Wild Rivers: The Nevis

As well as containing some of the country’s most exhilarating white-water, the Nevis is home to some of our most threatened species such as our black-fronted tern, black billed gull and our banded dotteral.


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Where it is?

The Nevis drains the Hector and Garvie mountain ranges, flowing north towards the Kawarau River in Central Otago. The river snakes in a single thread from its source, begins to meander as braided river once it meets open valleys and then plummets some 500 vertical meters through an exhilarating white water gorge to meet the more gentle Kawerau. The Nevis River flows through several pastoral leases.


Why’s it special?

The Nevis Valley is the last remaining wild undammed, un-regulated river in Central Otago that flows through a relatively little modified tussock grassland and mountainous landscape.

It is home to at least seven threatened plant species including as our tiny hairy Forget-me-nots, and six threatened bird species including Black-fronted tern and Banded dotterels. 

The Nevis Valley also contains a unique population of the threatened Gollum galaxias, a non migratory native fish endemic to southern South Island and Stewart Island. It is found further South but is not found anywhere else in the Kawerau River Catchment. It is thought that the Nevis Gollum was able to occupy the Nevis River when uplift along the Nevis-Cadrona Fault system lead to the upper reaches of the Nokomai River being cut off and captured by the Kawerau as the new Nevis Tributary, some 500,000 – 800,000 years ago. The Nevis Gollum has been isolated for a very long time and is genetically distinct and is considered to be the most ancient offshoot from the ancestral Gollum galaxias population.

This river is revered by whitewater kayakers who regard it as a classic stretch of difficult whitewater. With its long stretches of Class 4 rapids and numerous Class 5 rapids it tests the skill, endurance and team work of top notch kayak teams. Nowhere else in New Zealand does a river of this size, fall so steeply, through this type of countryside. 

The Nevis River was included in the 1997 Kawarau Water Conservation Order, but this Order failed to include a prohibition on damming in the Nevis valley, in direct contrast to every other river covered under the Order.

What is planned for this river? 

The Nevis River has been being eyeballed by the Pioneer Generation for years.

They bought the pastoral leases for both the Craigroy and Ben Nevis Stations which border the river, specifically so they could negotiate a deal that would enable them to gain free hold access to the land, so they could build a dam. 

To prevent this dam from going ahead and ensure it is safeguarded into the future, Fish and Game sought to give this river the highest level of protection by making an amendment to the Kawarau Water Conservation Order (WCO) in 2008.

This amendment would give the Nevis river ‘national park’ protection status.   

During the hearing, Forest & Bird’s Upper Clutha Branch helped out with landscape evidence.

This evidence was crucial for a related decision to give the whole of the Nevis Valley “Outstanding Natural Landscape” status. 

In June 2013, the Environment Court ruled in favour of this decision.

The amended WCO includes a complete prohibition on damming and identification of additional outstanding values so that the river is recognized as nationally important for its wild and scenic characteristics. 

Tenure reviews have not been completed and should be renegotiated to protect the area that has now been accepted as an outstanding natural landscape.

Water Conservation Order (WCO) facts:

•    Water Conservation Orders (WCOs) are described as the ‘National Parks of waterways’.
•    A WCO is New Zealand's highest level of protection that can be afforded to a body of freshwater.
•    There are just 15 WCO-protected water bodies in the country.
•    Fish & Game and its licenced anglers and hunters, along with conservation organisations and Iwi, have spent millions of dollars to safeguard some of the country’s most outstanding waterways through WCO applications.
•    This has enabled the protection of highly-valued sport fisheries (such as trout and salmon), habitat of native species and freshwater-based recreation for all New Zealanders.
•    The Government is proposing major changes to the RMA which will have a significant impact on the future of WCOs.