Lake Heron, Ashburton Lakes

Image: Jack Mace | ©


Ō Tū Wharekai is one of the best examples of an inter-montane wetland system remaining in New Zealand, and is nationally important for wildlife.

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Nature and conservation

Ō Tū Wharekai  (Ashburton lakes/upper Rangitata River, Canterbury) is one of the three sites that make up the national Arawai Kakariki wetland restoration programme.

The area contains a mosaic of diverse wetland habitats including the braided upper Rangitata River and the 12 lakes that make up the Ashburton Lakes.

Nestled amongst high country tussock-lands and set against the towering Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, the Hakatere Conservation Park, centred on Ō Tū Wharekai, was opened in October 2007.

Ō Tū Wharekai is one of the best examples of an inter-montane wetland system remaining in New Zealand.

Map of area in Ō Tū Wharekai wetland project (PDF, 209K) 


Ashburton lakes contain a diverse range of habitats, largely due to the unique glacial landforms that shaped the landscape. Because of this, it supports a large amount of wildlife.

There are over 30 bird species that regular use the lakes and wetlands which have been designated as ‘Areas of Significant Nature Conservation Value’.

Ō Tū Wharekai encompasses the upper Rangitata River, which contains one of two of the most important breeding sites for the threatened wrybill/ngutu parore.

Other birds such as the Austalian bittern/matuku, and the Australian crested grebe/kamana can be found at Ō Tū Wharekai.

As well as birds and fish, Ō Tū Wharekai is also home to minute animals called zooplankton, that live in the water.

Plant life

Ashburton lakes are also important site for kettle holes which support rare ephemeral turf vegetation, including endangered marsh arrowrush, pygmy forget-me-not, and pygmy clubrush, as well as one of the largest known populations of the native lily.

The swamps of Ō Tū Wharekai include a threatened sedge.

Plants aren’t just restricted to above water, Ō Tū Wharekai has a hugh diversity of macrophytes or aquatic plants, including freshwater algae.

Community involvement at Ō Tū Wharekai

The Ashburton Lakes / Ō Tū Wharekai and upper Rangitata River have a long history of community involvement.

  • Forest & Bird and the Ornithological Society have been carrying out annual winter waterfowl counts since 1984.
  • Rangitata Landcare Group was set up by adjacent landowners, territorial authorities and DOC in 1999 to control broom in the upper Rangitata River.
  • Mid-Canterbury Forest & Bird hold annual wilding pine work days around Lake Heron.
  • Lake Clearwater Hut Holders Association has fenced and revegetated 400m of riparian margin next to the Lake Clearwater baches. This helps protect water quality from run-off from the village and provide protection for breeding Australasian crested grebe / kāmana.
  • Hakatere Heritage Committee was initiated to protect the historic Hakatere Station buildings.

The local community have also been involved with many working bees, such as planting in the riparian margins around lakes.

The Arawai Kakariki project regularly hosts primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutes, and Aoraki Polytechnic Outdoor Recreation course involves students in conservation projects

History and culture

Historic features

Historic features in the Hakatere Conservation Park area include the Mt Harper ice rink and associated buildings - possibly the first purpose-built public skating rink in the Southern Hemisphere.

Significance to Māori

For early Māori the area was a major kaik/village and part of the seasonal mahinga kai and resource gathering trial.

Mahinga kai taken include: tuna/eels, weka, kākā, kererū, tūī, pūkeko, freshwater mussels, bracken/aruhe, kiore/Pacific rats, kōkopu (native trout), mountain daisy/tikumu and cabbage tree/ti kōuka. The area was also part of the pounamu trials and an ara/path to Poutini/West Coast.

Through the Ngāi Tahu Settlement Act 1998, a Statutory Acknowledgement and Deed of Recognition is in place over the area to formally acknowledge the association and values Ō Tū Wharekai holds for Ngāi Tahu.


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