Ngāti Hau plan to return their river to its natural course

By Dean Nathan 4:31pm, Te Kāea Thursday 15 June 2017

Returning the Waima river to its original course is a long-held wish of the people of Ngāti Hau in Whakapara. But that distant goal is now a lot closer to being achieved with the support of Fonterra and the Department of Conservations’ Living Waters programme.

Jeannie Poutai recalls as a child how the river was a food cupboard for her people, “If we weren’t picking Nannies fruits and the neighbours fruits and that we’d be down here hanging, we swam all the time in these rivers. Yeah, Uncles used to take us spearing, more spearing than netting for the tuna.”

It’s one of many rivers in the district that were either damned or diverted in the 1960’s and 1970’s to enable the faster draining of flood waters from the Hikurangi swamp for the benefit of the dairy industry.

Tepora Nehua-Kauwhata says, “Over the past eight years our children have spent all their holidays here. And they’ve continually asked why they can’t swim here. So we’ve been down to look at the river and it’s very shallow and very dirty and so the dream began there.”

Te Raa Nehua says, “Visitors to our marae come here wanting specific food and they ask, “Where’s the eel. You can see the river right here but there’s no eel being served on the table? There are times we get really embarrassed because we should be able to host our guests with eel and freshwater crayfish and whitebait and all the foods of the river.”

Funded by the Living Waters programme the replanting of the riverbank and options to restore the Waima river to its original course is forecast to take 5 years.

Jeannie Poutai says, “It’s a big deal for Ngati Hau to get it back, it’s an A-plus. We’ll do anything to get it back to what we had.”