Maori-Pakeha neighbours win NZ Rivers Award for restoring the Waitao

A member of group that has just won the New Zealand Rivers Award for its work restoring the Waitao River in the Bay of Plenty believes clean, green New Zealand could be a reality if more Maori and Pakeha worked together.

A bunch of neighbours have joined together to plant more than 20,000 native trees along the banks of the river. Source: Seven Sharp

Seven Sharp reported the Waitao-Kaiate Care Group has planted more than 20,000 native trees along the banks of the river and meet every two weeks to pot more plants.

And thanks to the power of persuasion by the group, most farmers are no longer grazing their stock near the river.

At just 12 kilometres long, the Waitao isn't New Zealand's biggest river, but it means a lot to those who live near it.

"It's a part of our lineage, our whakapapa and it's our foodbasket," said Hinenui Cooper of Kaitiaki.

At Tahuwhakatiki Marae, Ms Cooper has been testing the water for the last 10 years and said she's doing it for the next generation.

Over time, phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the water have dropped, water quality has improved and some species of fish have returned.

Ms Cooper said they now get enough fish to feed hundreds of people at the marae, "and that's telling you something" about the river's improvement.

According to the Environment Ministry, 62 per cent of New Zealand rivers aren't safe to swim in, let alone drink from or eat fish from.

But Ms Cooper reckons if more Maori and Pakeha could work together, as they have on the Waitao, clean, green New Zealand could be a reality.

"What do we have if we can't enjoy our waterways? Not a heck of a lot. Swimming pools? No thank you. Fish markets? No thank you!" 

The campaign is not yet won, as children with scratches who swim in the Waitao still risk coming out with sores, and the iconic Kaiate Falls at the head of the river remain closed to swimmers.