Waimata River

Waimata River Reports

Waimata River

The waters of the Waimata run past the places where our shared history began. Fed by springs and streams, its headwaters rise in the hills north-east of Gisborne and run down to the city, with its harbour and port.

Opposite the Waikanae Stream, a sacred rock, Te Toka-a-Taiau (now underwater) marks the arrival of the voyaging canoes Horouta and Takitimu. At the river mouth, Captain James Cook and his companions stepped ashore in October 1769, the first Europeans to land in New Zealand.

Many people live on the banks of the Waimata - farming families in the high country and urban dwellers in town. Its winding valley gives access by road to the hinterland, with its forests and farms.

Kayakers, rowers, waka ama paddlers, kids on rafts and fishers all use the river. In the city, the Waimata and the Taraheru carved out the harbour on which the port, the marina, the fishing club and many cafes are built.

Photo by Malcolm Rutherford

The Waimata is in trouble

Today, the Waimata is in trouble. Pastoral farming in steep, unstable country has led to severe erosion. Sediment flows into the river. The banks are grazed by stock in many places, leaving them bare of bush cover. When it rains, the river turns to liquid mud.

In the headwaters, exotic forests planted to protect the hills are being clear felled. Tracks scar the ridges, and when it rains heavily, piles of slash (logging debris) and bark wash down the slopes. With no bush buffers, sediment and debris are swept into the streams, down the river into the harbour, and onto the beaches. Sediment clogs the port and local fisheries.

See Ian Ruru’s eloquent video about the Waimata, ‘A River in Tears’.

The tide is turning

The tide is turning. International markets for timber, meat and wool now demand products that meet high environmental standards.

The Forestry Stewardship Council requires bush buffers around waterways in forests, and 10% of each forest to be devoted to native species. Foresters who breach these standards risk losing their access to world markets.

Around New Zealand, people no longer take their rivers for granted. In many places, foresters, farmers, local bodies and residents are joining together to protect their waterways.

The Future of the Waimata

Many people live beside the Waimata river, use it, or cross it every day. Surf life savers, surfers, paddlers, sailors, fishers and walkers all want to see forestry debris and logs removed from the river, the sea and the beaches.

In the headwaters, large areas are controlled by a few forestry companies that belong to the Forestry Stewardship Council, with its high environmental standards.

The port has a commercial interest in reducing sediment loadings in the river, and its dredging bills. Ratepayers and the Council will benefit if repair bills for roads and other infrastructure damaged by flooding can be limited.

Te Awaroa

At the 2012 Transit of Venus Forum in Gisborne, our Chairperson came up with the idea of Te Awaroa, a project to take care of waterways across New Zealand. This would restore integrity to our 100% Pure New Zealand brand, create wildlife corridors for endangered species and cleanse the water, enhancing the beauty of our rivers for kayakers, swimmers, paddlers, rowers and fishers.

Watch Dan Hikuroa talk about Te Awaroa, or read the Strategic Plan for more information on this project.

Guardians of the Waimata

The Te Awaroa team have conducted a case study of the Waimata River, producing reports on its geomorphology, Maori and settler histories, and the ecology of the from the mountains to the sea (See report on the ecology of the Waimata).

The next stage is to share these insights into the past and present of the Waimata River with the community, and seek to ensure that it returns to a state of ora (well-being, abundance).