What Do You Know About New Zealand’s Outstanding Rivers?

I have never encountered wind like it on a river trip. Luckily it was blowing either downstream, or across river. I struggled to keep my fully loaded gear raft going where I wanted it to. When the raft got sideways to the gale, the strength of the gusts felt as if they would capsize it. Clouds of spray were being whipped up through the rapids, while small whitecaps were being created on even the flat water sections. Luckily this was the second day of a two day trip.

Saturday morning, 20th October 2012, the launch spot on the Ngaruroro River, Hawkes Bay, North Island. I was part of a party of 40 rafters, catarafters and kayakers, all on the river for an overnight trip to show support for a pending application. An application to obtain an Outstanding River classification for the Ngaruroro River.

What Are Outstanding Rivers?

What do the Motu, the Rangitikei, the Kawarau, the Mohaka and the Rangitata Rivers (along with 10 others have in common? Answer: All 15 of these rivers are also designated as Outstanding Rivers.

Recently a new website was launched to celebrate and draw attention to these rivers. This website is can be viewed here – www.OutstandingRivers.org.nz This website details and celebrates the 15 rivers, at present, that are protected by a New Zealand Water Conservation Order.

Never Heard of a Water Conservation Order?

Water Conservation Orders are the highest level of protection that can be afforded to any water body in New Zealand, preserving its outstanding natural values for all freshwater fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation and future generations to enjoy. In effect what we are talking about is a similar level of protection, at least in theory, to that afforded to National Parks. There are however a couple of areas of major difference.

A Water Conservation Order can be repealed by Government after two years, though none ever have been, and secondly, the general public are somewhat surprisingly unaware of what Water Conservation Orders are, and what they mean. Especially when compared to the profile of National Parks. What is the Value of a Water Conservation Order to the River or Stream in Question?
It gives prominence to in-stream ecological and amenity values over extraction or other development.
The designation is made by a national special tribunal with Ministerial standing.
They carry an unbounded life of protection of the water body once granted.
These are all critical values, ensuring the life and natural flow of a body of water, plus preserving it as a recreational resource.

So Now You Know About Water Conservation Orders, What Should You Do?

There are two things you should do with this new found knowledge about Water Conservation Orders. The first and most obvious thing is to enjoy those designated rivers!

Some of these rivers have gained protection for the quality of their trout fishery, others for their wild and scenic values, while still others for their recreational values experienced via raft or kayak.

Some like our own Rangitikei for all three of these values.

These rivers are the embodiment of what should make New Zealand 100% Pure. Wild and Free Rivers providing the integrity behind a brand such as 100% Pure. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s freshwater resources are under severe threat from farming practices, industry, urban growth, and demands for extraction for power generation or irrigation.

Bryce Johnston, Chief Executive of Fish & Game has this to say,

“Freshwater management is the issue of our time, and it has been and will continue to be a highly contentious topic. This campaign, (to highlight and educate about our Outstanding Rivers) represents a great opportunity for all Kiwis to set aside their differing views and celebrate WCO waterways – jewels in the crown of this country’s natural landscape which have been protected for all New Zealanders to enjoy and which are vital to our ‘100% Pure, clean green’ brand.”

This brings us to the second thing you can do. You can support the applications for further Water Conservation Orders, just as the group of kayakers and rafters were on the 20th October on the Ngaruroro River.

Support the applications for our wild places to continue to be wild. Support them for the creatures and plants who need them. Support them to provide an enduring legacy to your grand children.

A Final Thought

The final thought is to get out there and enjoy them. Take a rafting trip on one of those Outstanding Rivers, learn to fish, or simply visit them to experience what our natural waterways should be………..


Brian Megaw

Janey rowing a gear raft on a Fantail Canyon trip on the Rangitikei River

Janey rowing a gear raft on a Fantail Canyon trip on the Rangitikei River

A raft on the “Burn” section of the Headwaters of the Rangitikei River

Rafts pulled up at camp on the Ngaruroro River on a Mountains To Valley trip

It’s all action on a Grade 5 rafting trip on the Rangitikei River