Ancestors of a Northland hapu once paddled waka down the Punakitere River, but a gradual drop in water level means now only a toy waka would stay afloat.
This is one of many reasons Ngati Tautahi hapu members have put a traditional rahui on hapu boundaries of the awa, which extend to areas of Mataraua Rd, Picadilly Rd, Wharepunga Rd, and Ngapuhi Rd, south of Kaikohe.
Hapu co-ordinator Mane Pahe said the rahui was put in place after continual concerns from the hapu about the gradual environmental and spiritual decline in the health and well-being of the awa.
"This is a traditional rahui on the awa and some say it's symbolic or superficial but we are serious about this and this initial rahui is about making a statement," Mr Pahe said.
The rahui bans commercial fishing namely eeling, solid or liquid discharge into the river including farming effluent, any new removal or siphoning of water and any major earthworks where the water touches the banks.
Mr Pahe said the awa was once filled with eel and was deep and clean. Now, there is a build up of algae in the swimming hole, a lack of eel and a water level that comes just above the ankles.
"It's worrying, especially seeing some of our tamariki in the awa. The food source of the awa is low, namely tuna. The river was full of eel and now there are very few," he said.
Mr Pahe said hapu members had some theories about why the health of the awa was declining but said they were researching to discover exact causes.
"Irrigation, the taking of water from the awa, farming and the development of the forestry industry have all had effects on the water. There was an issue with [one farmer] disposing cattle carcasses and farming effluent into the awa."
Mr Pahe said the hapu had formed a monitoring group to go up and down the awa and raise awareness.
"They are monitoring the awa completely legally. We are not physically stopping anyone but we are raising awareness and campaigning," he said.
Mr Pahe said the hapu are looking at holding public meetings that farmers and neighbours can attend, and will be talking to the Far North District Council about the issue.
Mr Pahe said Ngati Tautahi would also be holding hui with other hapu in the area to look at the possibility of placing the rahui on the entire awa.