We are developing a Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) in partnership with Kāi Tahu whānui, and with feedback from the greater Otago community.

Join the kōrero on the proposed direction of the Plan to care for Otago's lakes, rivers and streams and guide the activities that impact them.

We have a summary of proposed new rules and regulations that we encourage you to look over.

Get involved

Read all about the draft Plan and the proposed new rules and regulations:

About the area

Under national legislation, regional councils must manage waterways at an appropriate scale for setting freshwater objectives and limits. 

We have set five Freshwater Management Units (FMUs) and divided the Clutha/Mata-Au FMU into five rohe (areas) as it is the largest river in the country, by catchment and volume. 

The Upper Lakes Rohe is around 7,000 square kilometres, covering the lakes of Whakatipu, Wānaka and Hāwea from their tributaries to their outlets. 

Its scenery attracts thousands of visitors each year, who enjoy views of budding orchard trees, snow-covered mountains and stunning lakes. 

Catchments include the Greenstone, Dart and Rees Rivers, the Makarora, Matukituki and Hunter Rivers, and several smaller tributaries to the lakes, including Bullock Creek, Minaret Burn, Timaru River and the Von and Locky Rivers. The lakes’ upper catchments have very high natural values, extending into Mt Aspiring National Park. 

The lakes have deep spiritual significance for Kāi Tahu, associated with their creation traditions and their importance as a source of very pure freshwater. They supported permanent and seasonal settlements and plentiful mahika kai. Pounamu was also gathered near the head of Lake Wānaka, and the Dart and Routeburn Valleys. 

Economic profile and snapshop

While freshwater policies might be designed and applied specifically to the Upper Lakes Rohe, their impacts may be felt beyond. Hence the Upper Lakes Rohe and the neighbouring Dunstan Rohe are combined when considering socio-economic information. These communities have close economic ties, i.e., residents are likely to live in one of the areas while working/spending in the other areas.

In 2018, the Upper Lakes Rohe and Dunstan Rohe were home to around 47,400 residents (21% of Otago’s population). In the previous 12 years, the population in these Rohe increased by 19,300 people (or 69%) from 28,000 residents in 2006. This rapid population growth is putting increasing pressure on water use (water takes and discharges of pollutants or contaminants) and its infrastructure. Overall, these Rohe have relatively low social deprivation, when considering factors such as income, home ownership, employment, access to transport and communications, and access to internet.

The local communities and the economy in the Upper Lakes and Dunstan Rohe are especially reliant on water resources. The most populated towns in this Rohe are built around the lakes. Tourism, the most important industry sector in the Rohe, relies on fresh water in some way or form (including snow, which is essential for the ski resorts operating in the Rohe). Agricultural activities, mainly dry stock (incl. deer and with little/no dairy in the Upper Lakes Rohe) and horticulture/viticulture operations, are dependent on freshwater supplies.

An understanding of Māori history and the Māori economy is essential for policy development and policy impact assessment. Not only does pre-European Māori history help shape modern day New Zealand, but the Māori economy is also integral to the New Zealand economic system. ORC is partnering with Aukaha and Te Ao Marama to develop an overview of Kāi Tahu history and economy.

Science profile

The Upper Lakes Rohe is home to the headwaters of the Clutha/Mata-Au catchment, the country’s largest catchment by area and water volume. It contains glacial lakes Wānaka, Hāwea and Whakatipu, their tributaries, the Southern Alps to the north and terraced valleys in the south.

Because a large part of the Upper Lakes is untouched nature, changes in land use could affect water quality in the area and the rest of the Clutha/Mata-Au catchment downstream. The Upper Lakes Rohe is also vulnerable to climate change, which may influence the amount and timing of water availability in the area and downstream.

Want to know more?

Contact your rohe's Catchment Advisor for advice and assistance on sustainable land management practices that protect Otago’s waterways.

Sign up to our monthly newsletter On Stream for regular updates

Email customerservices@orc.govt.nz

Tel 0800 474 082

Publications and reports

Proposed new rules and regulations for the Upper Lakes Rohe

Download the Upper Lakes Rohe Chapter

This summary provides an overview of the provisions relating to the Upper Lakes Rohe (area) within the Clutha / Mata-Au Freshwater Management Unit (FMU). This includes environmental outcomes, target attribute states and area-specific rules and limits. The rules and limits are in addition to those in the region-wide rules covered in the other summaries.

If you are unsure of any particular terms, there is a ​​glossary of terms.

Recent content updates:

  • 13 October 2023:
    • Added proposed environmental flows, level and take limits for lakes, rivers and aquifers in the Upper lakes rohe and added information regarding whether further allocation of water is available.
  • 25 September 2023:
    • Added Upper Lakes Rohe boundary map
  • 24 September 2023:
    • Added timeframe for achieving the environmental outcomes for target attribute states


A map of the Upper Lakes Rohe boundary