Wananga landing Wananga landing
CUP book

New Zealand's Rivers: An environmental history

17 October 2023

By Catherine Knight


(Out of print)

November 2016
RRP $49.99
324pp, softback with flaps
240 x 170 mm
ISBN 978-1-927145-76-0

Rivers are central to our identity as New Zealanders. They shape our landscape, forming the fertile plains we live and farm on, and provide the water that is so critical to our lives and economy. Since Europeans first settled in New Zealand, rivers have been exploited for both personal and public gain. We have taken water from rivers, returning it laden with pollutants; we have harnessed them for irrigation and to generate electricity. After nearly two centuries of taking our rivers for granted, we are facing a crisis. 

New Zealand's Rivers An environmental history

New Zealand’s Rivers: An environmental history tells the story of how we got to this point. It examines:

  • The richly textured relationship between Māori and awa (rivers)
  • How European settlers perceived and utilised rivers
  • The introduction of trout and salmon, and the role of acclimatisation societies as the earliest advocates for our rivers
  • The hydroelectricity schemes, which reached their peak in the ‘Think Big’ era
  • Recreational boating, including the invention of the jet boat on our unique braided rivers
  • The environmental movement and protection of rivers
  • The impact of agriculture on rivers
  • The efforts of Māori to assert mana (authority) over their awa through Treaty claims and other means.

New Zealand’s Rivers is a must-read for all New Zealanders interested in the future of our environment and economy. Confronting the history of our complex – and often conflicted – relationship with rivers is critical to building a shared understanding of how to better manage this precious resource into the future.

Catherine Knight is an environmental historian. Her previous book, Ravaged Beauty: An environmental history of the Manawatu (Dunmore Press, 2014), won Palmerston North Heritage Trust’s inaugural award for the best work of history relating to the Manawatu. Catherine works in environmental policy and lives on the Kapiti Coast with her family.


‘… an important book that should be read by all New Zealanders interested in the future of the country …’ Professor Tom Brooking, University of Otago

‘… informs a New Zealand response to a world concern for the natural freshwater environs: what they were, are now and how they should be for our successors.’ Sir Taihakurei Durie, Chair, New Zealand Māori Council

Privacy Preferences

By clicking "Accept All Cookies", you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.