A Nile in New Zealand: Same Names, Different Rivers

The Americas and Australasia are rife with place names imported from abroad. Often these toponyms placed by the first explorers or by immigrants nostalgic for their homeland. The result is an innumerable number of places named for other places, especially when it comes to cities and towns. The world’s very longest rivers, however, have surprisingly few other rivers named after them. Here are five notable exceptions.

Nile River, New Zealand

The other Nile River is a short but scenic waterway on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island near the village of Charleston. Also known as the Waitekere, the Nile may pale in comparative length to its African namesake at a mere 19.5 km (12.2 mi), but it certainly matches it pound-for-pound in scenery, dropping precipitously out of the Southern Alps onto the narrow West Coast plain while crossing over a limestone syncline along the way, creating a scenic canyon and cave network. A tourist train operates along the river, guiding visitors through the rainforest, above the Nile River Canyon, and ultimately leading to paths that go to the Nile River Suspension Bridge and the Metro Cave/Te Ananui Cave (whose walls are lined not only with stalactictes and stalagmites, but with countless glowworms. The river is also popular among rafters and tubers; tube floats can actually be taken through the caves.

Below, a slideshow of the Nile Valley Tramway:

Nile River Bridge, Charleston, New Zealand.


Metro Cave/Te Ananui Cave. Source: Pseudopanax, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cavern_full_of_stalactites_and_stalagmites_in_Metro_Cave_Te_Ananui_Cave.jpg.

The mouth of the Nile River, West Coast Region, South Island of New Zealand. Source: alisonmc, http://www.flickr.com/photos/80552349@N00/2501254512/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.

Mississippi River, Canada

Ontario’s Mississippi River wasn’t named for the more famous US version; indeed, European explorers were generally exploring both valleys for the first time at the same point in history. Instead, this 200 km (120 mi) tributary of the Ottawa River likely takes its name from the Algonquian Mazinaa[bikinigan]ziibi (‘painted [image] river’), a reference to the many pictographs found the cliffs surrounding Mazinaw Lake, one of the many lakes through which the river flows. Over 250 lakes exist within the Mississippi watershed along with plentiful wetlands. Because of the abundance of water and rapids here (not to mention the river’s proximity to Ottawa), much of the Mississippi has been harnessed for generating  hydroelectricity. As early at 1818, the Mississippi was being used to power flour mills, many of which remain standing as tourist attractions. A provincial government authority manages the conservation of the watershed.


The Mississippi River crosses under a stone bridge from 1901 at Pakenham, Mississippi Mills. Source: M. Rehemtulla, QUOI Media, http://www.flickr.com/photos/49698777@N02/5546344753/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Spring Thaw

The dam at Almonte, Mississippi Mills. Source: SBC9, http://www.flickr.com/photos/37539205@N03/3453483193/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Canada's Mississippi

The Mississippi River at Carleton Place, Ontario. Source: J. Zeeman, http://www.flickr.com/photos/13127232@N00/17027313/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.


Mazinaw Lake. Source: jess rawk, http://www.flickr.com/photos/78012654@N00/1337748025/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Mississippi River cottage country.

Columbia River, Belize

You would perhaps expect more waterways to be named ‘Columbia’ given the proliferation of the name, especially in the United States, where ‘Columbia‘ was a popular nickname for the country until the early 20th century. Instead, the only other Columbia River is found in Toledo District, southern Belize – a small stream running through the Mayan village of San Pedro Columbia. Also known as Columbia Branch, it lends its name to the 417 km2 (161 sq mi) Columbia River Forest Reserve. Like the Nile River valley in New Zealand, this area is also home to rainforest and caves. Its most notable attraction , howerver, is the ruins at Lubaantun, a short hike from San Pedro Columbia.


The ruins at Lubaantun, Toledo District, Belize. Source: G. Manacsa, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lubaantun-structure.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Volga River, United States

In the late 19th century, thousands of Volga Germans migrated from Russia’s Volga valley to take up new farmland in the United States and Canada, introducing a plethora of new surnames and toponyms to the North American landscape. Many Volga Germans chose Iowa as their new home, and it’s only fitting that one of the longest rivers in northeastern Iowa would thus receive an appropriately nostalgic name. The 130 km (81 mi) long Volga River flows through the Iowan section of the Driftless Area, so named because it escaped the mass glaciation that covered the surrounding plains during the last ice age. As such, no glaciers were around to deposit glacial drift (e.g., soil, silt, clay, rocks, boulders) and bury the previously-existing topography. The result is a rugged, highly eroded landscape full of deep river valleys and steep hills; a contrast from the surrounding prairie. It probably comes as no surprise that the village of Volga City lies upon its shores. There is also a Volga River State Recreation Area near its headwaters.

Volga River, Iowa

Volga River, Iowa. Source: D. Abbey, http://www.flickr.com/photos/7702724@N07/8982819263/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic licence.

Amazon Ditch, United States

While there were no other Amazon Rivers to be found in this search, there were a number of Amazon Creeks and even an Amazon Brook in Maine. The prize for facetiousness, however, goes to Amazon Ditch, an irrigation canal that winds its way through Kearny County in western Kansas just north of the Arkansas River. The ditch was constructed in 1885 by one Charles J. ‘Buffalo’ Jones, who had been a partner in the company that had constucted the nearby Great Eastern Ditch in 1880. Having fallen out with his partners, he apparently sought to drive them out of business. Constructing what he called the Amazon Ditch, he positioned the head-gates of the ditch to divert water away from the Great Eastern. The construction was poor; the walls of the canal collapsed in May 1889 and sent floodwaters into the county seat of Lakin, flooding homes and rail lines in the city. Accused of fraud, Jones sold the Amazon Ditch to a company in London. While the new owners repaired the ditch, they were also charging rates for water that the local farmers couldn’t afford and thus lost their customers. Left to deteriorate, the ditch was placed in receivership in 1897. Eventually, the farmers of the county came together and bought the ditch themselves, and it continues to serve the area to this day.

The mighty Amazon (Ditch).

Further Reading

Driftless Area Initiative (2013).  Defining the “Driftless Area”. Available at http://www.driftlessareainitiative.org/aboutus/defining_driftless.cfm. Accessed 30 October 2013.

Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources—Subbasin Water Resource Management Program (2007). Early Irrigation in Kansas. Middle Arkansas Subbasin Newsletter 2007(2): 2-3. Available at http://www.ksda.gov/includes/document_center/subbasin/Newsletter/MIDARKNewsletter04_07.pdf. Accessed 30 October 2013.

Naturalight Productions Ltd. (2013). Columbia Forest Reserve. Southern Belize. Available at http://www.southernbelize.com/columbia.html. Accessed 30 October 2013.

Norwest Adventures Ltd. (2013). Underworld Adventures. Available at http://www.caverafting.com/. Accessed 30 October 2013.

Pereltsvaig, A. (2013). The Geography of European Surnames. GeoCurrents, 25 October 2013. Available at http://www.geocurrents.info/cultural-geography/geography-european-surnames. Accessed 30 October 2013.

Wells, Andrew (2013). Nile River glowworm caves & Punakaiki – Day three highlights. New Zealand Walking Tours, 11 September 2013. Available at http://newzealandtrails.com/news/nile-river-glowworm-caves-punakaiki-day-three-highlights. Accessed 30 October 2013.

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2 thoughts on “A Nile in New Zealand: Same Names, Different Rivers

  • Of course I immediately thought of the Nile River in Washington. But on checking, oops, it’s merely Nile Creek. The stretch of valley the Naches River flows through near Nile Creek is called Nile Valley, although topo maps don’t seem to show that name.


    And of course there is a Ganges Creek in BC, on Saltspring Island…

    • A short drive down the highway from where I live, we have a Congo Creek emptying into Slocan Lake (righty next to a Baby Ruth Creek, of all things). In Naikoon Provincial Park up in Haida Gwaii, there’s a ‘Blue Danube Swamp’, which is hilarious. Both Quebec and Western Australia have Fraser Rivers, and Alaska, Michigan, Minnesota, Papua New Guinea, Ontario, and the Northwest Territories all have Snake Rivers. I don’t even want to think about how many different Rio Grandes there are…

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