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Catlins River

The Catlins River flows south-eastward. Its total length is 42km and it shares its estuary with the Owaka River, flowing into the Pacific Ocean at Pounawea 28km south of Balclutha. The river's source is to the west of Mt Rosebery, 15km southwest of Clinton.

The headwaters of the Catlins River has intact native vegetation, this provides a contrast to the Catlins valley and Owaka valley, where agricultural activities are concentrated. The Catlins River has a well developed estuary. Average annual rainfall in the upper Catlins catchment is 1300mm.

The Catlins has a variety of features which make it unique to the eastern coast of the South Island. It is rugged, remote and endowed with large tracts of native rainforest (500km2). It has abundant wildlife, is sparsely populated and is very scenic and unspoilt.

The Catlins River catchment has 40% indigenous forest in its catchment, with approximately the same percentage as high producing grassland. On high producing exotic grassland, sheep and beef grazing represents the majority of recorded land use in the catchment, with dairy, deer and forestry being less common forms of agriculture. The Owaka catchment has 20% indigenous forest much of the remaining area is high producing grassland supporting dairy, sheep and beef.

The Catlins River has a good population of resident brown trout between 1-2 kg and in their lower reaches sea-run brown trout which can reach 3-4kg. Although brown trout are the most common species of fish in the catchment, sensitive native species are also present, these include the Redfin bully ,Gollum galaxias, Longfin Eel and Lamprey.

The Owaka and Catlins Rivers are used extensively for whitebaiting between August and November, with inanga, koaro and banded kokopu all contributing to the whitebait catch.

The most significant active recreational pursuit carried out on the Catlins River is angling The Catlins River supports a diverse ecosystem, with 13 species of fish and one species of freshwater crayfish listed as being present in the catchment (NIWA freshwater fish database).


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Monitored sites in the Catlins 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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