The Mighty Mataura River is one of New Zealand’s longest rivers, at 240km. It is significant from both cultural and recreational perspectives to the Gore District.
The river's name comes from the Maori words mata ('red') and ura ('eddying'). The red colouring of the water is caused by iron oxides in the local swamps.
Most notably, the river is the lifeforce for the Mataura Valley, both a historical and modern day mahinga kai (food gathering site), as well as providing the habitat for the brown trout fisheries – known to be the best in the world.
The importance of the river as an outstanding fishery was officially recognised in 1997 when a Water Conservation Order was issued for the river. The order means no more than five percent of the flow of the Mataura and its tributary the Waikaia River can be abstracted upstream of the Mataura Island Bridge.
The conservation order also prohibits damming of the river and its tributaries.
Mana Whenua and the River
The Mataura is a significant site for mana whenua. The river is an important mahinga kai for Ngāi Tahu because of its use as a historical access route and for the food source it provides for its local people. The river is also significant as a gathering site for pounamu (greenstone).
Mahinga kai explains the traditions of use associated with floral, fauna, food, and other natural resources from which springs matauranga (traditional knowledge) relating to their taonga (treasures).
Historically hailed as a gatherer’s food basket for Māori and travellers as they made their way across country, the abundance of the mighty Mataura Valley that the river weaves through saw settlements start to form around the lifeforce its waters provided.
These days, the Mataura is still an abundant source of food, including world-renowned brown trout fishing, koura (freshwater crayfish), and whitebait. It is also officially recognised as an important area for birdlife as it supports the breeding colonies of the endangered black-billed gull.
Mataitai a first
The importance of the river to iwi was acknowledged in 2006 when the Mataura River mataitai reserve was created, New Zealand's first freshwater reserve. It protects a 10km stretch of the river, starting upstream of the Mataura tannery, through the town to 6.5km downstream of the Mataura Bridge.
The river’s headwaters are located in the Eyre Mountains to the south of Lake Wakatipu, flowing southeast towards Gore, where it turns southward and passes through the town of Mataura and enters the Southern Ocean at Fortrose and Toetoes Bay.