Spilling 259 miles from Mt. Ruapehu to its terminus with the Tasman Sea, the Waikato River is the most famous—and longest—river in all of New Zealand. It’s the aquatic playground of New Zealand’s North Island, and whitewater kayakers from around the world make pilgrimages to play in its rapids.
Outside of Taupo, in the central part of the North Island, the Waikato River funnels through a canyon to form the famous Huka Falls. These violently raging yet beautiful falls are one of the largest attractions in Lake Taupo, and jet boat tours zip towards the base of the falls for an up-close view of their fury.
To the north of Lake Taupo, the Waikato River famously spills through the Aratiatia Rapids—a dam-controlled section where water is released to create a turbulent torrent of white. A hiking trail connects Huka Falls with the Aratiatia Rapids, showcasing two of Taupo’s best places to feel the Waikato’s natural power. Downstream, towards Hamilton and the King Country, the Waikato River is a popular getaway for fly-fishing, boating, and canoeing.
The most popular places to access the Waikato River are near Taupo, Hamilton, and Cambridge. Whitewater kayaking and whitewater rafting is most popular between Taupo and Turangi, whereas rowing, fishing, and flat water kayaking is popular near Hamilton and Cambridge.