The Mackenzie Basin Story
The Mackenzie Basin or Te Manahuna, as it was known to Ngai Tahu, has been a resource and a special place since Maori first ventured into the region. Te Manahuna means “place of energy” or “unseen spirit” which indicates that Maori had a spiritual affinity for this place just like today’s residents and visitors.
From Maori to European times, the Basin has been a place which has undergone significant modification. Maori came to collect kai (food) which was abundant here, especially tuna and weka. They found the tall tussock difficult to navigate, so lit fires to clear it and make their passage through the area easier.
The first European settlers also used fire to modify the grasslands to provide better grazing, with significant effects of this noted as early as the 1860s. Then through overstocking, rabbits, and weeds like Hieracium, much of the ecology of the basin became highly modified.
The natural values of the basin only really started to be recognised in the 1970s with the establishment of some remnant reserves and the 1980s when the Protected Natural Areas Programme mapped and described many areas in several Ecological Districts across the basin.
The most significant modifications to the Upper Waitaki occurred when the Upper Waitaki Hydro Power Scheme was developed from the 1960s to the 1980s. This resulted in the loss of many wetlands and riparian systems.
Today, through the process of land retirement and tenure review significant areas of the Mackenzie above 900m are in public conservation land. However, less than a tenth of the land below 800m is in any form of protection. The Mackenzie intermontane basin lies in a semi-desert climate which in association with its glacial landscapes and soils has resulted in many ecosystems and landscapes which are unique and the only examples of these systems in New Zealand. It really is a biodiversity hotspot for many plants and animals. It is also a rich cultural landscape.
Helping to protect and celebrate the natural and cultural heritage below 800m is the focus of the Mackenzie Country Trust as it tries to implement the landmark Mackenzie Agreement.