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The river drains the western flanks of the Tararua Ranges around Reikorangi and the Akatarawa Valley, then passes to the south of the town of Waikanae before entering the Tasman Sea at Waikanae Beach. Tributaries include the Maungakotukutuku Stream, Ngatiawa River, and Reikorangi Stream. The estuary of the river is a significant reserve providing shelter and habitat for local and migratory seabirds. It also provides a major recreational past-time, both for residents and tourists.
Water up to a maximum amount is taken out of the river as water supply for Waikanae and Paraparaumu. This sometimes leads to water restrictions if the river runs low, however in January 2005 the river burst its banks after heavy rain. After the 2004 outbreak, the Waikanae river seasonally has issues with the invasive species Didymosphenia geminata.
- Photo of the Waikanae River from the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand c1897
- Photo of the Waikanae rail and road bridges and express train on bridge c1939
- Photo of the Waikanae rail and road bridges and express train leaving bridge c1938
- South bank of Waikanae River with strata identified
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