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.

Conservation Projects

“Project River Recovery (PRR) commenced operations in 1991 following the establishment of a compensatory funding agreement with the energy provider (ECNZ) in the upper Waitaki River which recognised the adverse impacts of hydroelectric power development on braided river and wetland ecosystems. A key focus of the programme over its 28 years of operation has been to maintain integrity of braided river ecosystems, particularly from the impacts of invasive plants. The programme has also invested considerable effort into assessing the impacts of mammalian predators on riverbed fauna and developing effective methods for their control in riverbed environments.

“These and other goals are set out in the current seven-year strategic plan (2012-2019; Rebergen and Woolmore, 2015) which is still operative. Given that the funding agreement with Meridian Energy Limited and Genesis Energy Limited is in the early stages of renegotiation, both companies have agreed that the strategic plan will get a quick interim review until a new deal is reached.”Project River Recovery Annual Report 2019-2020

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)