Travelling down the Waikato River

Source of Waikato River






Lake Taupo, the source of the Waikato River, is New Zealand's   largest lake, but is actually the biggest and most dangerous volcano in the world.

The shape of Lake Taupo was largely created by the Oruanui eruption 26,500 years ago. This eruption formed a 500m-deep caldera (large collapsed crater) which occupies about the same area as metropolitan Auckland. That was the world’s biggest and most destructive eruption ever. That event dwarfed the latest eruption in 186 AD. That later eruption was over 50 times the magnitude of the Mt. St. Helen's eruption which moved 3 cubic kilometers of earth, compared to 110 cubic kilometers for Taupo. This eruption is regarded as the biggest in the last 5000 years. The event was recorded by the Chinese and the Romans. The Chinese actually heard the bang and made a record of the brilliant sunsets that lasted approximately 6 months.

The Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand at 425 km. Although Lake Taupo is generally regarded as the source of the river, geographically it rises on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park as the Tongariro River, flows north through Lake Taupo and, issuing from the lake's north-eastern corner, flows northwest to enter the Tasman Sea south of Auckland. Its principal tributaries are the Waipa and Poutu. Eight power stations built on the river between Taupo and Karapiro are a major source of hydroelectric power. The river, whose name is Maori for "flowing water," was the scene of several skirmishes between the British and the Waikato tribes in 1863-65. The Waikato became a working river when Tainui migrated to the region and began to farm its banks. Eventually, they saw the river as being inextricably linked with their own history.

Control Gates
Resource management requirements mean the lake must be kept above a minimum set level with only one percent of its volume available for electricity generation. There is little effective storage in the eight hydro dams on the river. The Taupo Gates, located just north of Taupo under the State Highway 1 Bridge, provide some ability to control the amount of water flowing down the Waikato River. Once released from the gates, water for generation takes more than 18 hours to move from Taupo to Karapiro - the last station in the Waikato hydro system.

Trout fishing the Waikato River

The Auckland Acclimatisation Society made the first successful importation of rainbow ova from Sonoma Creek in America in 1883, and another, with limited success, in 1884. In late February 1898, 5000 rainbow trout fry from the Wellington society’s Masterton hatchery, were brought to Taupo by train and wagon. The fry were successfully released into the lake and its feeder streams and rivers. In the beginning the fishing was confined to the Waikato River and to the river mouths around the lake.

Huka Lodge

In 1930, a young Irishman, Alan Pye, heard word of an angler's paradise and made his way to Taupo. He was captivated by what he called ‘the finest fly-fishing in the world’ and immediately set about procuring land on the banks of the Waikato River.

Here he built four simple canvas-clad huts on a bend of the river, above the mighty Huka Falls. huka_1.jpg







Huka Lodge soon established a reputation for fine food and hospitality amidst great natural beauty and tranquility.

The Huka Falls were formed by volcanic action and have resulted in a narrow cleft through which must pour the entire volume of the mighty Waikato River.

Kayaking the Huka Falls

The first recorded descent by kayak was by Nick Kerkham in 1981. For many years people had been looking and longing to conquer the awesome power and beauty of the Huka Falls. For many paddlers, “Huka” has seemed the ultimate challenge - the last remaining dream. “I entered the water, using a different line cutting in just under the bridge. The drops in the gorge are bigger when you are on the water. A can-out here would mean severe trouble. Just before the 12 metre drop at the end there lies a giant stopper wave of at least 2 metres in height, which is quite tricky to negotiate. After this there lies a stretch of relatively calm water before the drop. Three paddle strokes and over the fall. The water went clear and then jet black. The boat did a complete loop under the water and resurfaced about 7 metres downstream, the ultimate challenge fulfilled.”

Wairakei Geothermal area

Situated in the centre of the North Island's volcanic belt, Wairakei houses the world's second large-scale geothermal power. At Wairakei, modified oil-drilling techniques produce a unique technology which, under overseas development programmes, New Zealand has made available to other countries. Two power stations stand side by side by the Waikato River as vast quantities of cold water are used to condense the steam as it leaves low-pressure turbines. Condensation of the steam creates a vacuum and so makes the turbines generate almost twice as much electricity as they would if the steam were simply discharged directly into the atmosphere.

Aratiatia Rapids

The Aratiatia rapids are one of the river's outstanding scenic features. Mighty River Power releases water down the rapids several times each day, attracting more than 60,000 visitors annually. A road bridge across the top of the rapids, tracks and viewing platforms, provide excellent vantage points from which to see the rapids. The lake itself provides good fishing for both brown and rainbow trout and hosts a tourist jet boat operation. Downstream of the power station, the relatively unmodified section of the river hosts a tourist jet boat operation and the Ngaawapurua Rapids attract white water kayakers from throughout the country.

Lake Ohakuri

Lake Ohakuri is the largest lake on the Waikato River and plays an important role in the management of daily water flows in the Waikato hydro system. The lake covers 12 and is also a popular camping and recreational used for water-skiing, picnicking and duck shooting. Each year around 20,000 people stay at the campground on the lake's edge, especially over the summer months.

Mangakino Township

The town that was sold - Mangakino is on land leased from the Mangakino Township Incorporation. This is an offshoot of Wairarapa-based iwi Ngati Kahungunu, who were granted a 12,000-hectare Mangakino block 80 years ago as compensation for surrendering rights in Lake Wairarapa to the Crown.
In September, township land affecting about 500 properties was sold for an undisclosed price. The value of the land was estimated at $2.5 million to $4 million. Successful tenderer was Stuart Searle is an Auckland property developer. He is offered homeowners a chance to buy the freehold of their sections but at prices 2 to 3 times the Government Valuation. Many locals say they cannot afford such prices and the sections are likely to be sold to Aucklanders looking for a holiday bach.

Maraetai Penstocks

Maraetai has two powerhouses sited in a deep gorge only 11 km downstream from Whakamaru power station. This short distance between the stations means that water leaving Whakamaru quickly joins Lake Maraetai. The scenic location of Lake Maraetai, close to both Tokoroa and Mangakino townships, makes it a popular spot for a wide range of recreational pursuits.

Lake Arapuni

The Arapuni Hydro-electric Power Station has artificially created Lake Arapuni. The dam was built in 1929 and was the first dam on the Waikato River. Lake Arapuni only contains 1.25% of the total storage for the hydro system.












This lake however is the second largest lake of the hydro system and covers 9.4 km2. The location of the power station is in what used to be Paturuahine Gorge.

The average height of the lake behind the dam is approximately 110.7 m about 1 meter below the maximum level and 1-½ meters above the required minimum of the lake. The station is 161 km downriver from the lake and only 13 km upstream from Lake Karapiro.

Lake Karapiro

Lake Karapiro is the last in the chain of hydro power stations on the Waikato River and is 188 km downstream from Lake Taupo. The lake is best known as a world-class rowing venue as well as being popular with power boats, water skiers and yachties. The World Rowing Championships were held on the lake and are coming back in 2010.

Sir Patrick Hogan and Sir Tristram

The Cambridge area is famous for its stud horse farms with the Cambridge Stud being the best known. In 1976 as he was preparing his newly arrived stallion prospect for his first season at Cambridge Stud, Patrick Hogan could only have dreamed that Sir Tristram would succeed to the unprecedented degree he would.
Of course his new owners in New Zealand placed their faith not in the cut and dried arena of the racetrack alone but in the blood behind their new sire prospect. Over the next two decades Sir Tristram was to repay that faith a million times over.


Hamilton has always been the centre of the Waikato, one of the world's best agricultural regions. One of New Zealand's greenest cities, Hamilton is also the largest inland city in New Zealand, with a population of over 100,000 people. Originally called Kirikiriroa when the first Maori inhabited the region, it was later renamed Hamilton after Captain Fane Charles Hamilton, the popular commander of HMS Esk, who was killed in the battle of Gate Pa, Tauranga.







The Waikato River was once Hamilton's only transport and communications link and the city is still closely-linked to the river, with the MV Waipa paddle steamer being a big tourist attraction.


Ngaruawahia is situated 19 Kilometres North West of Hamilton. It is the Maori capital of New Zealand, housing the Maori Queen, and boasting the magnificent Turangawaewae Marae. The Maori Queen, Te Atairangikaahu, was the first queen and the sixth person to hold this office; she died in 2006. The Turangawaewae Marae is open only once per year, during the annual regatta, which is held on or the nearest Saturday to the 17th March. Ngaruawahia is located where the two rivers, Waikato and Waipa, meet. These rivers were once canoe routes of great importance to both the Maori and later to the European. This aspect is celebrated every summer with the famous Ngaruawhaia Regatta.

Meremere in 1928

Work on the major redevelopment of State Highway 1 near Meremere was suspended for more than a month after the Ngati Naho, a sub tribe of the Tainui, complained of an insult to its beliefs. Under an agreement between Transit New Zealand and local Maori, the mythological creature will not be disturbed by an embankment for the new Waikato expressway. A rocky bank will be built, allowing the road embankment to be narrower and steeper than planned, so it doesn't encroach on the swamp, believe the one-eyed taniwha has its lair. Ngati Naho believes the taniwha spends half the year in the swamp and they say it has a second home in the Waikato River, to which it swims during floods.

Mercer Statue

The statue stands on top of a gun turret from the steamer Pioneer. This was used on the Waikato River by General Cameron in his 1863 campaign in the Waikato. Built in 17 weeks in Sydney, Pioneer could carry 300 men and the 2 turrets had 24 pound howitzers. Mercer was the base of the Roose Shipping Line which in its heyday in the 1920’s, ran freight, passenger and excursion services from the sea at Port Waikato upstream as far as Cambridge. The remains of two of these vessels can be seen on the west bank of the river between Mercer and Meremere. The hulks of the large paddle steamer Rawhiti and the smaller steamer Freetrader lie there in a much deteriorated state. 1996 saw the end of more than a century of commercial freight business on the river.

Port Waikato Beach

Port Waikato is the source of the black iron sand used at the country’s largest steel mill, located at nearby Glenbrook. The sand is taken from the Mairoa forest on the north shore of the Waikato River mouth outlet.


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