Nature and conservation
The Ruataniwha Conservation Park has over 36,800 hectares of rugged mountain country, tussock lands, beech/tawhai forest and sparkling clear rivers. The rolling Ben Ohau Range borders the eastern boundary of the park and it includes major valleys like the Dobson, Hopkins, Huxley, Temple and Maitland.
Ruataniwha Conservation Park features a diverse range of vegetation from valley-floor grasslands and wetlands to hillside beech forests and alpine herbfields. In the higher rainfall valleys close to the main divide, silver and mountain beech/tawhairauriki are the dominant tree species while in the lower valleys mountain beech, subalpine shrublands and tussockland predominate. The beech forests in the Huxley, Dobson and Temple valleys are New Zealand’s stronghold for the threatened tree Pittosporum patulum as well as some of the best sites for beech mistletoe/pikirangi in the country.
Much of Ben Ohau Range at the eastern end of the park is extensive snow tussockland and scree with occasional remnants of beech forest and shrublands of matagouri, Coprosma and turpentine scrub (Dracophyllum uniflorum). Amongst these eastern plant communities you might be lucky to spot the threatened whipcord Hebe,Hebe cupressoides or a stand of bog pine, a remnant of what was once a much more extensive plant community in the dry inland basins of the Mackenzie.
Although they look might look barren and unvegetated, a close look at the screes and high-altitude rocklands of the park will reveal that plants are indeed growing nearly everywhere, with small herbs, cryptically-coloured annuals, mosses and lichens tucked in amongst rock crevices or on fine screes.
Within the diverse habitats of the park there is a wide variety of birdlife.
In open areas bird sightings may include the New Zealand falcon/kārearea, New Zealand pipit/pīhoihoi, rock wren/pīwauwau, and the Australasian harrier hawk/kāhu.
The beech forest areas are regionally important habitat for bush-dwelling native species such as the fantail/pīwakawaka, bellbird/korimako, grey warbler/riroriro, long-tailed cuckoo/koekoeā, rifleman/tītitipounamu and the tomtit/miromiro.
Within the riverbeds birds such as the banded dotterel/turiwhatu, paradise shelduck/pūtakitaki, and South Island pied oystercatcher/tōrea are just a few of the more common residents.
A rich diversity of native fish has been recorded in the Fraser Stream including upland bully (Gobiomorphus breviceps), kōaro (Galaxias brevipinnis), Canterbury galaxias (Galaxias vulgaris) and alpine galaxias (Galaxias paucispondylus). Also included are bignose galaxias (Galaxias macronasus) which has been found only in the Mackenzie Basin, and lowland longjaw galaxias (Galaxias cobitinis) which is considered New Zealand’s rarest fish.
Longfinned eel/tuna (Anguilla dieffenbachia) can also be found in the upper Ohau catchments, but are no longer common.
Four species of lizards/ngarara have been recorded in the park – the common gecko/Hoplodactylus aff. maculatus‘Southern Alps’, common skink/mokomoko/Oligosoma nigriplantare polychroma and McCann’s skink/mokomoko/Oligosoma maccanni and in bush and scrub areas the cryptically-coloured jewelled gecko (Naultinus gemmeus).
Grasshoppers, tussock butterflies and giant dragonflies/powai are just a few of the invertebrates that may also be encountered.
History and culture
Ruataniwha is an old Māori name that has been associated with this area for over 400 years. Two brothers came into the area originally, with one brother staying on while the other travelled south. In this instance ‘rua’ translates as two, while ‘taniwha’ means powerful or strong person. Arowhenua Rūnaka has been able to track the time frame of this event by tracing back through whakapapa/geneology.
Ohau (the place of the wind) occupies an important place in Ngāi Tahu cultural, spiritual, historic and traditional associations with the land. Lake Ohau is part of the tradition of ‘Nga Puna Wai Karikari o Rākaihautu’, which tells how the principal lakes of Te Wai Pounamu were dug by the Rangatira (chief) Rākaihautu. He was captain of Uruao, the canoe that brought the Waitaha people, the predecessors of modern Ngāi Tahu, to Aotearoa.
Ohau was a mahinga kai (food-gathering place) along a traditional trail between Takapo (Tekapo) and Te Tai Poutini (the West Coast) via Brodrick Pass. Several battles were fought in the area between Ngāi Tahu and Ngati Mamoe. Mahinga kai from Ohau supported many generations of tangata whenua (people of the land) down through the ages.
Ruataniwha Conservation Park is in the Mackenzie Basin, South Canterbury/Otago. The closest township is Twizel.
There are several access points starting from Aoraki/Mt Cook Highway and Lake Ohau Road, to reach different areas of the park.
Most of the public access into the park is along easements crossing private land. 4WD access into some areas requires permission from private landowners.
Ask at the Twizel Information Centre or DOC office for more information.
Know before you go
Climate in the upper regions of the park, such as the Hopkins and Dobson valleys, is strongly influenced by the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana. Weather changes can be sudden and brutal while river crossings can become treacherous.
Permission to use access roads
Some access roads require permission from private landowners before using:
- Duncan Valley/Gladstone Valley 4WD access road: Permission to drive along this 4WD track is required from Pukaki Downs Station. Phone: +64 3 435 0131
- Dobson Valley: Permission to access this area via the 4WD track is required from Glen Lyon Station. Phone: +64 3 438 9644
- Ohau Snowfield road: Permission to drive up Ohau Snowfield road is required from Lake Ohau Lodge. Phone: +64 3 438 9885
- Maitland Valley: Permission to access the lower Maitland valley is required from Lake Ohau Station. Phone: +64 3 438 9662
Fire restrictions apply to all DOC land. Check with the Twizel Information Centre or DOC for the current fire status.
Be aware of weather conditions in catchment headwaters. Do not attempt to cross swollen rivers or streams. Crossings can be dangerous in high river flows with soft sand deposits evident after floods. Check fords before entry.
Because of the danger of falling branches, do not camp under beech trees.
Avalanche run-out zones can impact on the valley floor from May to November. We recommend carrying transceivers 457 khz, probes and shovels in avalanche terrain.