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12 BEST Things to do in Twizel, New Zealand (2024 Guide!)

12 BEST Things to do in Twizel, New Zealand (2024 Guide!)

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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!

Accommodation options here tend to be cheaper and there are plenty of great cafés and restaurants in town – and of course, there’s a town full 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.

In my opinion, the best time to visit Twizel is during the summer when temperatures average 23 °C (73 °F), and you can swim in the rivers or lakes here. Fall is also a beautiful time to visit, when the town explodes into a burst of fall colors – it’s towns like Twizel that make me realize just how many beautiful places there are to visit in New Zealand!

In this blog, I’ve put together a list of the 12 of the very 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

A road in New Zealand that leads inton Mount Cook National Park with Mount Cook in the background
Taking the journey into 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 (12,218 feet) tall!

One of the big draws of staying in Twizel over Mount Cook Village comes down to accommodation cost. There are currently only 6 accommodation options in Mount Cook Village, which also means that the hotels often book up months in advance. Luckily, Twizel is less than an hour’s drive away, which means that you can easily drive in and spend the day at Mount Cook before heading back.

If you love getting outdoors and stretching your legs on a scenic trail (and I mean, who doesn’t?), then you’ll want to check out the Hooker Valley Track. It’s easy and flat, and at just a 10-kilometer (6.2-miles) round-trip, it takes around 3 hours to complete the return trip. The track provides gorgeous views of Mueller Lake, Mount Sefton, and Mueller Glacier, and is one of my favorite hikes on the South Island.

But if that sounds too long, there are also some much shorter walks in Mount Cook too, including the Bowen Bush Walk, Glencoe Walk, and Governors Bush Walk. Perfect if you’re traveling with the little ones who might not enjoy a long hike!

The Hermitage Hotel has one of the best views in Mount Cook Village and the food in their restaurant is delicious! For this reason, it’s only natural to want to spend an evening in a restaurant enjoying a nice meal with stunning views.

skydiving near Mount Cook National Park with mountain views
Just look at the view! Photo Credit: Skydive Mount Cook

Mount Cook is also full of adventure activities – so if you’re anything like my partner, you’re in for a real treat!

There are lots of fantastic helicopter tours that operate in the area, but my favorite has to be this 20-minute scenic helicopter flight, thanks to its flexible flight times. It also includes an alpine landing – how neat is that!?

At $337 NZD per person, it’s not the cheapest experience, but if you’re looking to take your road trip from epic to truly unforgettable, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of soaring above the epic scenery below. Plus, you’ll land with a pocket full of incredible photos! You can check availability for this tour and book your spot online here.

Another one of the best things I’ve ever done here in New Zealand is skydiving! And what better place to go than over Mount Cook National Park, with views of New Zealand’s most impressive mountains and glaciers?! You’ll see gorgeous Lake Pukaki from above and, of course, Mt Cook!

Skydive Mount Cook offers three different skydive experiences in Mount Cook Village. Their cheapest skydive is this one from 9,000 ft with around 20 seconds of free-fall for $329 NZD. That might not sound like a lot of time, but it feels like a lifetime up there!

For something a little higher, you can opt for the 13,000 ft jump with 45 seconds of free-fall for $399 NZD. That gives you more than double the free-fall time!

Or if you want the craziest and most memorable experience, you can do the 15,000 ft jump with more than a minute of freefall time! This one will set you back $499 NZD.

Read on to learn more about the best places to stay in Mount Cook!

2. Ben Ohau Station

Cattle sit on Ben Ohau Station near Twizel, New Zealand
This place is so beautiful it’s no wonder they decided to use the landscape in LOTR! Photo credit: 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 explore the area on 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
Look at all that lavender! Photo credit: New Zealand Alpine Lavender

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 open for just over 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. That said, the farm is open all the way until April. 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.

Opening times here at New Zealand Alpine Lavender do vary depending on the time of year you visit, and you can check the most up-to-date times on their website.

Related Read: Visiting a lavender farm is one of the best things to do in Wanaka too!

4. Watch the sunset at Lake Ruataniwha

Lake Ruataniwha in twizel
The beautiful Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel

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’re likely to get some pretty awesome shots here on a clear night! During the day, the lake is just 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 back 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

The high Country Salmon Farm near Twizel, New Zealand
It’s not hard to catch a fish when there are so many!

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 café, 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 $35 NZD 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. They do keep your fish in an ice box to keep them cool for free, however! Make sure to book your free time slot here!

You can do this experience from 10 am until 2 pm Monday to Friday, and 9 am until 2 pm on weekends, as well as public and school holidays.

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!

You can grab a tasty breakfast here from 9 am to 11 am, as well as lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. It’s worth noting that the café closes at 5 pm. 

6. Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

People ride the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail near Twizel, New Zealand
This must be the most beautiful bike trail in the world. Photo credit: 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 (Cycle Journeys and Lakeland Explorer) 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!

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7. Omarama Clay Cliffs

The Omarama Clay Cliffs near the town of Omarama, New Zealand
Don’t just stick to the outside of the cliffs, go exploring!

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!

You can explore what’s on offer and take some great photos in around an hour.

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 I mentioned in point 6.

9. Visit Lindis pass

Lindis Pass lookout
I never get sick of this breathtaking view!

One of the best drives you can undertake in New Zealand is the Lindis Pass, 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 Pukaki Viewpoint

Lake Pukaki in Mount Cook National Park
It really is that blue!

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! As one of the largest lakes on the South Island at 178 km sq (68.7 mi sq), it’s at its bluest on a clear day.

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

Omarama Hot Tubs
Can you picture anything more relaxing?

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!

You’ll warm up first in the sauna before venturing out to your private cedar hot tub. If you fancy an extra treat, why not indulge in a massage – available in their private treatment rooms? Oh boy, I want to transport myself to the hot tubs right now!

Once you’re in the tub, you can control the temperature yourself and relax with the river and mountain views. I even ordered a glass of wine to enjoy with my soak (yes, they have a fully licensed bar!).

A soak at the Omarama Hot Tubs lasts 90 minutes and starts from $60 NZD based per person on two people sharing. However, even large groups of 8 can enjoy this activity, and the prices get cheaper per person the more who join you!

12. Visit the Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat

one of the provate hot tubs at Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat
Every villa has a private hot tub! Photo credit: Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat

This stop is perfect for anybody looking for a little luxury! The Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat is a beautiful place to spend a night (or two), surrounded by the serenity and scenery of Lake Pukaki. It’s the kind of place that has you thinking, “man, if only I could live here all the time!”

The retreat itself is seriously gorgeous and offers private villas with lake views and out-of-this-world private hot tubs. It’s probably the most luxurious place to stay near Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki and is well worth it if you’re looking to spoil yourself a little.

Not up for an overnight stay? No problem! You can just stop here at their highly-rated restaurant for a bite to eat and a glass of wine with a view before hitting the road again. You’ll find Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat located on Highway 80 as you make your way toward Mount Cook National Park.

Worth noting is that Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat often hosts ticketed events. So keep an eye on their calendar in case one of them interests you!

Where to Stay in Twizel

SkyScape Hotel in Twizel, New Zealand
Imagine sleeping with that view! Photo credit: SkyScape

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.

Twizel Holiday Park – $

The Twizel Holiday Park is undoubtedly the best option in Twizel 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. 

A twin cabin here at Twizel Holiday Park starts at $90 NZD per night, and for the best deals, I recommend booking ahead of time – especially in the busy summer months. You can check availability and book your room online here.

Mountain Chalets Motel – $$

For a great midrange option, the Mountain Chalets Motel would be my personal pick. Their cozy chalets can sleep up to 5 people, so it’s perfect whether you’re traveling as a couple or as a family! All of the chalets also come with a kitchenette and have unlimited free Wi-Fi. The motel is also just 750 meters (2,460 ft) from Ben Ohau Golf Course and a 10-minute drive from Lake Pukaki.

These chalets start at around $190 NZD per night, with their largest chalet able to sleep up to 14 people! You can check your dates and book your stay here on Booking.com.

SkyScape – $$$

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 10 km (6.2 mi) out of Twizel and comes with unbeatable luxuries such as an outdoor hot tub, gorgeous views, and much more. In my eyes, it’s perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway!

Rooms here at SkyScape are on the higher end, starting from around $863 NZD per night. If it’s an unforgettable experience you are after, though, this hotel is well worth considering! You can check availability and book your stay online here.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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 rent 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’s what most budget travelers use 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…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Lake Pukaki on a beautiful day in mount Cook National Park
The lake is seriously that blue! 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 here. I hope this blog post has given you inspiration for your next vacation to Twizel, one of the most underrated 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:

10 BEST Walks and Hikes in Mount Cook National Park (2024 Guide!)

21 FUN Things to do in Picton, New Zealand

10 Most Relaxing Things to do in Queenstown