Cultural Significance


Some People’s ‘Cultural Significance’ is more ‘Significant’ than Others

by Mark Roden

[committee member of the Nelson Underwater Club and board member of the NZ Recreational Fishing Council]

When New Zealanders go to a special place: perhaps a pool, on a river or a lake and teach their kids to swim, maybe use a mask and snorkel for the first time, is that a cultural experience?

I think it is. We might belong to a scout or outdoor group as we grow up. We learn to appreciate the beauty of nature and the freedom we have to enjoy our favourite special places.

The Riwaka Resurgence is one of those special places, 45 minutes from Nelson a river just appears out of a cave in the hillside, it is a magical place; no one goes there without feeling a sense wonder. Ross McDonald, now in his 80s, first ventured into the mouth of the cave in the early 1960s. Ross is the current patron of the Nelson Underwater Club which he helped form in the late 1950s.

Others followed where Ross first ventured and the cave system has been explored although not completely mapped making it all the more exciting to cavers and divers worldwide. So when the Department of Conservation (DOC) put a sign up at the Riwaka Resurgence explaining the cultural significance of the ‘Resurgence’ to local Maori, it went unnoticed until one or two club members asked why the sign was there and is Maori cultural significance more significant than anyone else’s? Can you imagine a sign saying: ‘Pakeha come here to enjoy the beauty and serenity of this special place and to partake in communal meals (commonly called a picnic) and cool down on hot summer days’ it would be a joke and an insult to the intelligence of all.

So why are we worried?


It’s just a sign, isn’t it? Well that same ‘Ross McDonald’ was also the first person to dive (we’re talking scuba dive as opposed to just jumping in head first) in Waikoropupu Springs, this was in the late 50s and before he explored the Riwaka Resurgence. So Ross and his mates backed his land rover up to the ‘spring’ – a weed covered pond, unloaded their gear and jumped in. When they realized what a special place this weedy pond was they started cleaning it up. Very soon afterwards they formed the Nelson Underwater Club and cleaning up the springs became an annual event. So ‘fast forward’ 50 years, the springs are on DOC land, local Maori have decided that the springs are ‘culturally significant’ and DOC play the ‘Didymo card’ and bans all divers no discussion, no consultation, a done deal. Sound reasonable? Well, no, two big issues: Didymo can’t live in the springs because of the mineral content of the water and the club has been told if they want to discuss access then talk to local Maori who, you guessed it, have decided that the springs are ‘spiritually significant’

So, what now?


Letters to editors,  meetings with politicians,  civil disobedience? Well yes, all of the above are happening or are being discussed. We need to convince the government that they have gone too far in pandering to the whims of a minority.  Are we anti Maori? No way, the real disappointment is the way DOC have allowed themselves to be used as pawns and have misused their ‘conservation powers’ to press a PC agenda

… watch this space.

Sign: ‘Te Puna o Riuwaka is of particular cultural significance to the people of Te Atiawa and Ngati Rarua. It is acknowledged as a waihi tapu or sacred site. Please respect the sanctity of this special place whenever you visit.


For Maori, every river has its own mauri or life force. Rivers are the veins of Papatuanuku, Earth mother, and the water in them is her lifeblood.






Rivers nourish all living beings, and link us with ancestors. It is by our rivers that we know who we are.




Te Puna o Riuwaka has special mana or status, because from here springs waiora – the waters of life. For generations Maori have come here for cleansing and healing, their feet following the path of those who have walked this way before. – Department of Conservation’

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