Christchurch was once a mosaic of wetlands and small waterways formed by the past actions of the Waimakariri River and its underground aquifers. Prior to the wetlands being drained and the urbanisation of Christchurch city, the habitat the river passed through was abundant in flax (harakeke), toetoe, raupo, tutu and ferns and was dotted with ti kouka (cabbage tree). The river corridor was low-lying and very wet. The only remnant of the marsh that remains today is the Beckenham Ponds, formed from natural springs in Beckenham Park.
Longfin and shortfin eels/tuna, native bullies, lamprey, whitebait, the Canterbury mudfish, freshwater mussels, and koura flourished in Christchurch waterways prior to extensive modification by urban development. These animals were important food sources for Maori.