One of the main rivers of Southland, it rises in the Takitimu mountains and flows southward for some 65 miles to enter Foveaux Strait at Riverton. As a shore whaling station in the 1830s it was known as “Jacob's River”, subsequently Riverton. The catchment area is some 344 sq. miles, and a representative discharge measured at Otautau Bridge on 9 June 1954 was 1,120 cusecs. Floods have occurred periodically and in 1913 a flow of 35,000 cusecs was measured at Wreys Bush bridge. For the most part the river flows through good farm land on the Southland Plains, with clear pools on a gravelly bed. It is popular with fishermen and, in summer, with campers and picnickers. The wide estuary at its mouth at Riverton affords shelter for a small fishing fleet and is the scene of boating and swimming activities in summer.
The origin of the name is uncertain. Some think it was named after a chieftainess, others after Apolima, an island in the Pacific. A more literal translation gives “company of five” or “a band of five workmen”.
by Bryce Leslie Wood, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Dunedin.