The Rakaia River is one of the major braided rivers of Canterbury in New Zealand's South Island. It is a river of national significance and is protected by a National Conservation Order in recognition of its importance as a major inland fishery and wildlife habitat.
It rises in the Southern Alps, traveling 150 kilometers in a generally easterly or southeasterly direction before entering the Pacific Ocean 50 kilometers south of Christchurch. 20 kilometers from its mouth, the river is crossed by the country's longest road and rail bridges, each of which is some 1750 metres in length. The southern end of these bridges is at the small town of Rakaia.
The Rakaia is the best salmon river in New Zealand with the peak of the salmon season during the months of February and March. Salmon, brown and rainbow trout attract fishers from around the world. Endangered birds which nest each year on the bare gravel beds include the Wrybill (the only bird in the world with a bill bent sideways to the right), Banded dotterel, Black-fronted tern and the world's rarest gull, the Black-billed gull.
For much of its journey, the river is a braided river and is glacier fed, running through a wide shingle bed. Close to Mount Hutt, however, it is briefly confined to a narrow canyon known as the Rakaia Gorge. Here jet boat enthusiasts will find two companies operating exhilirating and breathtaking jet boat rides up the river.