Whanganui River Conservation – Saving the Whanganui

We only have one Whanganui River, so we best look after it! Here we discuss historical and current river conservation efforts surrounding the Whanganui River.

Every twist, turn, and rapid of the Whanganui River is deeply woven into the fabric of New Zealand's history. We have placed a huge emphasis on river conservation in recent years to preserve this cultural icon to ensure our history isn't swept away. Discover the threats facing the Whanganui River, what steps we are taking, and why our river is worth saving.

Cultural Significance of the Whanganui River

Long before the Whanganui River was known as the premier New Zealand canoeing destination, it was crucial to the first Polynesian migrants around 1350. The Whanganui Iwi have lived by, travelled on, and drawn food from the river ever since.

Prior to European colonisation, we could explain Kiwi culture through the relationship between people and the land. Tupuna (ancestors) live on through the natural world, and the community is responsible for protecting the landscape they inherited and their ancestors who live on through it. People and water are especially intertwined, which is where the saying "I am the river, the river is me" originates.

It's not hard to see why the Whanganui River is so deeply appreciated, and the desire to conserve the river is always an issue bubbling just below the surface.  


Threats Facing the Whanganui River

Water Pollution from Surrounding Farmland

Aotearoa's clean, green image has been muddied over the years by water quality issues. The lower reaches of the Whanganui River are now badly contaminated with excess nutrients, chemicals, and disease-causing pathogens due to runoffs from surrounding farmland. These pollutants degrade the river's health, mauri (life force), and wairua (soul).

Hydropower is Draining Our Rivers

Many have begun pointing the finger at hydropower as a significant concern for river conservation. While it's estimated that only 7% of the Whanganui River diverts for hydropower, the extraction of this water can lead to changes in the river's flow, which erodes banks and eventually impacts the wildlife in and around the water. 


Conservation Efforts to Save Our River

Becoming a Person

Fully embracing the traditional saying, "I am the river, the river is me", the Whanganui River is now considered a person. A huge win for river conservation has led to the Whanganui River receiving all the rights of a legal person under the ‘Te Awa Tupua’ Act. Harming the river is the same as harming a person. The river can sue if there is any form of abuse or threat to its waters, such as pollution. The Whanganui River now has a chance to stick up for itself.

Controlling the Impact of Hydropower Stations

Working side by side with DOC and local Iwi, power companies extracting hydropower from the Whanganui River are taking a much more measured approach to minimise environmental and cultural impacts on the river.

The minimum and maximum flow required to maintain a healthy river calculate into the environmental flow level. The environmental flow helps rein in hydropower projects to ensure the conservation of the Whanganui River for years to come.

Leave it How You Found it!

The Whanganui River has played a role in Kiwi culture for hundreds of years, and to ensure it continues to do so for years to come, we need to get serious about river conservation.

See why we are so passionate about preserving this river by taking a Whanganui canoe trip with Canoe Safaris today. 

Posted by Canoe Safaris on November 11, 2023