Flooding, in the days of old in Rāhui Pōkeka (Huntly), was something that was normal. Often, on an annual basis, the people of our community didn’t mind paddling to school, and paddling and wading from one papa kāinga (village) to another. Back then, the new floods brought nutrients to the soil. They had massive māra kai (food gardens) in this area because of the high nutrient content in the soil from the flooding, so annual flooding was actually seen as a re-fertilising of the soil to grow food. We used to store all our kai because in winter you couldn’t get over to town. You had to use the boats to get to town and that would only be for emergencies like getting our women to the hospital when baby was coming and those sort of things.
We believe stopbanks are a necessary evil – they’re something to manage the flood but they also have an impact on the flow and mauri (life essence) of the river. If you look at the greater scheme of things, the stopbanks manage and contain the water body, the Waikato River, our ancestral river, in a particular way that allowed our whānau to establish themselves under the cloak of safety and management. Without the stopbanks there, we wouldn’t be able to access key sites that we have now. We wouldn’t be able to drive on particular roads that give us access to things such as marae and papa kāinga and schools. This road has over five marae on it that would not be able to be accessed during most of the winter months if the stopbanks weren’t there. So, whilst we recognise the cultural deficit from a traditional point of view, the asset allows manageable use of whenua that is important to us for ngā uri whakatupu (the next generations). So it is an asset that allows ngā uri whakatupu to develop lands of significance in areas they wouldn’t be able to if the stopbank wasn’t there.
Through Waikato RiverCare work, riparian management, we try to protect and preserve the mauri (life essence) of the taonga, mitigate the flood protection works, and that means everything holistically connected to the river. Planting the riparian zones of the Waikato is hugely important; it’s important to acknowledge the area from the stopbank to the main water stem, to offset flood and flow and increase native biodiversity within the catchment. Weeds are an issue, like elder and grey willow, but once that's erradicated through the collective efforts of the many and the margins replanted with natural and native vegetation, we hope it will restore the mauri. Hopefully, within the lower catchment anyway, the next generation will see the benefits of RiverCare and other partners in the community who are helping to do this work.
Boys make their own fun in Huntly during a flood in 1998.
"We believe stopbanks are a necessary evil – they’re something to manage the flood but they also have an impact on the flow and mauri of the river."
Sandbagging along Rangiriri Road in Huntly in 1998.