More than 100kg of freshly dumped household rubbish has been pulled out of a river that flows into the Hokianga Harbour.
The alarm was raised by a 90-year-old kuia who saw the mess as she was passing a bridge on Lake Rd, near Ōkaihau, last week.
The waste appeared to have been tipped off the bridge directly into the Utakura River, which drains Lake Ōmāpere then flows through the scenic Utakura Valley into the Hokianga Harbour.
It included large amounts of kitchen and other household waste, a fishing net, paint rollers, children's toys, clothing, and — as always — lots of bottles and cans that could have been taken to any transfer station at no cost for recycling.
The kuia asked her daughter to put a post on Facebook, which prompted outrage from local residents and a clean-up mission by a River Toa crew from Johnson Contracting.
Matiu Tane, of Kaikohe, and two young workers, Caleb Brown-Maunsell, 21 and Javarn Atkins, 26, spent several hours in icy conditions on Wednesday fishing a trailer-load of rubbish out of the river.
Tane would weigh the waste before it was disposed of properly but estimated it totalled 100-150kg.
He said the Utakura was a ''very significant'' river.
''All our rivers and lands are significant. We need to keep them clean and hand them on to the mokopuna better than they are now.''
The crew was contracted by the Northland Regional Council to clean up illegally dumped rubbish, with priority given to rivers and floodplains to stop waste washing into harbours and out to sea.
Tane said he was ''solutions-based'', so didn't get upset about dumping.
''We just get in and clean it up. Maybe we need to educate our people more about how to dispose of our rubbish.''
However, among those who were angry and turned up to lend a hand, was Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.
''At one level we're spending over a billion dollars on mother nature projects — at the same time we've got locals tossing household rubbish into the river. They should be held accountable for this,'' Jones fumed.
''This river drains into the Hokianga, a food bowl for the Ngāpuhi. I want the next generation to know there are consequences if you defile the environment.''
Among the rubbish was a bundle of pay slips from October 2019 naming a Mid-North man.
The Advocate contacted the man who was shocked and ''bamboozled''.
He was adamant he had not dumped the rubbish and that he and his family were zealous about disposing of waste properly, making almost-weekly trips to their local transfer station to drop off recycling.
The man said he had sold his work vehicle earlier this year and used to store his payslips under the visor, so they could have been dumped during a clean-up by the car's new owner.
The Advocate has independently confirmed that the man sold his work vehicle early this year.
NRC land management officer Doug Foster said the river clean-up programme was part of the government's Te Tai Tokerau worker redeployment package for the Covid-19 recovery.
The NRC was using its $200,000 share of the funding to clean up illegal rubbish dumps, especially where waterways were threatened.
A Kaikohe company had been contracted to do the work and had taken on 10 young workers, some of whom had not previously had jobs.
The were also carrying out planting maintenance and clearing willow blockages, Foster said.
In July last year an entire truckload of commercial and household rubbish was dumped in a scenic lookout car park and down a bank on to a track in the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park.
The council ordered a Haruru Falls man to pay a fine and clean-up costs of just under $1000, after finding his name on ACC letters and roofing invoices found in the waste.
However, the penalty was waived after the man claimed the rubbish had been disposed of by others connected to the address.