From The Land: Selwyn's Landscapes & People

A region of contrasts

Selwyn has a dramatic landscape. From sea to summit and everything in between, it's all on our back doorstep.

The district stretches across the great Canterbury plains and is bordered by the Rakaia and Waimakariri Rivers, with Arthurs's Pass National Park in the Southern Alps to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east.

Discover the special character of our landscapes and our people.

From the Plains

The patchwork plains of Selwyn spread from the foothills of the Southern Alps out to the coast, between the Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers.

Most of the district’s population lives on these plains, primarily in the towns of Rolleston, Lincoln, Prebbleton and Darfield.

From the long, straight roads, fields stretch as far as the eye can see. Early Māori found the fertile soils good for growing kumara. Now, farms in the region mostly focus on dairy, beef and sheep farming, as well as growing crops like grains.

Selwyn has been an important rail link for Christchurch since 1879. When the Otira Tunnel was built in 1923, it was the second longest tunnel in the world and provided a direct rail connection for the two coasts via the Midland Line. The TranzAlpine passenger service following this route is considered one of the world’s great train journeys.

The Little River Rail Trail links visitors to this rail past. This old branch line is now a walking and cycling track alongside Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora) through a native wetland reserve.

From the Mountains

Listen to the pull of the mountains and breathe the fresh air in Selwyn

The mighty Southern Alps can be seen from most places in Selwyn, silhouetted against the sky. Our rivers flow down from the high passes over the plains and out to the sea.

Mountains and hills play an important role in spiritual and cultural belief as the gateways to the Atua (spiritual world). Early Māori made tracks through the Southern Alps to bring pounamu (jade) from the West Coast to Canterbury. The slopes were thickly forested and many species of native birds like kākā, kererū and kiwi provided food and feathers for the people.

Early European settlers were most concerned with finding a way through the mountains. Arthur’s Pass was used to transport metal in the Gold Rush. When the Otira Rail Tunnel was built in 1923, it was the world's second-longest tunnel, providing a direct connection for the two coasts.

Now we explore the mountains for leisure. Skiers and snowboarders have a wealth of opportunities at Selwyn’s six skifields. Tramping trails snake over the ridges and past waterfalls, from challenging tussock slopes to Castle Hill's limestone outcrops.

From the Sea

Get away from the crowds and relax beside the waters of Selwyn

Flowing from the mountains to the mighty Pacific Ocean, lakes, rivers and sea bring life to Selwyn.

Selwyn River (Waikirikiri) is of particular value to Ngai Tahu, and many early Māori settlements lived along its banks. Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora) is a treasured source of mahinga kai to Ngā Tangata o Te Taumutu Rūnanga, the people of Taumutu Rūnanga, whose marae is located near its shores. Te Waihora opens to the ocean and is home to 166 species of birds and 43 species of fish.

Try jetboating in the beautiful surroundings of the foothills. Alpine Jet Canyon Safaris departs from near Springfield to view the mighty Waimakariri canyon from the river. Lake Coleridge is home to many walks and activities. Tramp to the viewing platform or take the Discovery Jet at Rakaia Gorge. Or walk the track at Coopers Lagoon near Southbridge, listen to the sound of the wild sea, and spot the birdlife among the wetlands.

Fish at one of the many spots along the coast and rivers. Try surf fishing at Birdlings Flat for blue moki and kahawai, or fish for Chinook Salmon in the Rakaia River or Lake Coleridge. Brown and rainbow trout are also abundant in the smaller lakes nearby.

Sovereign Smoked Salmon source their fish from the clear ocean waters. In the factory based in Hororata, they produce quality smoked salmon products made to old Scottish recipes.

From the People

Selwyn's heritage is rich in narratives and stories. It's a dynamic, fast-growing district, and its people come from many different backgrounds. 

Ngā Tangata o Te Taumutu Rūnanga, the people of Taumutu Rūnanga, settled in Taumutu in the seventeenth  century.  Their local marae, Ngāti Moki, is located in Taumutu near Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora). 

Renowned for its agriculture with fertile soils, people have farmed and produced from the land for hundreds of years. Lincoln University has also drawn people to the area since the late 19th century. 

The people of Selwyn bring their vibrant attitudes to their fresh products, like craft beers from The Laboratory and quality wines from vineyards such as Lone Goat. Sample the delicious sweets from Chocolate Traders, preserves from Gunyah Estate and sheep milk gelato from Charing Cross.

Come and meet some of Selwyn’s relaxed locals and get great insight into the district on a tour. Or chat with the producers at one of the Farmer’s Markets.

From the people

Meet some of Selwyn's locals and learn about their stories.