Land application has become a widely applied method for treating wastewater. However, it is not always clear which soil-plant systems should be used, or why. The objectives of our study were to determine if four contrasting soils, from which the pasture is regularly cut and removed, varied in their ability to assimilate nutrients from secondary-treated domestic effluent under high hydraulic loadings, in comparison with unirrigated, fertilized pasture. Grassed intact soil cores (500 turn in diameter by 700 mm in depth) were irrigated (50 mm wk(-1)) with secondary-treated domestic effluent for two years. Soils included a well-drained Allophanic Soil (Typic Hapludand), a poorly drained Gley Soil (Typic Endoaquept), a well-drained Pumice Soil formed from rhyolitic tephra (Typic Udivitrand), and a well-drained Recent Soil formed in a sand dune (Typic Udipsamment). Effluent-irrigated soils received between 746 and 815 kg N ha(-1) and 283 and 331 kg P ha(-1) over two years of irrigation, and unirrigated treatments received 200 kg N ha(-1) and 100 kg P ha(-1) of dissolved inorganic fertilizer over the same period. Applying effluent significantly increased plant uptake of N and P from all soil types. For the effluent-irrigated soils plant N uptake ranged from 186 to 437 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1), while plant P uptake ranged from 40 to 88 kg P ha(-1) yr(-1) for the effluent-irrigated soils. Applying effluent significantly increased N leaching losses from Gley and Recent Soils, and after two years ranged from 17 to 184 kg N ha-1 depending on soil type. Effluent irrigation only increased P leaching from the Gley Soil. All P leaching losses were less than 49 kg P ha(-1) after two years. The N and P leached from effluent treatments were mainly in organic form (69-87% organic N and 35-65% unreactive P). Greater N and P leaching losses from the irrigated Gley Soil were attributed to preferential flow that reduced contact between the effluent and the soil matrix. Increased N leaching from the Recent Soil was the result of increased leaching of native soil organic N due to the higher hydraulic loading from the effluent irrigation.