubs are to Omarama what the Onsen Hot Pools are to Queenstown. Both are one of the top attractions in their respective towns! It’s a great place to relax and take in the incredible mountain scenery, the hot tubs are filled with mountain water, and you can adjust the temperature of the tub to your liking.
My top tip is to visit the hot tubs at night to watch the stars and maybe even see the Southern lights if you’re lucky!
A 90-minute hot tub session costs $54 NZD per person, but that’s based on two people sharing. However, they have larger tubs that can fit up to eight people, and the more people in the tub, the lower the price! There’s also a sauna on-site here.
As mentioned, this is one of the most popular activities in Omarama, and as such, one of the best things to do in Twizel too, so advance booking is advised!
12. Visit the Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat
For a slice of luxury in Twizel, why not consider spending the night at Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat, just a 10-minute drive away.
Here you can spend the night in a luxury villa with incredible views of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook. Ideal for couples especially, there’s also an on-site wellness center where you can choose from a variety of treatments and an excellent restaurant that serves up the best local produce.
Interestingly too, the staff can book you on a private stargazing tour – the night skies in this specific area are outstanding! You can also book a private viewing of their wine cellar – ideal if you’re a wine-lover!
Where to Stay in Twizel, New Zealand
Twizel is a small town filled with accommodation options. This is because it is the closest town to Mount Cook National Park and a great place to stay when the park is full.
The Twizel Holiday Park is undoubtedly the best option for budget travelers. Not only can those in motorhomes and tents find a suitable place to stay, but they also have budget rooms. Those in large groups or families can also stay in their large cabins that fit up to six people.
Those with a medium-range budget should really check out all the small bed and breakfasts and Airbnb-style homes in Twizel. There is a lot to choose from, and most have amazing reviews.
For luxury travelers, the SkyScape is a hotel for the memory books. This hotel has rooms made entirely of glass, so you don’t miss the spectacular views. The hotel is located 6 kilometers out of Twizel and comes with luxuries such as an outdoor hot tub.
The Matuka Luxury Lodge is another good option if you want something more traditional. They have rooms with views of the Fraser Stream with a mountain backdrop.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
Whether you’re in Twizel for a night or a couple of days, you’ll be able to fill your days with awesome things to do in Twizel. I hope this blog post has given you inspiration for your next vacation to Twizel, one of the most under-rated towns on the South Island! Make sure to explore the rest of My Queenstown Diary as I have shared my wealth of knowledge on Queenstown and other areas of New Zealand. Or take a look at some of these guides I’ve chosen for you below:
Best hikes in Mount Cook National Park