In late August 2019 a Special Tribunal for the Ministry for the Environment released their recommendation to grant a Water Conservation Order for the Upper Ngaruroro River.

A WCO could be thought of a bit like a “National Park for the water” protecting the inherent values of a river allowed to flow in its natural state.

The recommendation was made on the basis of the rivers outstanding values including scenery, recreation and the significant trout fishery. 

Water conservation orders may be applied over rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands or aquifers and may provide for any of the following:

  • the preservation as far as possible of the water body’s natural state
  • the protection of characteristics which the water body has or contributes to:
  • as a habitat for terrestrial or aquatic organisms
  • as a fishery
  • for its wild, scenic, or other natural characteristics:
  • for scientific and ecological values:
  • for recreational, historical, spiritual, or cultural purposes:
  • the protection of characteristics which any water body has or contributes to, and which are considered to be of outstanding significance in accordance with tikanga Māori.

To celebrate the announcement that a WCO had been recommended, a handful of us took to the river at labour weekend to packraft. The ever-changing scenery, azure crystal clear pools and four seasons of weather kept us enthralled for five days.

The river has always been popular for fly-in kayakers as a remote multi-day trip.  We hit the river at the, rarely encountered, optimum kayaking flow of 20m3/s. Lack of flow has been a major limitation for kayaking and this has pushed it down the ranking of rivers in the past.  But that is changing: packrafts can do this trip at very low flows and it’s popularity is going to go off the charts.  Along with the Hollyford Pyke in Fiordland this is likely to become one of the countries “great floats”.

Check out more details about paddling this river on

Paddler Brendon Nevin a founding member of the Packrafting Association of NZ (PRANZ) travelled from Nelson to make the trip.  He summed it up beautifully when I asked him for a few thoughts.  “This has to be a contender for the ultimate multiday packraft trip in the North Island” he said “Continuous grade II+ and some grade III providing the optimum safety vs difficulty balance for intermediate paddlers”.  In fact, he loved it so much all we heard the last day on the river was “surely we have time to paddle the lower (grade III/IV) bit as well”.

At Ngawaparua Hut we met a couple of keen anglers; Marc Nel of Napier and his mate Linton.  They were there to fly fish the magnificent trout pools that are found round every bend in the river.  What did a Water Conservation Order mean to them?  Linton we couldn’t stop long enough to profer an opinion; he was off up the river the moment he’d thrown his pack through the hut door.   Marc waved after him and said “He’s a trout fanatic and this is his mecca! He won’t be back till dark”.  Marc waved his arms at the beech forest around the hut and declared “ this is such a special place.  When you come here you are one of a privileged few to enter this relatively untouched Wilderness.  So many aren’t even aware this exists”.  I thought that comment really captured what we were all feeling; whether tramping the trails, stalking the trout or deer or gliding down the river it’s a privilege to be on this river.  A privilege that future generations should now be guaranteed by a water conservation order 

Thanks to Forest and Bird, Whitewater NZ and Fish and Game for applying to protect this paradise for us all in perpetuity.

(The WCO was recommended in August 2019, however, Whitewater New Zealand believed the provisions amounted to lip-service only, and they are currently appealing the wording of the order. ).

Martin Robertson is a founding Member of the Packrafting Association of NZ. PRANZ is dedicated to supporting the sport in NZ, helping raise skill levels, foster community and assist protecting the places they love to packraft.  PRANZ is an affiliated club of FMC. To join or learn more, visit