New Zealand is an island nation located in the southwestern region of the Pacific Ocean. The nation is divided into two major islands, the North Island and the South Island, the latter being the larger of the two, plus numerous small islands. Approximately 1.6% of New Zealand's total area is composed of lakes, rivers, and ponds. More than 110,000 miles of rivers have been identified and mapped throughout the country, and are used for various purposes. Historically, rivers served as an important means of transportation, but are now primarily used for recreational activities, tourism, and the generation of hydroelectric power. The longest rivers in New Zealand are Waikato, Clutha, Whanganui, Taieri, and Rangitikei.
New Zealand's Five Longest Rivers
The Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand, with a length of 425 kilometers. It begins at Lake Taupo, while its mouth is located at Port Waikato. The Waikato, which has a drainage basin of about 5,290 square miles, is spiritually significant to the local Māori population. The river contains 19 indigenous species of fish, plus 10 additional species that have been introduced, such as brown and rainbow trout.
The Clutha River is the country's second-longest river, with a length of 322 kilometers. Also named the Mata-Au, the river begins at Lake Wanaka and flows to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean. The Clutha River has a basin size of about 8,480 square miles and a mean flow of about 21,700 cubic feet per second. This mean flow ranks as the highest volume in the country. The Clutha is known for its beautiful scenery and swift waters.
The Whanganui River is the third-longest river in New Zealand, with a length of 290 kilometers. Located on the North Island, the river begins at Mount Tongariro and eventually drains into the Tasman Sea. Like the Waikato River, the Whanganui has spiritual significance to the Māori people. In 2017, the river was given a legal identity, meaning it has the rights, duties, and liabilities of a legal person. Internationally, this was the second time that a natural resource was given a legal identity (after Te Urewera, also in New Zealand).
The Taieri River is the country's fourth longest river, with a length of 288 kilometers. Located in South Island’s Otago region, the river rises in the Lammerlaw ranges and meanders its way to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean. Along its course, the river is used for the generation of hydroelectric power and the irrigation of floodplains. The last section of the river, about 20 kilometers, is navigable.
The Rangitikei River is the fifth-longest river in New Zealand, with a length of 241 kilometers. Its source is located in the Kaimanawa Ranges. The river is used for various recreational activities, filming, and fishing. For example, it was featured in the popular film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Some of the fish species in the river include brown and rainbow trout, which can weigh as much as 4.5 kilograms.
Conservation and Pollution
The rivers in New Zealand are threatened by pollution from various sources. Until the introduction of the Resource Management Act 1991, factory waste and sewage was discharged into the rivers. However, through such efforts, pollution levels have decreased. Nevertheless, the growing need for water has resulted in the extraction of water from the rivers, a process called water abstraction, which is a threat for New Zealand's rivers.