Rising on the east side of the Eyre Mountains, the Mataura flows south-eastward and then south for 120 miles and enters the sea at Toetoes Bay, 20 miles east of Bluff. A whaling station, Toitois (now Fortrose), was established at the mouth in the mid-1830s. The catchment area is 281 sq. miles, and floods occurred in March 1913 of 177,000 cusecs and in June 1955 of 29,904 cusecs. A representative rate of flow for the upper reaches of the river was measured on 28 January 1955 at Parawa Bridge of 260 cusecs, and on 16 June 1955 at Gore Bridge of 8,370 cusecs. The upper reaches of the river traverse a small inter-mountain basin at Garston and pass through a narrow, deeply incised gorge between Athol and Waikaia district. The remainder of its course passes through rolling and flat farm country in the Waimea Plains and the Mataura Valley. Settlements along the river include the towns of Gore and Mataura, which were initially established at fords on the river in the early days of horse and bullock transport.
The Mataura River is a favourite resort of anglers and is the greatest brown trout water in New Zealand.
There have been many attempts to explain the meaning of the name Mataura. It may be an ancient name, as Mataura was an ancestor of Ngatoro-i-rangi, the priest of the Arawa canoe. It may possibly mean reddish, brown face, or glowing face.
by Bryce Leslie Wood, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Dunedin.