The Waitaki braided river is characterised by gravel beds, numerous channels and variable flows, which are unique to parts of the world with young, rapidly eroding mountains.
The upper part of the Waitaki Basin was formed thousands of years ago when glaciers retreated leaving behind beds of gravel and boulders. Ongoing geological uplift, erosion and alluvial transport continue to maintain the Waitaki braided river and associated wetlands. Only Alaska, Canada and the Himalayas have the same extensive braided river systems that New Zealand has.
Although the specific tradition behind the name has been lost, it literally means “the waterway of tears” and is often referred to in whaikōrero (oratory) as representing the tears of Aoraki. The river was an important ara tawhito (traditional travel route) and you can still see the proof of that in the well-known rock art sites located in the numerous limestone outcrops and shelters.
The Waitaki River is also home to an extensive biodiversity including threatened plants and endangered wildlife like the nationally endangered tarapiroe or black-fronted tern.
Read more about the history of the Waitaki River here.
Scenic views & Photo opportunities
Turn off SH83 near Black Point Road onto Waitaki Fishing Ponds. Parking is available at the end of the road.