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Cardrona River

The Cardrona River has a total catchment area of 337km2 and flows northwest through the steep Cardrona Valley onto the Wanaka-Cardrona Flats before joining the Clutha River/Mata-Au at Albertown. The catchment is divided from the Wakatipu Catchment by the Crown Range, separated from adjoining Upper Clutha catchments of the Motutapu River by the Cardrona Range, and from Luggate Creek by the Criffell Range.


The Cardrona catchment lies between two contrasting climate zones: the drier Mediterranean climate of the Upper Clutha River/Mata-Au (average annual rainfall of 605mm) and the mountain climate, which is affected by the spill-over rain which crosses the Main Divide (average annual rainfall of 900mm).

The Wanaka-Cardrona Flats sit astride a sedimentary basin characterised by glacial deposits and glacial outwash gravels which contain the Wanaka Basin-Cardrona Gravel Aquifer. This aquifer is responsible for the flow of Bullock Creek through Wanaka Township, the availability of groundwater in the rural areas, and the periodic drying up of sections of the Cardrona River during summer. 

The Cardrona River can be separated into three main sections: a neutral reach (upstream of The Larches); a losing reach, in which surface water is lost to groundwater (between the Larches and SH6); and a gaining reach (downstream of SH6), in which surface flows are recharged from groundwater.

Land use in the Cardrona catchment consists of tussock and low producing grassland in the higher catchment, while in the lower catchment, high producing exotic grassland predominates. Sheep and beef farming on tussock dominates the catchment, with the high producing grasslands in the lower catchment supporting some deer farming.

Flood, border dyke, and more recently spray, irrigation is practised in the lower catchment. Most of the water used for irrigation is taken from the Cardrona River via water race intake structures. Originally intended for gold mining, the water races are now exclusively turned to pasture irrigation purposes and dominate the water management.

The Cardrona River, like many of Central Otago’s rivers, is recognised for both its scenic, recreational and biodiversity values. The Cardrona River supports four species of native fish (upland bully, longfin eel, koaro, and Clutha flathead galaxias) and three species of introduced sports fish (brown trout, rainbow trout, brook char). The lower reaches of the Cardrona River provide spawning and juvenile rearing habitat for a large number of brown and rainbow trout from the upper Clutha and Lake Dunstan. It is considered to be one of the most important sources of juvenile fish for those populations.

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Monitored sites in the Cardrona River catchment

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Scientific Indicators
Scientific data for this catchment

This dashboard shows information on the data collected by the regional councils for water quality indicators, analysed as state and trend.

The state for the catchment is represented by the median concentration for the parameter across all sites within the catchment and then compares that value to the quartiles for all monitored sites in New Zealand.

Click on the parameters state icons to compare this catchment with others in the region.

  • State

    State shows how the median of samples from this site compares to other sites

  • Trend

    Trend shows how the quality of water is changing over time. Depending on the sampling history duration, five and ten year timescales are available:

Can I trust this data?

The Cawthron Institute has worked alongside regional councils to verify the processes and methods used for data collection, laboratory analysis of samples collected and the statistical analysis and interpretation of the results presented.

If all Cawthron ticks are green, then you can trust this data. However, if one or more ticks are orange, then conclusions should be treated with some caution.

For more details on each tick, see our 'Can I Trust This Data?' Factsheet.

Can I trust the data?
Data Collection

All samples were collected using approved field protocols and have been analysed in accredited laboratories. Therefore the data shown here has been collected and analysed following best practice.


All samples were collected using approved field protocols and have been analysed in accredited laboratories.

Trend - Adjustment for flow

This data is not flow adjusted. National guidelines suggest that flow-sensitive variables are flow 'adjusted' before trend analysis. Therefore, any trends shown here may be affected by variations in flow across sampling occasions.


E. coli



Black disc





Total Nitrogen


Total Oxidised Nitrogen


Ammoniacal Nitrogen



Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus


Total Phosphorus

Download Data

.ZIP file of indicator readings for all sites in New Zealand

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