High Country Salmon
As an avid fishman, Richard Logan spent much of his life throwing lines into bodies of water in the Mackenzie District. Daughter Jeni fondly recalls a childhood of family holidays spent at Lake Benmore and Lake Alexandrina, and on the banks of various small waterways watching Dad as he expertly "hunted" trout. As Jeni tells it, Richard and mate Woody Horsfield then turned a passion into an idea, asking themselves ‘why not?’ and ended up pioneering a new industry in the district. “You’ve got to dream it before you can do it,” Jeni said.
The Logan family’s relationship with Twizel began in the early 1990s when Richard and Woody opened the very first salmon farm in the Mackenzie District. “They first set up Southern Sockeye Salmon in the canals where the Mt Cook Alpine Salmon hatchery is now," Jeni said. "Then Dad and some other friends set up Benmore Salmon down on the Ōhau canal that feeds into Lake Benmore. High Country Salmon was then the third farm he established.
Passionate about salmon, patriarch Richard had a gift for reading fish. “He knew what they needed,” Jeni said, “the correct temperature, water flow, oxygen levels, spacing, and this third site was perfect.”
Richard’s original idea was the salmon farm would be strictly a family farm, not a large-scale commercial one. He chose the site based on its location within the Wairepo reach. It ticked all the boxes he knew were needed for salmon to thrive – with the added advantage of being right on a busy highway.
“He always dreamed that people would want to come in off the road and buy some fish, but he’d be astounded if he could see what it looks like now,” Jeni said. “The current farm has taken his vision and multiplied it.”
The family farm was originally managed by Richard, but everyone knew they had to pitch in during the Christmas holidays. Richard and his wife Margaret lived on site for a time, and it was where a lot of the Logan family would spend their Christmas’. “All the kids would come here for Christmas at the farm,” Jeni recalled. “And it was a working farm – you were feeding the fish on Christmas Day. The babies needed feeding every three hours so Dad had a little clock that showed the last time they were fed, and when they would need feeding again.”
As well as leaving a legacy for his own family, Jeni said that what gave her dad the most pride was the way he was able to contribute to the local community. “In the early days when Dad was running the farm, we had a few staff members and he was so chuffed that he was supporting other families,” she said. “He didn’t come from self-employment before so he loved that he had a business that could support local people and the community – he saw that as a real success for the business.”
Twenty-three years since opening, High Country Salmon goes from strength to strength as a boutique salmon farm on State Highway 1 just South of Twizel. They offer a fresh, sustainable product, as well as a unique dining experience and the opportunity to learn more about salmon farming in Aotearoa. Their Chinook (King) salmon are grown in the glacial waters of the Mackenzie Country hydro canals. The constant flow of pristine water makes the salmon firm in flesh, and mild on the palate. But more than being a space to experience some delicious, locally farmed protein, High Country Salmon is a destination.
“It’s not just a retail space, it’s an experience,” Jeni said. “That’s what we’re really focused on now. Our fish shop opened a year ago which is a great way to showcase all our salmon products as well as deli and gift items – it’s been really well received, people love it.
“We’ve also just revamped the café and we have a great new chef who has revitalised the whole menu. We are licensed now too so people can come down and have a relaxing time feeding the fish and watching the farm activity from the café while they’re having lunch.”
High Country Salmon has a carrying capacity of 200 tonnes, which makes them one of the smallest salmon farms in Aotearoa. Because of this, their focus is on retailing 100% of their product within the country. “We are really good at providing for that niche market in New Zealand,” Jeni said. “We send 2/3 of our fish around the country to online orders and restaurants that love our product. The other third is sold at our floating café and in the shop.”
High Country Salmon now employs almost 40 people which makes them a huge part of the Twizel community. Part of our contribution, Jeni explained, is making monthly donations to various community groups or one-off needs. One of the experiences people can have on site is feeding the fish. It is a free activity, but the farm does ask for donations which then get passed on to a local charity.
“We’ve got some regulars that we donate to,” Jeni said, “but we’re open to any one-off requests from people in the community, such as local kids who need help fundraising. It’s a shame there’s only 12 months in the year because there’s so many causes to donate to! We also want people to know they can approach us if they have any of these one-off needs, and we can supply vouchers and products for fundraising events.”
A major part of the High Country Salmon story is its focus on sustainability. As well as placing an emphasis on zero waste farming and processing, their product is inherently green. "We take our responsibility to the environment seriously," Jeni said, "and this was recognised at last year's South Canterbury Business Excellence Awards where we were presented with the Sustainability Award.
"In general, New Zealand has a pretty low carbon footprint for farming compared to the rest of the world, but our salmon is an especially sustainable product to buy and have as a normal part of your diet.”
In fact, New Zealand’s salmon farming industry has been recognised as the world’s greenest by the Global Aquaculture Performance Index. It has also been internationally recognised by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s globally respected consumer guide Seafood Watch which has rated New Zealand’s farmed salmon as “Green”, meaning it is a “Best Choice” for consumers. King salmon from New Zealand is the first and only ocean-farmed salmon to have achieved the Green/Best Choice rating from Seafood Watch. New Zealand Forest & Bird’s “Best Fish Guide” has endorsed freshwater salmon farming in the Mackenzie District hydro canals specifically as the most sustainable form of salmon farming and is the only farmed finfish regarded as a “Green light – Good Choice”.
The Logan family are always looking for ways to improve High Country Salmon. The physical structures of the farm have been maintained since Richard made them all those years ago – he hand tied all the nets, straightened out all the nails, and hammered all those pieces of wood that are still there over 20 years later. Soon, however, people will be able to watch as a transition takes place.
“It’s a huge job,” Jeni said. “The current farm is a wooden structure, and the new farm will be more plastic and fiberglass so it’ll look quite different. It’s going to be an amazing working space for our farm crew, and a lot easier to maintain.
“We’re also looking at putting in a new processing facility that will allow room for extending the existing café in the future. It’s such a nice space to sit looking out at the water, having a nice glass of wine and a platter of salmon and spreads.”
Richard’s vision and passion for salmon has truly come full circle. High Country Salmon is a farm and an experience Jeni thinks her dad would be proud of. “We’ve developed a really good name for ourselves,” she said. “For the product, the location, and the experience we’re offering people and that’s so cool; that was Dad’s vision.
“The family aspect gives the company culture a different feel too, I think, so we’re proud of that. It’s a great place. I’m really proud of Dad for having been able to realise his dream.”
High Country Salmon is open seven days a week. The café is open 9.00 – 4.00pm, the retail shop is open 9.00 – 5.00pm, and the catch-a-fish experience is open 9.00 – 2.00pm. You can also catch them at the Twizel Salmon & Wine Festival on 24 February 2024.