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The Great Reversal 

Around half a million years ago, the Kyeburn flowed South through what is now the Upper Taieri/Taiari into the Clutha River system.

The rising of the Lammermoor range cut off the river and reversed it. The newly-formed Taieri/Taiari cut a gorge through basement schist rock at Hyde.  

The Taniwha's Tail

Today the Upper Taieri/Taiari is one of the most unique land-forms 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 Māniototo/Māniatoto Plain.


Here, it meanders across a wide, flat floodplain to form spectacular scrolls. It is the only land-form like this in New Zealand.


In Māori mythology, the Taieri/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 Credit:  Will Nelson (CODC)

Photo Credit: 

Mahika Kai

The Upper Taieri/Taiari was a crucially important food-gathering area for coastal iwi, who would make seasonal trips inland to harvest birds including weka, ducks and swans. Another important food source was kouka, or cabbage tree, which was planted in the region and harvested in the summer.

Birds, fish and kouka would be loaded onto rafts called mōkihi and transported down river to sustain the people through the long, cold months of winter.

A Land of Plenty  

For hundreds of years, coastal Māori ventured into the upper reaches of the Taieri/Taiari to harvest mahika kai, or wild foods, from the rivers and wetlands.


The Taieri/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 Taieri/Taiari on rafts called mōkihi.

Photo Credit: 

Photo Credit: 

Unique Flora
& Fauna 

The Taieri/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 Taieri/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.

Farming for the

The Māniototo/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 Māniototo supports efforts to fence off waterways and riparian planting, which helps filter contaminants and nutrients from entering streams and rivers in the catchment.

Photo Credit:  Janyne Fletcher

Photo Credit: John Highton

Recreational Hunting
& Fishing

The Upper Taieri/Taiari waterways provide regionally significant sports fish and game bird hunting opportunities.


Brown trout of small to medium sizes are found throughout the Taieri/Taiari River. Larger fish (5 to 10 lbs) can be caught in the upper river  (Styx Basin), and also in some of the irrigation dams scattered across the Māniototo/Māniatoto.
Fish and Game also release rainbow trout into a selection of these still waters.


Waterfowl hunting opportunities abound across the scroll plain and the many irrigation dams. Every opening weekend (in May), good bags of mallards paradise duck are taken. Canada geese can be hunted year-round.

From Mars to the Māniototo/Māniatoto - Scroll Plains

The Upper Taieri/Taiari River is a very special place. It is one of the only meandering scroll plains found in the southern hemisphere, and the only one of it's kind in New Zealand. 


Rivers meander on low relief land, where they are free to wander at will across their floodplains, depositing precious, fertile sediment wherever they go.

The spectacular hooks and bends that make up a scroll plain are formed as the river abandons an old course and adopts a new one, leaving an "oxbow lake" where it once flowed.


Stream side vegetation is thought to be very important in the formation of meanders — the plants hold the riverside soils together and consolidate the stream banks, allowing meanders to form. If there are few plants, a river is more likely to become braided.


Satellite images now reveal that meandering rivers once flowed on Mars – etched into the barren rock of the Red Planet are the unmistakable coils and bend of old scroll plains. This presents a mystery, because as far as we know plants never grew on Mars, so what held together the banks of these Martian rivers? It may be that minerals dissolved in the Martian soil consolidated it, much like cement.


Famous examples of meandering rivers here on Earth include the Mississippi and the Nile. In both cases, the movement of sediment has created rich farmland that has sustained human civilization and built modern economies. The Upper Taieri/Taiari is no different, the fertile soil it distributes across the Māniototo/Māniatoto forms the basis of the region’s thriving agricultural industry.

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Visit the Taiari

Watch the video here ..

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