29K Photo River headwaters. Copyright R.Chesher

Rivers of New Zealand

"Underlying the Maori thinking about natural resources is the concept of Maori - the life principle that resides in all things. A river is a treasure and it has its own life force. Therefore extraction of water or the introduction of waste into rivers is not just a matter of physical degradation or ecological compromise. It can be seen as an offence in the cultural sense. The river has values stretching beyond the immediate needs of clamouring users."

Latimer 1993

"The quality of our water resources is, in many ways, a measure of our maturity as individuals and as a culture."

Pat Costner. Kamo High School student project.


New Zealand's water resources.

New Zealand's wetlands

How we use water

How we harm water ecosystems

River Keeping

School Activities

River Detective

River Keeper Profile


Water is essential to life, and is as varied and complex as life itself. The springs, streams, and rivers are part of the identity and rangatiratanga of the iwi. Traditional Maori definitions of water in its various forms and uses - waiora, waimaori, waikino, waimate and waitai - are definitions, concepts and truths for maintaining balance between all living creatures and processes.

Fresh, unpolluted, water supplies are essential for all plants and animals. The availability of fresh water for drinking has always been an essential part of human culture. The early people of New Zealand had an abundance of water. Patterns of settlement relied upon available and reliable fresh water supplies. The settlements, in turn, rapidly polluted the fresh water supply and harvested the fish, trees, and other creatures.

European settlements began close to a good supply of drinking water and the history of the fresh water supply of the developing urban areas mirrors the social and economic development.

Today, population pressures and pollution are make clean water a concern, rather than a natural right. Long droughts and heavy floods - made worse by widespread deforestation - make supplies unpredictable. Increasing demands by industry and agriculture - and a parallel infusion of silt, fertilisers, pesticides and pollutants - have added to problems of quality and supply. Bottled, purified water is now a common feature of our lives - something most adults never dreamed of in their childhood. Human damageto inland waters has been a disaster for the wildlife of New Zealand. Plants and animals - even fish - need to drink clean water, too. They cannot obtain purified water to drink. If the water in our rivers and lakes are unfit for human consumption, it is also unfit for the multitude of wild creatures that drink and live in it. Today, as never before, humanity is threatening life's most precious and essential ingredient.


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