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Witness the awe-inspiring transformation of a dry, rocky gorge into a roaring river as millions of litres of water are unleashed from Aratiatia Dam, forming thundering turquoise-coloured rapids over ancient volcanic remnants.
Arrive just before the scheduled dam release to experience the blaring sirens and see the Aratiatia Dam gates open before the surging Waikato River fills the narrow gorge with frothy, turbulent waters.
For all the highlights, the road bridge beside the car park provides an excellent vantage point to watch 80,000 litres of water per second begin its rapid descent over one kilometre. Then, after watching the dam gates open, quickly walk to the first of the two lookouts perched on high rock bluffs (Mid Viewpoint) to eyeball the downstream action and feel its misty spray. The furthest lookout, Top Viewpoint, is another five minutes away.
Since 1964, the Aratiatia Power Station has harnessed the Waikato River above the rapids for hydroelectric power generation. The timed releases are purely for show, to give visitors a glimpse of how the rapids would have once looked.
10am, 12pm and 2pm daily, and an additional release at 4pm between October and March.
Summer release hours (October to March) - 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm
Winter release hours (April to September) - 10am, 12pm, 2pm
Swimming, kayaking or walking is NOT permitted in the spillway or downstream area as it is extremely dangerous. It is extremely dangerous and sadly, death and injuries have occurred in the past. The dam can potentially open at any time.
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 be released at any time without warning! Please pay attention to signs, safety warnings and sirens.
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
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 that were thrown downstream. 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 was 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 that float downstream.
|The car park is beside the bridge. Mid Viewpoint (250 metres one way). Top Viewpoint (350 metres one way).
The bridge is beside the car park.
Allow 5 minutes to the Mid Viewpoint and 10 minutes to the Top Viewpoint.
|Suitable for buggies, bikes and wheelchairs near the bridge. Walking and biking only on the dirt lookout trails.
|Return via the same track from the lookouts.
|Toilet available at the car park.
|Drive north past the Wairākei roundabout onto SH5 before turning onto Aratiatia Road. About 15 minutes from Taupō.
|Transport and guides:
|Dogs are allowed on leads.
|Latest trail updates:
|Aratiatia Rapids Track