Waikato River becomes first in New Zealand to be mapped on Google Street View

The Waikato River has become the first in New Zealand to be mapped in its entirety on Google Street View.

The country's longest river - from where it begins as thawed snow from Mt Ruapehu to where it ends in the Tasman Sea - has been captured using cameras mounted on boats, allowing people to explore it from their homes.

According to iwi and historians alike, the 'Mighty Waikato' has its own identity.

"For a lot of people it's a source of life. Not just in a metaphysical sense, but in a literal sense," historian Paul Moon told Newshub.

"It's used for irrigation, it was used for cleansing and various rituals as well. It's also where people were buried next to, so it has a very strong connection in that sense as well."

It's also a river that once changed direction.

"It didn't used to go in its current route - it used to end up in Thames," Mr Moon says.

Now all 425 kilometres of it can be explored from anywhere in the world, and it's hoped the platform will eventually be loaded with historical and environmental information.

"We are looking at this as a fantastic platform to showcase the awa [river], but also to provide an opportunity for communities and iwi along the river to share their stories with the world," says Waikato River Festival director Craig Muntz.

Mr Muntz and his wife Lee-Ann say they told Google of their vision, and the multinational tech company gave them the specialised street view camera and a day of training.

However filming took roughly two years, as they could only film on clear days.

In the US, the Colorado River has been mapped by a conservation organisation that teamed up with Google to ensure the river's long-term protection.

That goal is something the Waikato river project hopes to achieve as well.

"One of the most important things we need to do is we need to engage our communities back to the river so they take ownership of it," Mr Muntz says.

With unseen pressures on the waterway like waste discharge from industry, an environmental historian Newshub spoke to said the initiative on its own won't directly lead to better protection of the river.

Nevertheless, she said anything that helps people connect with the river and creates awareness is a good thing.

Currently a glitch means the coverage stops just shy of Meremere, but the creators say that should be fixed in a couple of days, allowing explorers to venture all the way to Port Waikato.