This resource is based on braided rivers in the Mackenzie basin, but the concepts can be applied to rivers anywhere in New Zealand. Students will research topics such as disappearing river habitat, pest control, and food chains.


Published: 2010

Braided rivers are unusual landform features which support many special plants and animals. Their distinctive wildlife and plant communities make them unique worldwide.

Students will research topics such as disappearing river habitat, pest control, and food chains.

Download the resource

River life cover.

River life teaching resource 2010 (PDF, 2904K)

Resource summary and introduction

Braided rivers

Gravel-based braided river systems are found in only a few places around the world; Alaska, Canada, the Himalayan region and New Zealand's South Island have excellent examples. They all flow from geologically young, rapidly eroding mountain systems and are characterised by wide gravel or alluvial beds, many winding channels, and highly variable water flows.

In the South Island, the largest braided rivers are found on the eastern side of the Southern Alps/Kä Tiritiri o te Moana, especially in Canterbury. By the end of the last glaciation, 10,000 years ago, rivers carrying alluvium down the valleys of the east coast had spread it amongst glacial deposits to form flat basins between the mountains and the coastal plains.

The floor of the Mackenzie Basin has been formed from sediments deposited by the Tekapo, Tasman/Te Awa Whakamau, Ohau, Hopkins/Te Awa äruhe, Dobson/Otao, Cass, Pukaki, Macaulay and Ahuriri rivers. The process of geological uplift, erosion, and alluvial transport continues to maintain the braided rivers today.

Braided river species

New Zealand's braided rivers are distinctive, dynamic environments with specialised plant and animal communities. During spring and summer, at least 26 species of water birds feed or nest on braided rivers. Some of these birds are now threatened or critically endangered. In addition to birds, braided rivers provide important habitats for numerous plants and other native animals.

Some of these species such as the kakï/black stilt, wrybill/ngutu pare, McCann's skink/mokomoko, native fish and insects will be profiled in this resource, and are each interesting to study in themselves.

Habitat under threat

Unfortunately, the braided river habitat and surrounding wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin are under threat – from introduced species, habitat loss and the development of hydro-power schemes, as well as agriculture. These issues are discussed throughout this resource.

Project River Recovery

A programme called Project River Recovery (PPR) was created in 1990 in recognition of the importance of braided river and wetland ecosystems in the Mackenzie Basin. Its focus is to enhance braided river and wetland ecosystems in this area, and to maintain populations of native plants and animals. This project will also be profiled in this resource.

Learning outcomes


  • Students will research reasons why the river habitat and surrounding wetlands of the Upper Waitaki River is disappearing.
  • Students will investigate in what ways their local river is, and has been important to Māori.


  • Students will research predator prey relationships
  • Students will investigate food chains and webs
  • Students will compare pest control examples in the area
  • Students will develop knowledge in relation to tectonic and geomorphic processes

Links to curriculum 


  • Science: Living world: Ecology, Evolution
  • Nature of science: Understanding about science, investigating in science, participating and contributing
  • Health and PE: Personal health and physical development: Safety management
  • Social sciences: Place and environment


  • Science: Living world: Ecology
  • Planet earth and beyond
  • Social sciences: Place and environment

Learning areas

  • Science
  • Health and PE
  • Social sciences
  • Geography
  • Education for sustainablility


  • Freshwater
  • Native animals
  • Native plants
  • Pests and threats
  • Marine and coastal


Te Manahuna / Twizel Office
Phone:   +64 3 435 0802
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   15 Wairepo Road
Twizel 7901
Postal Address:   Private Bag
Twizel 7944

Publication information

Copyright 2010 Department of Conservation
Cover illustration: Simone End
ISBN 978-0-478-14697-4
ISBN 978-0-478-14698-1 (PDF)


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