Stretching from the hinterland of the Southern Alps, the journey of water has huge significance in the Waitaki. The large braided Waitaki River flows off the mountains to drain into the Waitaki Lakes (a network from which New Zealand’s largest hydro power scheme was built), to the lower reaches of the braided Waitaki river to finally reach the Pacific Ocean.
The Waitaki River is a rare example of a braided river and a distinctive feature of Te Waipounamu (the South Island). Braided rivers are ever-changing, shifting their pathways according to conditions, creating new islands and wetlands as they change paths. From the air looking like a tangle of ribbons across the landscape, the river provides habitat for unique species that have evolved to thrive in this aquatic environment.
Māori creation stories tell of Aoraki, one of the sons of Raki, the sky father, and Papatuanuku, the earth mother. Aoraki and his brothers’ waka ran aground and they turned to stone, becoming Aoraki and the surrounding mountains. ‘Waitaki’ means ‘the river of tears’, symbolising the tears of Aoraki Mt Cook, missing his family.
Early Maori fished and hunted on the Waitaki river. The Waitaki River and catchment at large, is a renowned spot for magnificent salmon and trout fisheries. The quality of fishing along the river and hydro lakes and canals attract both locals and visiting anglers.