A group charged with protecting a river on the Mahia Peninsula has won a prestigious award.

The Whangawehi Catchment Management Group were the only finalists from New Zealand at the Asia Pacific International River Prize Awards, held in Sydney on Tuesday, and won the Pacific category.

Whangawehi Group chairman Pat O'Brien said the judges were impressed by the community-driven project.

"The judges were highly impressed by the fact that this project was community-driven, with Māori leaders instrumental in setting up the vision and achieving and measuring the progress made."

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"We are now exposed to the international sphere and this offers new opportunities to influence more change in our Pacific community."

Hawke's Bay Regional Council spokesman Iain Maxwell said it was "a deserving tribute to a project that has truly set the bar for collaboration, partnership with tāngata whenua and community engagement".

The Whangawehi Catchment Management Group is a marae initiative that identified the Whangawehi stream as a sacred river needing protection and enhancement.

The group has helped land owners with initiatives such as fencing waterways, planting trees and pest control work.

In 2017 the project won New Zealand's most prestigious environmental award, the Green Ribbon Award.

Through it's efforts the group has seen an increase in native bird and fish life and a 15 per cent improvement in water quality, with whitebait and longfin eel populations also improving dramatically.