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Sanctuary to Sea: the Water's Journey
Pascale Michel

Sanctuary to Sea: the Water's Journey

Kia mauriora te Kaiwharawhara. May the mauri of the Kaiwharawhara stream be well again.

I am the water that runs throughout the Kaiwharawhara water catchment area – the largest stream system in Wellington city.

Starting my journey in the higher hills of the ZEALANDIA wildlife sanctuary, I am clean and unpolluted. I trickle down to the main reservoir where a large population of banded kōkopu breed, enjoying the restored upper lake waters. Travelling through the last remaining remnant of swamp maire in the Wellington area, I meander through the Keith Taylor wetlands. This is where the pāteke (brown teal) and takahē, unique in Wellington city, live. I feel honoured to have such wonderful and rare birds enjoying my waters.

In New Zealand the banded kōkopu (Galaxias fasciatus) population has declined due to the loss of forest cover and water pollution from livestock waste and poorly treated wastewater. With the restoration of ZEALANDIA’s upper lake in 2011 they flourished and their numbers are expected to increase in the lower lake after the restoration work there is completed.


The lower lake in ZEALANDIA is my first challenge. This is where a large population of perch has caused an increase in algal bloom during the summer seasons. I am happy to know that it won’t be like this for much longer, as work is underway to rehabilitate the area. This will not only help reduce the algal bloom but will also support the re-establishment of native fish. I also hear they are going to try and bring back two species of kākahi (New Zealand freshwater mussel) to the sanctuary.

Kākahi (the New Zealand freshwater mussel) is also under threat and declining. Bringing them to ZEALANDIA will not only help protect this species but also provide an excellent research opportunity to find out more about them.


My biggest challenge comes when I enter the pipes under the contaminated land of the landfill. It is not until I finally reach the gorgeous remnant of native bush in the Ōtari-Wilton Bush reserve that I can freely breathe again and where I am delighted by the sight of the magnificent ancient rimu beside me. A few weeks ago the local iwi visited me to reconnect with the stream and the area. It was a very special day!

The stormwater flushing down the stream here makes my journey murky, polluted, and at times difficult. I do wish people would stop putting so much of their waste down the drains - the chemicals can poison, burn, blind or even suffocate fish.

Despite these challenges and also all the fish barriers that I encountered on my journey down the catchment, I find many fish species still living here. I counted up to 13 different species, including kōaro and several species of kōkopu. I hear that six of these fish species are now very rare in New Zealand. Large tuna (eels) are swimming lazily in the water of Trelissick Park, an area where the stream bank has been improved by years of planting and care.

In this catchment there are more than 30 community groups working to help me become cleaner and healthier and so supporting all the wonderful wildlife that I sustain. Even kids are on the cause with schools taking care of their patch through predator trapping, planting and water monitoring under the umbrella of the ZEALANDIA Sanctuary to Sea education programme. What an engagement!

My last struggle before I reach the sea waves is to get through the industrial area at the bottom of Ngaio Gorge, full of commercial activities, cars and trains zooming by and the busy ferry terminal. I take a deep breath then dive into the sea.

There is still so much people do not understand about my journey through the catchment, my struggles and its implications for all the inhabitants of the stream system. I need your help.

Infographic about the Kaiwharawhara Stream catchment


The Sanctuary to Sea – Kia Mauriora te Kaiwharawhara is a ZEALANDIA-led, multi-stakeholder project that involves mana whenua, local authorities, businesses, community groups and schools. It aims to restore freshwater and forest ecosystems in the Kaiwharawhara water catchment. In addition, ZEALANDIA recently launched the Centre for People and Nature, which provides the framework for the education and research activities that support people’s connection to nature.

Story by Pascale Michel & Vanya Bootham
Photo by Judi Lapsley Miller
Infographic by Pascale Michel


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