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Orari River

The Orari River is situated in the Orari-Opihi-Pareora Zone (interactive catchment map). The river rises to the northwest of the Four Peaks Range, initially flowing north then east to circumnavigate the range before flowing southwest across the Canterbury Plains. Predominantly fed by precipitation in the hill country rather than snow melt, the river is also fed from spring-fed tributaries. The extensive lowland lagoons and hapua are fed by these waterways, and their health reflects the cumulative effects of all the activities up stream. In addition, the zone is bounded in the north by the Rangitata, a large alpine river whose flood waters are being captured for further irrigation in the zone. The towns of Geraldine and Orari are both located close to its banks. The Orari River reaches the Canterbury coastline 8 kilometres east of Temuka.

Orari River looking North-west towards Peel Forest

Orari River looking North-west towards Peel Forest

Biodiversity and cultural significance

The river has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International because it supports breeding colonies of the endangered black-billed gull.

Important Bird Areas on Orari River: links to 6-page PDF file that includes maps, habitat types, and threats relevant to this river. This document was extracted from Forest & Bird’s 177-page 20Mb file on all rivers, lakes, and coastal areas.

Birdlife and habitat quality on the Orari River has been shown to be directly (negatively) impacted by abstraction of water for irrigation.

Extract from the Orari-Opihi Zone Implementation Programme (ZIP) (page 6-7): ‘Water is precious and limited. It must be managed in ways that recognise and balance its importance for cultural, economic and recreational use, aesthetic and landscape values and biodiversity values – and delivers both individual and community good. We affirm and recognise tangata whenua and the value they place on mahinga kai, and the priority of available high quality sources of drinking water in rivers, waterways and aquifers. We also recognise the intrinsic value of aquatic ecosystems and river health (quality and flow), and the need to both prevent further decline and then restore wetlands and waterways. We know that to achieve all the targets of the CWMS within our zone it is necessary to strategically manage the water within our zone and provide opportunities to bring more water into the zone.’

Bird surveys 

Conservation activities

In May 2005, a public meeting held in Geraldine resolved that a management strategy was needed for the Orari River and its catchment, from its headwaters to the sea. The community, with support from Environment Canterbury and NZ Landcare Trust, spent three years creating the Strategy, whose Mission Statement is to: “To sustainably manage the Orari River Catchment, integrating its ecological, social, economic and cultural values.

The focus of the Strategy is:

  • Pest and weed control
  • Landscape values and ecological protection
  • Flood and gravel management
  • Water quality and quantity
  • Education, recreation and access
  • Economic use and development

The Orari River Protection Group was set up to prevent any degradation of the Orari River including a proposed dam for an irrigation scheme. In 2016, working with members and BRaid under guidance from ECan, Fulton-Hogan undertook weed-clearing and initiated island formation to create suitable black-fronted tern breeding habitats. Fulton Hogan were subsequently awarded Bronze accreditation under the Braided Rivers Partnership Project.

More information

Research and reference material

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