Awarua Wetlands/Waituna Lagoon
Awarua Wetlands can make you feel like a giant - striding from coast to mountain top in an easy bound.
One minute you can be standing on the glistening, glassy quartz pea-gravel beach of Toetoe Bay, facing blustery southern oceans and icy polar blasts. Step a few metres away and suddenly you are amidst a rust and green coloured ‘alpine’ meadow in the amazing Awarua peatlands. The winds, cool climate, mists, wet, and low nutrients of the peatland have encouraged hardy alpine plants to make their home on the southern coast over the past 12 thousand years since the last glaciation of the area.
The stunning contrast between the several metre high compacted peat cliffs of the wetland (built up over thousands of years) and the shells, flotsam and jetsam of quartz gravelled Toe Toe Bay is unforgettable.
The most startling feature of Awarua's plant life is the moor-like bog cushion formed by Donatia novae zelandiae. From a distance, donatia resembles a mossy brown boulder, or an elongated cow pat. But up close they are like the tightly packed florettes of a head of broccoli. They occur rarely now at Awarua, but there are several small meadows of them, amongst the fern fingers of cushion-like comb sedges, surrounded by other alpine species such as bladderwort, sundew, gentian mosses and dwarf manuka. Some adjoin the tannin stained black tarns creating a stunning alpine bog landscape, right at sea level! In spring and summer it can be ablaze with red, yellow, blue, red and lavender coloured flowers of small native lilies, orchid, sundews and other alpine plants. The effects of drainage, weeds, and climate change threatens the ecology of this special area.
Photo of Red Tussock at Awarua Bay by Wynston Cooper
Waituna Lagoon in the Awarua complex was chosen as New Zealand's first wetland of international significance (Ramsar site) because of the important diverse habitats in the area that are too tough for other species. There are 80 moth species here, some found nowhere else. The area is also home to native fish such as the giant kokopu, banded kokopu, inanga, eels and lamprey. In 2008 the Ramsar site was extended by some 15,000 ha with the addition of three major estuaries; Toe Toe, Awarua Bay and the Invercargill (New River) Estuary.
Eighty one bird species have been recorded at Waituna, including 21 migratory birds that travel north of the equator.
Key facts for visitors
How to get there
Follow the signs to Awarua Bay and drive to the end of the road (approx 15 km from Invercargill).
Either walk around the head of Awarua Bay across the bog (2.5 hrs) or drive to the end of Waituna Lagoon Road and walk westwards along the coast (1.5 hrs).
You can launch a boat at the Waituna Lagoon Road end (approx 25 km from Invercargill).
See Campbell Live video clip on the threats to ecological condition of Waituna Lagoon.
Download the Waituna Lagoon RAMSAR factsheet (144 kb) or read the Department of Conservation's factsheet on Awarua Wetland.
Learn about the Department of Conservation's Arawai Kakariki project to enhance Awarua/Waituna Lagoon and the Awarua Waituna Action Group formed to help protect the health of the wetland.
Read more about Waituna Lagoon in the Directory of Wetlands in New Zealand (see Chapter 72 Awarua Plains) or in a technical report on its threats and management needs.
Return to our RAMSAR page.
Last updated 28 July 2009