Kawarau River

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Kawarau River
Kawarau River with Roaring Meg.jpg
Kawarau River with Roaring Meg hydro station
Country New Zealand
Basin features
Main source Lake Wakatipu
River mouth Lake Dunstan
Physical characteristics
Length 60 km (37 mi)

The Kawarau River drains Lake Wakatipu, in northwestern Otago, New Zealand. The river flows generally eastwards for about 60 kilometres (37 mi) and passes through the steep Kawarau Gorge until it joins Lake Dunstan near Cromwell. The Shotover River enters it from the north; the Nevis River enters it from the south. Containing many rapids and strong currents, the river can be dangerous and has claimed many lives.

The Roaring Meg Hydro Scheme discharges into the Kawarau, and at times the lower station has been flooded by the river. A few hundred metres west of the station is a natural bridge where the river narrows to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft), which was used as a crossing place by Maori and then early goldminers. The goldminers were crossing from the Dunedin side on the current Mount Difficulty Station to the northern side on Waitiri Station to get access to the Arrow Goldfields.[1]

In the 19th century, gold was extracted from the river. Some of the miners' huts remain today, many of them close to thriving vineyards. In 1924 a company was formed to drain the river by blocking off Lake Wakatipu, with the intent of then collecting gold from the river bed. Ten massive gates were completed in 1927 and although the river level dropped it was not laid bare as planned. The gates now form part of State Highway 6.[1] The Goldfields Mining Centre located in the gorge operates demonstration centre with a working exhibition of gold mining techniques.

Kawarau Bridge Bungy, the world's first commercial bungy site. (A. J. Hackett Bungy Centre on the right)

Tourist adventure activities on the river include riverboarding, jet boating, white water rafting, river surfing, and bungy jumping. The Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, 43 metres (141 ft) above the river, and a Category I historic place,[2] is the site of the world's first commercial bungy jumping operation. Eastburn Station gave up the 1.2 square kilometres (300 acres) plus that forms the natural backdrop as a reserve. The river is also the largest volume commercially rafted in New Zealand, having an average flow of 216 cubic metres per second (7,600 cu ft/s) at Chards Road measuring station.[3] The four significant commercially used rapids on the river are Smiths Falls, Twin Bridges, Do Little Do Nothing and the 400-metre (1,300 ft) Chinese Dog Leg. Below these are the dangerous Nevis Bluff, Citroen and Roaring Meg sections. Because of the danger Waitiri Station usually declines access.[4]

The river was also featured as a setting for the Argonath in the 2001 motion picture, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

On 25 September 2008, a Chinese tourist died in a jet boat accident at the confluence with the Shotover. The Kawarau Jet boat flipped after hitting a sandbar, leaving one passenger trapped underneath, and putting the remaining 21 and driver into the river.[5]


Kawarau is a Māori name the meaning of which is many shrubs.[6] There are still many shrubs around the river although they are largely of exotic origin and likely to be different from the original native bushes that the name came from. The name would normally be pronounced to rhyme approximately with "now" in Māori, but is often pronounced by locals as if it were "K'worra", possibly influenced by the southern dialect of Māori. It should not be confused with the Bay of Plenty town of Kawerau.

Frederick John Cato of the firm Moran & Cato was initially a teacher in Invercargill, New Zealand. He later married Frances Bethune who was from Invercargill. They named their expansive home in Tooronga Rd, Hawthorn East, Victoria, Australia; "Kawarau".

Water Conservation Order[edit]

A Water Conservation Order protects the river for its wild and scenic character, natural characteristics, scientific values and for recreational use. No damming of the river is allowed and the water must be maintained to a specific standard. The Water conservation Order covers the stretch of river from the Lake Wakatipu control gates to Scrubby Stream.[7] Fish and Game is seeking an amendment to the Water Conservation Order to prevent any damming of the Nevis River and to seek conditions on changes to the minimum flows.[8]


Bridges that pass over the Kawarau River are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cromwell Handbook 2nd edition
  2. ^ "Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  3. ^ Otago Regional Council monthly river flow data: http://www.orc.govt.nz/portal.asp?categoryid=98
  4. ^ http://www.rafting.com/kawarau-river-rafting.htm
  5. ^ "Tourist killed in jetboat crash named". Otago Daily Times. 29 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  6. ^ Pires, Dhavidy. "Kawarau River". 
  7. ^ "WATER CONSERVATION (KAWARAU) ORDER 1997" (text). New Zealand Government. 1997-03-17. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  8. ^ "Application to vary the Water Conservation (Kawarau) Order 1997 in respect of the Nevis River". Ministry for the Environment. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 

Coordinates: 45°03′S 169°12′E / 45.050°S 169.200°E / -45.050; 169.200