Friends of the Waimata

The Waimata is one of the most significant rivers in New Zealand. 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.

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.

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.

The waters of the Waimata run past the places where our shared history began.

The Waimata is in trouble

Today, the Waimata is in trouble. Pastoral farming in the steep, unstable country has left a legacy of deep alluvial deposits on its banks. These are grazed by stock in many places, leaving them bare of bush cover. When it rains, the river turns brown.

In the headwaters, exotic forests planted to protect the hills against erosion are being clear felled. Tracks scar the ridges, and in high rainfall events, 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.

The Chairman of Beef and Lamb NZ recently urged his members to fence all waterways, warning that their products must be sustainably produced.

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.


Fortunately, the Waimata River is an excellent candidate for restoration. In the city, many people live beside the 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 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.

Take care of the Waimata:
A 'Mountain to Sea' strategy

Actions to restore the Waimata include:

Practical support for these activities:

First to see the Light

By taking care of the rivers in its district, ocean, fisheries and beaches, Gisborne City can be 'the first to see the light.'

Te Awaroa

After the recent Transit of Venus Forum in Gisborne, our Chairperson came up with the idea of Te Awaroa (PDF), a viral project to restore bush to river banks across New Zealand.  This would have many advantages, restoring integrity to our 100% Pure New Zealand brand, creating wildlife corridors for endangered species, cleansing the water, stabilising river banks and preventing erosion, keeping forestry slash and sediment out of the waterways, and enhancing the beauty of our rivers for kayakers, swimmers, paddlers, rowers and fishers.  Read the Strategic Plan (PDF) for more information on this project.