Team Waipoua working for river restoration

Department of Conservation —  04/11/2020

Treasured by Te Roroa iwi for generations, the beautiful Waipoua River in Northland runs through the ancient kauri forest that’s home to Tāne Mahuta.

Waipoua River Ranger David Nathan and Te Roroa Group Science Adviser Taoho Patuawa.
📷: Sarah Wilcox

A rich cultural and natural history

For Te Roroa, the river has always been a source of water and food as well as a place to cool off in the summer. Land beside the river was terraced and gardened for centuries, along with the fertile river flats. Fish were plentiful, including mullet in the estuary area just south of Hokianga Harbour.  

But a fish-blocking ford, farming in the headwaters, bank erosion, weeds and forestry are stopping the awa being in a pristine condition today.

Funding through Ngā Awa is enabling DOC to join with Te Roroa and other ongoing conservation projects in the catchment, with a particular focus on restoring the river and its biodiversity. (Waipoua is one of 14 rivers nationwide that will eventually receive Bio18 support via Ngā Awa for catchment-scale work from mountains to sea.)

Kauri forest flanks a stretch of river.
📷: Sarah Wilcox

An awa for all to enjoy

David Nathan has just taken over as the new river ranger at Waipoua. “I grew up living beside the river with my family. We used to swim, fish and drink the water from here – it’s my awa. I love this river and want the work I do to be part of seeing it restored so people who come after me can enjoy it like I used to.”

The first steps for Ngā Awa have been building up knowledge of the river and identifying the interventions that will make a big difference.

“We started by running workshops to look at the scope, pressures and opportunities and to see if there were worthwhile things we could do. But unfortunately the work had to be delayed because we found kauri dieback really close to Tāne.”

Taoho and David.
📷: Sarah Wilcox

Team approach to land and river restoration

David says that DOC’s existing relationships with people and organisations in the area have been a real advantage.

“It’s been very helpful to have that trust. This new funding has been a way of matching up what we were already doing in the forest with restoration in the river. It’s improving the health of the whole catchment.”

He also values being part of the bigger Ngā Awa programme. “It means there’s whole team and network of science and expertise to lean on – you’re not on your own.”

The programme’s goal is to restore Waipoua River to full health.
📷: Sarah Wilcox

Making a long-term difference

Projects to date have included helping farmers in the headwaters fence off some of the smaller streams, modifying a ford to let fish through and studying the sediment and erosion processes in the river.

“Collecting baseline monitoring data has also been a focus, to show if what we’re doing is making a tangible difference – it’s important to know that.”

Those improvements, however, may not be obvious any time soon. “It might take decades for sediment to wash out of smaller streams or the water quality to improve now that we don’t have stock in the waterway. But we’re not about short terms gains – it’s much, much bigger than that.”

Watch a short video about the river restoration work.

Read more about Ngā Awa river restoration and the Waipoua River.

2 responses to Team Waipoua working for river restoration


    This is a great story!


    This work is so inspiring and encouraging! I love the long-term vision.