Skip to content

Upper Waitaki River

The Upper Waitaki, which includes the Mackenzie Basin catchment and Tasman River, covers 96,579km and is the single largest area monitored by Environment Canterbury.

It contains a network of small spring-fed streams, large gravel braided rivers fed from snowmelt and glaciers, an extensive hydroelectric scheme of canals and lake outlet dams, and large lakes that are mainly managed for power generation.

The catchment is of national importance for hydro-power generation and security of supply, contributing nearly 20% of New Zealand’s annual electricity requirements.

Upper Waitaki

Biodiversity & cultural significance

Extract from the Upper Waitaki Zone Implementation Programme (page 6-7): ‘The environment is characterised by climate extremes of cold, heat, drought, frost, snow and high winds with a striking climate gradient where rainfall measured in metres about Aoraki Mt Cook drops to less than 400 mm/annum  at the  head of Lake Benmore; a  distance of only 80km. 

The resulting extremes and isolation have produced a distinctive indigenous flora and fauna characterised by slow growing stress tolerant species…

During glacial periods, rivers spilled out of the Tekapo, Pukaki, Ohau and Ahuriri catchments to deposit large amounts of gravel and silt. The processes of geological uplift, erosion and alluvial transport continue to maintain our braided river and associated wetlands today. The braided rivers: Hopkins, Dobson, Godley, MacCauley, Tasman, Tekapo, Pukaki Forks, Cass and Ahuriri, are highly valued and are regionally significant and distinctive, with wide shingle beds, snaking water channels and highly variable flows. They provide a unique habitat for several of New Zealand’s endangered wildlife species…

The ability to gather and share food and manaaki visitors is a cornerstone of Tangata Whenua society tradition and mana and is reliant on water that is fit for human consumption and able to support mahinga kai species as well as a healthy ecosystem. The Upper Waitaki is one of the migration routes to the West Coast and has been known as the kite kai (food basket) of the Central South Island…

Important Bird Areas on the Waitaki River: 7-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

Conservation activities

Life on a braided river in the upper Waitaki.
Life on a braided river in the upper Waitaki.

References & research material