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South Island Rowing, Lake Ruataniwha and the Meridian Rowing Centre: a brief history of the place, people and organisations that have helped make it happen.

South Island Rowing Course

Max Smith

Following the failure National Championship regatta on Lake Waihola near Dunedin, it was decided that a new south island venue for this regatta was required. Max Smith (pictured), the Ministry of Works Project Manager for the Upper Waitaki hydroelectric scheme, promoted the idea of a rowing course on a new lake that had to be created as part of the overall scheme. From this Lake Ruataniwha was born.

The four Local South Island Rowing Associations; Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago and Southland formed South Island Rowing Inc. a not for profit organisation with a mandate that included the running of the National Championship Regatta. The early years were difficult with few buildings or facilities. There were few trees, a rather barren landscape and a changing operating environment. It was against this background and the continuing legislative changes that the dedicated efforts of the stalwarts of south island rowing tirelessly work to ensure South Island Rowing had a continuing world-class facility.

Since those early days, there have been two major events that have established the current position of South Island Rowing Inc. The first was the purchase of the land around the rowing complex. This has been fenced off and named after Max Smith who continued to support rowing until his death. The second event was the purchase buildings from the Wigram Air force base. These buildings have enabled a full accommodation and training facility to be established as part of the complex. South Island Rowing continues to develop and manage the eventing facilities including the rowing course at the lake.

Lake Ruataniwha

The upper Waitaki hydro project was developed during the 1970’s and 1980’s. It consists of a network of hydro storage lakes, canals and electricity generation stations, which includes the man-made Lake Ruataniwha. Most of the hydro facilities are now owned and operated by Meridian Energy, and this certainly applies to the ones that affect the level and the flow of water through the lake.
The lake was named after Ruataniwha Station, a large, local sheep station. Part of the station was purchased by the former NZ Electricity Department to build the nearby town of Twizel, originally established to house hydro construction workers. The station owes its name to Maori chief Ruataniwha who drowned when the canoe Arai-te-uru sank near Moeraki in the 12th century.
Lake Ruataniwha has a purpose-built eight lane Albano rowing course that conformed to the International standards of the day. The eight lanes that are fully buoyed throughout the year, which allows for year round training. South Island Rowing is grateful to its principal sponsor, Meridian for its ongoing interest and support. In particular their control of the water level and flow rate during Regattas in spite of the highly competitive environment in which they operate. South Island really appreciates their assistance here.

Ohau A Powerstation at the head of Lake Ruataniwha

The SIRI Meridian Rowing Centre

Lake Ruataniwha, and the Meridian Rowing Centre are approximately 3.5-hour drive south of Christchurch, approximately halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown. Situated in the panoramic Mackenzie District, near Aoraki/Mount Cook, this alpine area is known for extreme heat or cold conditions, any time of the year.
Set on the shores of the lake, South Island Rowing offers a range of facilities for hire including the Meridian Rowing Centre that is the hub for all rowing activities. There is also accommodation for up to 70 people, a lecture theatre, seminar room, relaxing lounge facilities and a hall for social functions. Food and refreshments are available on arrangement with the catering manager.
The centre and rowing course are 100% run by volunteers, and South Island Rowing is proud to be the only rowing organisation in New Zealand to own and manage this type of facility and the flexibility this provides. A great variety of club, association and national events are held at the venue throughout the year. The venue is often used for training as a build up to major regattas. The venue may also be hired for other purposes, subject to availability. South Island Rowing Inc. welcomes enquiries from any party interested in using the venue. Please select contact for details.