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Explore the Upper Taiari 

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The Taniwha's Tail 

The Upper Taiari is one of the most unique landforms in the southern hemisphere. The river forms in the tussock country of the Lammermoor and Rock and Pillar Ranges, moving through once-great upland wetlands before emerging onto the Māniatoto Plain. Here, it meanders across a wide, flat floodplain to form spectacular scrolls. It is the only landform like this in New Zealand.


In Māori mythology, the Taiari awa (river) was formed by the serpentine movement of the taniwha (monster) called Matamata through this landscape.


The scroll plain was formed with a flick of his tail. 

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Photo: Will Nelson – Tourism Central Otago


Cabbage Tree  (Cordyline australis) Photo:  Bernard Spragg

A Land of Plenty  

For hundreds of years, coastal Māori ventured into the upper reaches of the Taiari to harvest mahika kai, or wild foods, from the rivers and wetlands. The Taiari scrolls would have teemed with waterfowl like native ducks and swans, while the waters were full of kanakana (lamprey) and tuna (eels). Weka and other birds were also plentiful.


Māori also harvested kouka, or cabbage tree, from these upland plains. Moving with the seasons to follow the migrations of lamprey and tuna, Māori would pack the harvested food in kelp bags called poha, and transport it down the Taiari on rafts called mōkihi.

Unique Flora and Fauna 

The Taiari catchment is home to several species of rare and endangered native fish, including the Central Otago roundhead galaxiid (right). These fish are found only in the Taiari and a couple of neighbouring catchments. They are an easy meal for introduced trout, and hence are found in good numbers only in those small headwaters and tributaries that trout can't reach.


There are also a number of threatened plants living on the scroll plain. Burgan's skinks, found only in this area, make their home in the tussock grasslands of the upper catchment.


Central Otago Roundhead Galaxiid (Galaxias anomalus) Photo: On Lee Lau 


Photo:  Janyne Fletcher 

Farming for the Future

The Māniatoto region today plays host to a range of farming activities including sheep, beef and dairy farming. Irrigation has allowed intensive farming on the plains. This presents challenges for the river catchment. Tiaki Māniatoto supports efforts to fence off waterways and riparian planting, which helps filter contaminants and nutrients from entering streams and rivers in the catchment.

A Place to Play

The Upper Taiari is a world-renowned destination for fly fishing, while the surrounding hills are a playground for hikers, hunters and mountain bikers.

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