Twizel ~ From Hydro Town to Heart of the Mackenzie High Country

Hydro Town established 1968

Sited on land that was once part of Ruataniwha Station, Twizel was constructed as the base for the Upper Waitaki Power Development.  This scheme was the largest hydro project ever undertaken in New Zealand , started in 1968 and completed 18 years later.

Twizel is a new town - new in that it was constructed as recently as 1968, and "New Town" is the planning definition for the modern layout of the streets, facilities and amenities.  Twizel's layout was based on a Scandinavian concept first used in New Zealand at Mangakino (another 'hydro town') and modified at Otematata - base for the Benmore and Aviemore power projects in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  24km of streets were laid in a radial pattern from a central ring road - Mackenzie Drive.  Twizel was designed for a peak population of 5,800 and there were 1300 sections occupied in 1977. 

A number of the original hydro houses, known as 'Twizel Houses' can be found at the centre of the Twizel township.  Today most have been lovingly restored.

From Hydro Town to High Country Hub

The hydro scheme was completed in the early 1980's and in 1984 Twizel was signed over to the Mackenzie District Council.  Since then Twizel has grown into a bustling service and tourist town sited at the hub of the Mackenzie Basin High Country.

Currently Twizel has a residential population of approximately 1200 people.  Popular as a holiday town, in summer the population more than trebles. 

Twizel has expanded into the surrounding area and has a diverse townscape.  Tucked in the centre of town are the historic hydro houses lovingly restored as homes or baches.  Further out from the centre the newer developments are semi-rural in nature with sprawling homes set on small lifestyle blocks.  All of this surrounded by the large and iconic High Country sheep stations.

Shopping and sporting facilities are centrally located with green areas linking streets to provide safe pedestrian ways to the town centre.

Whilst almost all facilities and services that supported the town at the peak of the power project remain, Twizel is continuing to develop and grow.  From it's roots as a hydro town, Twizel is now developing into the Heart of the Mackenzie High Country.

The Landscape

The Mackenzie Basin 's treeless landscape has been slowly changed over 100 years with the planting of shelterbelts and windbreak. The "hydro age" has seen the biggest change - millions of trees planted in the riverbeds and areas restored after hydro construction. Twizel is the focus of that work - with more than 250,000 trees in the Greenbelt and species, chosen to tone down the greys and browns of the Basin, planted within the town.   Residents were encouraged to plant more trees on their own properties. The results are now obvious in the shelter provided against the equinox winds. 

History of Twizel DVD

These DVDs are now available for purchase from the TPDA Office in the Event Centre, Mackenzie Lotto Plus, Jake's Hardware, the Twizel Information Centre, and Poppies Café. For more information or to order a copy, phone (03) 435 0066 or send an email to HERE. The DVD costs $20 + postage.

You can view the trailer of the History of Twizel DVD here: