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Lakes and Rivers

NZ Lakes and Rivers

New Zealand is riddled with rivers , most of them short and flowing rapidly down to the sea. There are some slower, meandering rivers on the east coast of the South Island, however, which create for a unique environment. The braided rivers in Canterbury and the Waitaki/Mackenzie Basin have distinctive wide shingle beds and multiple channels, providing a breeding ground for many birds, insects, fish and plants. Numerous lakes provide rich habitats for fish and birds; many of New Zealand's wetlands , on the other hand, have been drained for agriculture and property development, although some areas are preserved as national parks and scenic reserves. It's in low wetland areas that you're likely to come across the tallest of the native trees, the kahikatea (white pine), which reaches over 60m. There's a particularly fine stand in the central western North Island close to Te Awamutu.

One bird you're bound to see in the vicinity of a lake is the takahe's closest relative, the pukeko , a bird which is still in the process of losing the power of flight. The pukeko is mostly dark and mid-blue with large feet and an orange beak, and lets out a high-pitched screech if disturbed.
New Zealand is renowned for its great fresh-water fishing, with massive brown and rainbow trout and salmon swarming through the fast-flowing streams. All introduced species, these fish have adapted so well to their conditions that they grow much larger here than elsewhere in the world; as a result, many native species have been driven out. Another delicacy commonly found in New Zealand's waters are native eels , much loved by Maori who built complicated eel traps along many rivers.
Keeping the fishermen company along the river banks of the Mackenzie country and Canterbury are black stilt or kaki , one of the world's rarest wading birds. A thin black bird with round eyes and long red legs, the stilt is incredibly shy - if you do see one in the wild, keep well away. Usually found in swamps and beside riverbeds, the best place to see them is in the specially created reserve near Twizel . A slightly more adaptable member of the family is the common pied stilt , a black and white bird that has been more successful in resisting the attentions of introduced mammals, particularly feral cats.

Another inhabitant of the Canterbury braided riverbank is the wrybill . This small white and grey bird uses its unique bent bill to turn over stones or pull out crustaceans from mud. In ­winter the species migrates to Auckland and the mudflats of Kaipara, Manukau and the Firth of Thames. The wrybill's close cousin, the banded dotterel , favours the sides of rivers, lakes, open land with sparse vegetation and coastal lagoons and beaches. It is a small brown and white bird with a dark or black band around its neck and breeds only in New Zealand, though it does briefly migrate to Australia.

The blue duck is one of four endemic species with no close relatives anywhere in the world. Its Maori name, Whio , is a near perfect representation of the male bird's call. You can spot it by its blue-grey plumage, with chestnut on both breast and flanks; it also has an unusual bill with a black flexible membrane along each side, and beady yellow eyes. Mountainous areas are where it makes its home, preferring the swift mountain streams and approaching the coast only where the mountains are close to the sea. Unfortunately this is now an endangered species, preyed upon by mammals and forced to compete for food with the salmon and trout in the rivers.

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