At the Aratiatia Rapids, the Waikato River falls 28 metres in the space of one kilometre. The surging rapids have been harnessed to produce environmentally sustainable hydroelectric power.
To view the Aratiatia Rapids gradually filling up, make sure you arrive a few minutes before the dam is due to release. There are three lookout points on the high rock bluffs that overlook the river.
Aratiatia Rapids IS NOT a safe place to swim. The dam can release water at any time and without warning.
Summer release hours (October to March) - 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm
Winter release hours (April to September) - 10am, 12pm, 2pm
Important safety warning
Swimming IS NOT permitted at the Aratiatia Rapids. It is extremely dangerous and sadly death and injuries have occurred in the past. The dam can potentially open at anytime.
Before every opening of the dam warning sirens can be heard. Listen out for these warnings and ensure only viewing from a safe viewing point. Please note that the dam gates may release at any time without warning!
Stay out of the Aratiatia Rapids spillway and downstream area at ALL times. Never enter, swim or kayak in this area.
Pay attention to signs, safety warnings and sirens. These safety warnings are in place to keep us all safe.
Remember the only way to stay safe is to stay out of the spillway and downstream area completely.
Be aware that planned and unplanned water spills may occur at any time without warning. The spillway is live at all times, even if the siren does not sound
Aratiatia Rapids - scene of The Hobbit
Some of the most memorable scenes from Peter Jackson's movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, are the dwarves escaping from the captivity of the Elves by hiding in barrels which were thrown down stream. Filming was done at two locations, the Aratiatia Rapids on the Waikato River, and the South Island’s beech tree-lined Pelorus River in the Marlborough region.
Aratiatia Rapids were an ideal setting for the scene because the spillway turned the otherwise dry gorge into a fast flowing waterfall.
The film crew dropped 20 to 25 barrels down the rapids every time there was a dam release. They worked with a local river company to safely release and retrieve the barrels.
The Hobbit crew spent two days shooting the scene. For your peace of mind, you will be happy to know that no actors or stunt crew were forced into the barrels as they were released on the rapids.
The Hobbit story is about the adventure of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins who goes in search of treasure with 13 dwarfs. The scene shot along the Aratiatia Rapids is part of an escape where Bilbo Baggins rescues the dwarfs from elves by hiding them in barrels which float downstream.