The Mighty Waikato, he piko he taniwha (on every bend, a taniwha), is the tupuna and mauri of the Tainui waka and Ngati Tuwharetoa. The longest river in New Zealand, it starts at Ruapehu, lingers at Lake Taupo, and heads north to Puuaha o Waikato (Port Waikato).
People have used and enjoyed the river for as long as people have been in Aotearoa New Zealand; as a transport route, as a source of kai and, in more recent times, as a source of energy at hydro-electric power stations and a venue for rowing and waka ama competitions.
Sadly, the river has also been used to dump industrial and sewage waste but its greatest challenge is the dairy industry across the region. The massive dairy farm conversions in the upper catchment are releasing tonnes of pollutants into the hydro lakes and the Waikato, meaning you risk contracting waterborne diseases such as giardia, cryptosporidium and other bacteria and viruses if you swim in it.
The Waikato has wonderful support from local people who love the river and work hard to restore her health, but the tap of pollution needs to be turned off.
Great work is being done by the Waikato River co-governance group led by Tainui. Many farmers and community groups are also working on fencing to prevent stock entering the waterways, as well as planting along the banks to soak up the excess run-off. The Lake Karapiro support group is highlighting the growing algae problems that turn the lake a strange colour in the summertime, and make it unsafe for animals and humans.
The Green Party presented a petition to Parliament calling for Government-owned Landcorp to drop plans to add up to 50,000 dairy cows to its farms on the volcanic plateau, which would've affected the Waikato. As a result of the drop in dairy prices and strong evidence showing the negative impact of nitrogen from cow urine on water quality, Landcorp has agreed to cut their dairy conversions by half in the region. We still need the big corporate farmers in the region to stop cutting down forests and converting to dairy or badly managed beef farms if the Waikato river is to be safe for swimming.