Lake Ruataniwha

Lake Ruataniwha: Explore Twizel’s Hidden Gem

Last Updated: 9th October, 2023

Nestled amidst the captivating landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Ruataniwha is a beautiful and secluded alpine lake that is worth a visit! Located near the charming town of Twizel in the Canterbury region, its a fantastic spot for a quick rest on your South Island roadtrip, or a classic kiwi summer holiday by the lake! In this post, I cover all you need to know when visiting Lake Ruataniwha, including how to get there, where to stay, and what to do while you’re there! Enjoy!

Lake ruataniwha twizel

An Overview of Lake Ruataniwha

Located only 2km south of the charming town of Twizel, Lake Ruataniwha is an artificial lake that was formed between 1977-1981 as a result of the Waitaki Hydroelectric project. Crystal-clear glacial water follows a series of alpine canals that flows all the way from Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, through the stunning Lake Pukaki, and into Lake Ruataniwha!

This lake is beautiful, with bright turquoise glacial water and lined with tall poplar trees. From the lake, you can look over the magnificent mountain ranges that surround the Mackenzie Basin, including the snow-capped Southern Alps and the rugged Ben Ohau Range.

Ben ohau range from Lake ruataniwha twizel

Where is Lake Ruataniwha?

Lake Ruataniwha is nestled in the stunning Mackenzie District, in the Canterbury region of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located only a few kilometers south of the charming town of Twizel, and is within close proximity to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and Lake Pukaki, some of New Zealand’s most iconic natural attractions!

Getting to Lake Ruataniwha

Getting to Lake Ruataniwha is relatively straightforward, as it is along the main State Highway Road between Lake Tekapo and Queenstown! From Twizel, it is a 7 minute (4km) drive to the shoreline of Lake Ruataniwha, down State Highway 8. This lake is best explored with a private car, as it is a little way off the beaten-path, and so has limited public transport.

Map of Lake Ruataniwha

The Best Time to Visit Lake Ruataniwha

Lake Ruataniwha is beautiful to visit at every time of the year, and the best time to visit Lake Ruataniwha really depends on your preferences and the types of activities you want to enjoy in the area!

Summer (December to February)

  • Summer is a popular time to visit Lake Ruataniwha. The weather is warm, with daytime temperatures ranging from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F).
  • This season is ideal for water sports like kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming in the lake.
  • Hiking and mountain biking are also enjoyable during this time, with longer daylight hours and pleasant weather.

Autumn (March to May)

Winter (June to August)

Spring (September to November)

The 5 Best Things to Do at Lake Ruataniwha

1. Catch a Fish at High Country Salmon

Located along the stunning glacial canal waterways that flow through Lake Ruataniwha is High Country Salmon – a boutique, 100% family-owned salmon farm, that produces some of the best salmon in New Zealand!

While visiting Lake Ruataniwha, you can pop in and check out this incredible salmon farm, located right in the crystal-clear waters of the Ohau Canal. Its fun to walk around and watch the fish swim on the floating deck, and you can even feed them for free!

Ohau canal feeds into Lake ruataniwha twizel

One of the coolest experiences that High County Salmon offer is the chance to catch your own fish! This is a fun activity for kids (and kids of all ages) and requires no experience or gear, all you have to do is show up! Once you have caught yourself a beautiful big salmon, the team will clean and prepare it for you to take home and enjoy.

Location: 2602 Twizel-Omarama Highway, Glenbrook, Twizel 7999

2. Hire a Boat and Explore Lake Ruataniwha

One of the best ways to explore Lake Ruataniwha, classic-kiwi style, is to hire a paddle-board or a kayak and get out onto the water! This is a fun activity for families or travelers looking to enjoy the calm, sheltered waters of Lake Ruataniewha, especially on a hot summers day!

Ruataniwha Rides is located along the shores of Lake Ruataniwha, and have a great selection of single or tandam kayaks, as well as paddle boards available for hire! They also have life jackets in all sizes, including for infants.

3. Go for a Short Walk near Lake Ruataniwha

There are a number of short walks through the golden Mackenzie Country around Lake Ruataniwha, which are an awesome way to explore the area and soak up the breathtaking scenery! There are some unofficial trails that follow around the shoreline of Lake Ruataniwha, as well as some well-maintained short walks nearby along the Twizel River.

Twizel River Trail

  • Walking Time: 4 hours one-way
  • Trail Distance: 12km one way
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy walking track

The Twizel River Trail is an easy and lovely walk alongside the stunning Twizel River, with beautiful views over the stunning golden Mackenzie countryside. This track is quite wide and well-maintained, and is a popular route for both hikers and mountain bikers. It is fantastic in summer, as the trail is lined with beautiful green willow trees, providing some much-needed shade along the way!

Location: Twizel River Trail is signposted directly opposite the Twizel Town.

4. Visit the Charming Town of Twizel

Only a short drive from the shores of Lake Ruataniwha is the charming town of Twizel! Twizel is a popular tourist town in the Mackenzie District, and serves as a gateway to the surrounding natural attractions of Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo.

One of my favourite things to do in Twizel is to wander through the local shops in the town square, before sitting down in the sun and enjoying a hot coffee or glass of local wine! Twizel is the largest town in the Mackenzie region, and has an excellent range of cafes and restaurants to choose from.

5. Bike from Lake Ruataniwha to Lake Ohau Lodge

  • Biking Time: 2.5 hours one way
  • Trail Distance: 34 km (21.3 miles)
  • Trail Type: A mixture on on-road and off-road cycling, with smooth and well maintained tracks around the Lake Ohau foreshore
Bike from Lake ruataniwha twizel to Lake Ohau

One of the most popular long-distance cycling routes in New Zealand is the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail! This gorgeous trail spans over 300 kilometers, all the way from Aoraki Mount Cook and out to the historic coastal town of Oamaru.

One of the most popular sections of this stunning trail is the ride from Twizel to Lake Ohau Lodge, passing nearby to the gorgeous Lake Ruataniwha. If you are beginning at Lake Ruataniwha, no worries! You can follow the roads along until you meet the Ohau Canal, which will take you along to Lake Ohau and the beautiful Ohau Lodge.

Highlights of Biking from Lake Ruataniwha to Lake Ohau Lodge

  • Ohau Canal
    This bike ride is stunning, taking you along the vibrant Ohau Canal and out the the shoreline of Lake Ohau, all the while giving you incredible views over the surrounding Ben Ohau Mountain range!
  • Ruataniwha Conservation Park
    The bike route travels through the beautiful Ruataniwha Conservation Park, featuring rugged mountains, golden tussock landscape, and sparkling rivers. This park is filled with fantastic hiking and mountain biking trails, and is an outdoor adventure lovers dream!
  • Ohau Foreshore
    This is a picturesque section of the trail, with cyclists cruising around the tranquil waters edge towards the Lake Ohau Lodge.
  • Lake Ohau Lodge
    Lake Ohau Lodge offers spectacular views of the lake and mountains and is a great place to stay a night, or grab a bite to eat before heading home!
View over Lake Ohau from Lake Ohau Lodge

Where to Stay near Lake Ruataniwha

1. Lake Ruetaniwha Holiday Park

Right on the sheltered waterfront of the beautiful lake is the Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park and Lake View Motels! Situated on the outskirts of Twizel, this budget-friendly accommodation offers an awesome range of rooms, from quality motels, cosy cabins, lodge rooms, and spacious camping sites.

This Holiday Park is in one of the most beautiful settings, surrounded by pine forest along the shoreline of Lake Ruataniwha. It is the perfect place to spend a night or two if you are wanting a base to explore the surrounding Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, or if you are just looking for a relaxing weekend away by a beautiful lake!

2. Pukaki Air Lodge | Lake Pukaki

Pukaki Air Lodge offers a luxurious twist on accommodation that is both unique and exciting. This charming Bed and Breakfast-style hotel is situated right at Pukaki Airport, seamlessly blending the owner’s passion for aviation with warm hospitality to create an unforgettable experience.

Each room boasts incredible, unobstructed views stretching across the Mackenzie Basin and the majestic Southern Alps, providing the perfect backdrop for relaxing and witnessing breathtaking sunsets. Guests have access to a shared fully-equipped kitchen, a cozy lounge, and a delightful outdoor patio equipped with barbecue facilities, making it an ideal spot for enjoying balmy summer evenings.

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