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Ashburton-Hakatere River

The Ashburton River – Hakatere (Māori) (interactive catchment map) begins its 112km journey to the Pacific in two branches. The north branch drains the 2100m high Winterslow, Old Man, and Moorhouse foothill ranges at the base of the Southern Alps between the Canterbury Plains and the Lake Heron depression. The south branch drains the southern end of the Arrowsmith Range, crosses the south end of the Lake Heron depression, and skirts the south end of the Winterslow Range before reaching the Canterbury Plains at Mount Somers. From here, the two branches flow parallel just a few kilometres apart, down the lower-lying junction of the major fans of the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers before merging just upstream of the town of Ashburton, 21km from the coast.

May 2021 flood  (aerial image) and river flow data

  • 6.168 cumecs at 11pm Friday 28 May
  • 21.962 cumecs at 11pm Saturday 29 May
  • 1,515.139 cumecs at 11pm Sunday 30 May
Ashburton River junction west of the town of Ashburton
Ashburton River junction west of the town of Ashburton

Biodiversity & Cultural Significance

Extract from the Ashburton Zone Implementation ProgrammeA large variety of native plants, birds and other species live in the rivers, lakes, wetlands, hapua and streams of our zone. Our zone’s braided rivers and lakes together provide the largest habitat (over 70,000 ha) for aquatic birdlife in NZ. Some 40,000 birds can be present at any one time.

The Hakatere/Ashburton River catchment supports about 14 native fish including threatened Canterbury mudfish, and threatened invertebrate species, such as the koura. About 48 native bird species live here. Four are nationally threatened and two are at-risk bird species. These include wrybill, banded dotterel, pied stilt, and black-billed gull.

For Ngāi Tahu, water is a taonga  (treasure) left by the ancestors to provide and sustain life. All the waterways and their associated tributaries, wetlands and springs in the zone are considered significant resources, of cultural, spiritual and historical importance to Ngāi Tāhu.’

Important Bird Areas on the Ashburton – links to 6-page PDF file that includes maps, habitat types, and threats relevant to this river. This document was extracted from Forest & Bird’s 177-page 20Mb file on all rivers, lakes, and coastal areas.

Water flow

The river flow regime in the Ashburton River – Hakatere is diverse and typical of glacial fed rivers in the Canterbury region. Its main source of flow is from precipitation and snowmelt in the headwaters with the lowest flows occurring during the late summer, and the highest during springtime.

Sign at the rivermouth: click the image to see a larger version

Bird counts & surveys

References & research