Kaitiakitanga of the Waikouaiti catchment

  • Image, Kaitiakitanga on the Waikouaiti catchment

    Kaitiakitanga is the active custodianship role tangata whenua have for their freshwater environments. Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki is the hapū who hold tangata whenua status for the Waikouaiti river catchment and they are one of 18 papatipu rūnaka that make up the Ngāi Tahu iwi. The iwi approach to kaitiakitanga of the natural environment is ki uta ki tai (from the mountains to the sea). The hapū focus for kaitiakitanga actions is He Pataka Wai Ora – (to restore ecosystem health) of the Waikouaiti River from the mountains to the sea.

    As kaitiaki (custodians), Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki have focused on the factors that affect their ability to access mahika kai (Ngāi Tahu dialect for mahinga kai) on the Waikouaiti River. Legislation, private property permission, over-allocation of water, flows and discharges, decreased habitat and breeding sites, lack of riparian margins, and degradation due to stock and erosion are some of these factors. This case study describes those relating to habitat condition.

    We classified Kaitiakitanga of the Waikouaiti catchment as a case study.

    Key findings

    While the Waikouaiti River is in a moderate state based on scientific measures, for Kāti Huirapa hapū, the degradation of the river and reduced ability to access mahika kai sites have a negative effect on the mauri (life force) of the river and the mana (prestige) of the rūnaka/hapū.

    Mātauranga Māori

    • Kaitiaki observations based on whakapapa and historical records of the Waikouaiti catchment describe how the river has changed over time, with particular species no longer seen in the river.

    Scientific methods

    • Of the four freshwater mahika kai sites in the Waikouaiti River, two had an overall status of ‘moderate’, and two had ‘very poor’ in 2015–16.
    • The number of key types of invertebrates identified in the catchment meant all four freshwater mahika kai sites received moderate invertebrate scores in 2015–16.
    • Three of four mahika kai sites scored good for periphyton (algae); one site, Hakariki, scored moderate, meaning more algae was evident at the site compared with the other three.
    • The habitat score for all four mahika kai sites varied from very good at Hakariki to poor at Whakapatukutu. Habitat score covers water flow, pH, water temperature, conductivity, and clarity.

    Figure 1

    Monitored sites at the Waikouaiti catchment 2016

    Source: Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki

    Note: Blue dots identify key customary mahika kai sites for the Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki. At each site a range of habitat indicators are monitored. The green zone identifies the mātaitai (freshwater protection area) within the river.

    Table 1

    Stream Health and Monitoring Assessment Kit (SHMAK) and overall health scores for the freshwater mahika kai sites in the Waikouaiti River catchment, 2016

    Health score




     Overall health
     El Dorado



     Moderate  5.7


     7.9  Moderate

    Very good


     Moderate  5.3  Moderate  4.0  Moderate
     Te Pari Kouau



     Moderate  4.7  Good  7.5  Very poor



     Moderate  4.3  Good  6.8  Very poor 
    Note: Habitat, invertebrate, and periphyton scores are calculated using the SHMAK. Overall health is calculated by plotting the invertebrate and habitat scores on an ‘assessment graph’ and looking at the periphyton score where appropriate.
    Source: Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki

    Definition and methodology

    The Waikouaiti River catchment has sustained the Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki hapū for generations and is culturally and historically important for many reasons. Mauri (the life force), wāhi taonga (sacred treasures), historical pā (villages), kāinga (homes), nohoanga sites (camp sites), kōhanga (spawning areas), and mahika kai are all cultural values present on the catchment. The river provides habitats for native species such as inaka (whitebait) and tuna (freshwater eel).

    For Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki, who are kaitiaki (custodians) of the river, having robust data on the current state of the river catchment by using mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and scientific methods allow Māori values and their kaitiakitanga role to be expressed, understood, and protected.

    Nine monitoring sites in the catchment were selected based on Kāti Huirapa ki Pukekiteraki mātauranga of traditional mahika kai sites and background research supported by the University of Otago (Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, 2016). However, we report only on the four freshwater mahika kai sites, as the other sites lie in the estuarine/marine area. The nine sites on Waikouaiti River are:

    • El Dorado (fresh water) – located at the very top of the catchment.
    • Whakapatukutu (fresh water)
    • Te Pari Kouau (fresh water) – site for gathering tuna, inaka, and fern root
    • Hakariki (fresh water) – notable food gathering site (tuna and kauru) and an occupation site
    • Okauia – food-gathering site for tuna, tui, kereru, fern root, and tutu
    • Te Tauraka a Waka – waka landing site, which is being restored by a youth-led project
    • Te Taumata a Puaka – cultivation site and a location to gather tuna and inaka
    • Ohinepouwera – occupation site for an army that established a six-month siege of Te Pā a Te Wera on Huriawa
    • Huriawa – site for gathering pāua and fish (Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, 2014).

    Monitoring the nine mahinga kai sites is carried out alongside the State of the Takiwā programme, an iwi-wide environmental cultural monitoring programme. Monitoring methods include using iwi-developed data-collection tools such as the State of the Takiwā database and assessment forms. The State of the Takiwā programme uses scientific research to make ecological and environmental assessments of significant traditional fishing groups within the Ngāi Tahu takiwā (Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tahu, nd). It includes a redevelopment of the analysis and reporting framework for the programme, and a dedicated package for the R Statistical Software Package, takiwaR (Pritchard, 2016). Environmental assessments are undertaken in a wānanga format, where bi-directional learning is encouraged and time is allowed for scientists and tangata tiaki/kaitiaki to discuss issues beyond the current programme.

    Once a year, wider ecological surveys are undertaken within the Waikouaiti catchment for the four freshwater sites that are wadeable. In addition to fixed-point site photos, in-stream habitat type (eg sand, gravel, and boulders), and physical characteristics (eg stream width), vegetation and invertebrates were quantified using modified methods from the Stream Health and Monitoring Assessment Kit (SHMAK version 2K, Biggs et al, 2002). Methods include:

    • extended bank vegetation – visual survey of all vegetation in view on the left and right of the river
    • riparian vegetation – percent cover of vegetation on the river banks and at the stream margins in a defined 10m length (transect) of river
    • aquatic plants and algae – percent cover of vegetation in, or under, the water in a 10m stretch of river
    • periphyton – percent cover of periphyton on 10 replicate rocks
    • macroinvertebrate community index (MCI) – counts of the number of key indicator invertebrates in 10 replicate samples per site.

    The SHMAK kit is a tool that helps increase the participation of communities in monitoring stream health. Stream health, as defined by SHMAK, includes water quality, the physical features of the stream, and the plants and animals living there. The tools, methods, and analysis in the kit are not designed to indicate whether water is safe for drinking by humans or stock (Biggs et al, 2002).

    Data quality 

    Topic Classification   Relevance Accuracy 
     Matauranga Māori, tikanga Maori, and kaitiakitanga  Case study

    Image, Partial relevance.


     Image, Medium accuracy.


    See Data quality information for more detail.


    Biggs, BJF, Kilroy, C, Mulcock, CM, Scarsbrook, MR, & Ogilvie, SC (2002). New Zealand Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit. Stream Monitoring Manual. Version 2K- A tool for Kaitiaki. NIWA Technical Report 111-1. Retrieved from www.niwa.co.nz.

    He Pataka Wai Ora project team & Pritchard, D (2016). He Pataka Wai Ora methods and results. Report for the Ministry for the Environment (PDF, 17MB). Retrieved from www.mfe.govt.nz.

    Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki (2016). He Pātaka Wai Ora Project (Waikouaiti River, Otago). Report for the Ministry for the Environment. Retrieved from www.mfe.govt.nz.

    Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki. (2014). Waikouaiti Mātaitai application (PDF, 627kB). Mātaitai Application for the Waikouaiti River. Retrieved from www.puketeraki.nz.

    Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tahu (nd). Takiwa 3.0. Accessed 20 April from www.takiwa.org.nz.


    Published 27 April 2017

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