Hurunui Waiau Uwha zone biodiversity

The Hurunui Waiau Uwha water zone has diverse terrestrial and aquatic habitats, supporting a number of indigenous animal and plant species, some of which are threatened. These indigenous animals and plant species make up the unique communities and ecosystems that are iconic to the district.

The rivers, streams, hāpua, and wetlands of the district have always been an important place and food basket for Ngāi Tahu, Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura and Ngāi Tūāhuriri.

The Southern Alps form the backbone of the Hurunui Waiau Uwha zone, with the eastern limit bound by the Pacific Ocean. The district is incredibly diverse and is home to a great variety of flora and fauna including great spotted kiwi/roroa, blue duck/whio and extensive kānuka woodland.

Mata Kopae/St Anne's Lagoon




The Hurunui Waiau Uwha zone has 12 major ecological districts reflecting the extreme diversity contained in its environment. What constitutes an ecological district depends on topography, geology, climate, soils, vegetation, and man-made modifications.

Map of the Hurunui district with 12 with its 12 ecological districts.

Ecological districts of the Hurunui District

A variety of indigenous plant communities are found in the more developed/modified eastern half of the district. These include remnant coastal hardwood forests, mixed shrublands, savannah woodlands, and tussock grasslands.

The largest kānuka woodland in Waitaha/Canterbury is found near Medbury. Areas of remnant podocarp forest such as Wandle Bush, Terako Downs and Lottery Bush are significant. 

The zone contains the easiest passes between Te Tai Poutini/the West Coast and Waitaha/Canterbury. The passes were utilised by Māori for travel and trade, particularly for the precious jade – pounamu/greenstone. The Hurunui Lakes were extensively used for mahinga kai, particularly for waterfowl and tuna/eels.

Braided rivers
The zone is home to six ecologically significant braided river systems - Waiau Uwha, Hurunui, Waipara, Conway, Blythe and Kowhai - with internationally significant and naturally rare or distinctive ecosystems. These braided rivers provide major ecological corridors between the mountains and the sea and unique habitats for specialised plants and animals, including threatened and endangered species such as:
Some of the largest remnants of dry shrubland/grassland and scattered dry shrubland remnants left on the plains are located in the zone. These drylands are representative of the ecosystems that originally dominated the Hurunui inland basins and plains and have a high diversity of native herbs, orchids, mosses, fungi, grasses, invertebrates, and lizards.
Lowland and coastal wetlands
Lowland and coastal wetlands support some of the greatest concentrations of birdlife compared to other ecosystems. The survival of threatened wetland birds found in the Hurunui such as the Australasian bittern relies on protecting the remnant wetlands. These ecosystems are also important mahinga kai resources.
Hurunui Waiau Uwha hāpua have intact and diverse estuarine communities with wetland habitats ranging from saline tidal flats to a freshwater flax swamp - providing habitat for an array of fish, plant, and invertebrate communities and important īnanga spawning grounds.
High country - Hokakura/Lake Sumner
High country lakes, wetlands, intermontane streams, and the upper reaches of braided rivers contain nationally significant habitats. This whole area is of national importance for aquatic biodiversity. Hokakura/Lake Sumner is the largest in Canterbury (and one of the largest on the South Island’s east coast), with unmodified lake margins and ecotone (a transition area between two ecological areas).
Limestone outcrops
Naturally rare limestone areas provide 'habitat islands' that support specialised plant communities, including unique lizard populations.
While the zone is home to many amazing, rare and special species of plants, insects, animals, and invertebrates, threats to these species are ever-present. Common threats to biodiversity in the zone include riverbed confinement and altering water levels, braided river nesting bird disturbance, decreasing water quality, land use intensification, weeds, climate change, loss of vegetation, and predation.


Regional Parks

There are no regional parks managed by us in the Hurunui Waiau Uwha water zone, but there’s plenty of recreational opportunities in the zone’s public reserves, walkways and parks.

Find out more about Waitaha/Canterbury’s regional parks.


Places to go

See walking tracks and national park information on the Department of Conservation website: