Waitaki River system - an overview

The extensive catchment of the Waitaki River system begins in the snow and icefields of the Southern Alps/Kä Tiritiri o te Moana.  ‘Waitaki’ literally means ‘the waterway of tears’, symbolising the tears of Aoraki Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, as they flow along the Tasman River and spill in Lake Pukaki. Before sections of the river were dammed for hydro-power production, the river was one of New Zealand’s largest rivers, traversing over 200 kilometres of diverse landscapes.

Fed by three large glacial lakes, Tekapo, Ohau as well as Lake Pukaki, the Waitaki River flows through Lake Waitaki,  Lake Benmore and Lake Aviemore, the latter two contained by Benmore Dam and Aviemore Dam respectively.

There several tributaries, notably the Ahuriri River and the Hakataramea River. The Lower Waitaki passes Kurow and Glenavy before entering the Pacific Ocean between Timaru and Oamaru on the east coast.

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Management of the Waitaki has been separated into two Zones under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS).

The headwaters of the Waitaki River in the Southern Alps Kä Tiritiri o te Moana. Aoraki Mt Cook (centre and lower right), Tasman glacier (bottom left) with the Tasman River flowing into Lake Pukaki (right background)
The headwaters of the Waitaki River in the Southern Alps Kä Tiritiri o te Moana. Aoraki Mt Cook (centre and lower right), Tasman glacier (bottom left) with the Tasman River flowing into Lake Pukaki (right background)