Waikato River

Born on the eastern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, the longest river in New Zealand drains Lake Taupō through Taupō town, blasts through a narrow rock chasm to create the Huka Falls, then winds more peacefully northwards towards Port Waikato, south of Auckland.

Travelling the Waikato (meaning ‘flowing water’) by river float, scenic boat cruise or jet boat is one of the best ways to experience its power and beauty.

Most sections are calm and scenic, while other sections like Huka Falls are turbulent and impassable.

Huka Falls 

Otumuheke Stream has been used by local Māori for its therapeutic benefits for hundreds of years.

Almost 100km of Waikato River Trails and 34km of Huka Trails wind alongside the river, passing through native bush, exotic forest, historic landmarks, interesting rock formations, farmland, open reserves, boardwalks over significant wetlands, and expansive lake and river landscapes.

Along its length, nine hydro stations on river dams supply around 10 percent of New Zealand’s electricity.

At the Aratiatia Dam near Taupō, gates are opened several times a day to thunderously flood the steep canyon of the Aratiatia Rapids with water. This is where the famous ‘dwarf barrel’ scene from the movie The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug was filmed.

The river is the subject of many traditional Māori stories.

The most famous Māori story is the Waikato taniwha rau, or Waikato of a Hundred Water-Monsters. This refers to the many enemy tribal chiefs who once lived along the waters’ edge, and their strength and importance to the district.

Getting to the Waikato River

The Waikato River drains from Lake Taupō at Taupō Boat Harbour. From here it winds it's way through the North Island of New Zealand to the sea at Port Waikato.

There are various walking and biking access points to the river and trails. If you are driving, Spa Park, Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Dam have carparks.

Waikato River, Taupō, New Zealand

Discover more highlights

  • Scenic attractions

    Lake Taupō

    At the heart of New Zealand’s central volcanic plateau sits the largest freshwater lake in Australasia, Lake Taupō.

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  • Scenic attractions

    Tongariro River

    Flowing north from the snow-clad peaks of Tongariro National Park, the pristine Tongariro River is one of the world’s best places to catch trout.

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  • Scenic attractions

    Huka Falls

    You’ll hear the Huka Falls well before you see the waterfall – it’s the sound of nearly a quarter of a million litres of water per second erupting from a natural gorge and thundering 11m into the Waikato River below.

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  • Scenic attractions

    Geothermal

    Lying on a volcanic plateau above a vast underground lake of magma, Taupō is alive with astonishing geothermal activity.

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