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Photo/Bev Short

Jeanette Fitzsimons' poignant piece on the Kauaeranga River

In 2014, we asked prominent New Zealanders to share their stories about the awa they love. Here's what environmentalist and former Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons wrote. 

Sliding through silky water at dusk, the moon reflecting, the trout leaping and the morepork starting to call. Washing off the grime and stress of the city. Bliss at the cool plunge on a hot afternoon after shearing or haymaking.

The kotare diving from its nest in the cliffs; the cockabullies playing in the shallows. The joy of a five-year-old swimming the whole 30m across for the first time. Christmas shrieks and laughter as the grandchildren paddle the inflatable and tip each other out.

Awe at the flood that lifts the river 5m in a night, with standing waves as it turns the bends, carrying logs and anything else it finds in its path. A river not to be argued with at such times.

The Kauaeranga River is all this and more, the centre of our life at the farm: social meeting place, fun, solace, calm and sometimes a place just to sit and dream. It drains 20,000ha of mainly bush, so is still clean enough to swim in. We could probably drink it safely, though we generally don’t. Our animals and most of our neighbours’ have been fenced out for more than 20 years, and the banks are now shaded by the totara, kahikatea, kowhai, miro and much more we’ve planted to replace the gorse, willow and blackberry.

There are swimming holes the length of the river, used by trampers, tourists and locals throughout the summer. Further upstream, it supplies Thames with its water. The denuded hills are gradually revegetating, holding the run-off back for longer and cleaning it.

Without the Kauaeranga, life in our valley would be immeasurably poorer.

This article was first published in the January 11, 2014 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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