Just 13km outside of Taupo, the Aratiatia Dam offers one of Taupo’s most visited free attractions and makes a popular day trip combined with a visit to the nearby Huka Falls. Feeding the Aratiatia Power Station – the Waikato River’s first hydroelectric power station dating back to the 1960s - the Aratiatia dam makes the most of the river’s natural flow, dropping 28 meters over a 1km stretch. While the water is a prime source of the region’s much celebrated environmentally-sustainable hydroelectric power system, the real attraction is watching as the dam gates are opened and thousands of liters of water rush downstream, creating the famous Aratiatia rapids.
During the summer months the dam gates are opened for 30 minutes, 4 times a day at 10am, midday, 2pm and 4pm and crowds gather at the riverside observation platforms to watch the dry gorge transform into a thundering waterfall. The rapids are the biggest in the country with up to 90,000 liters hurtling into the gorge per second and taking a jet boating or kayaking trip is the most adrenaline–fueled way to get a close-up view.
To further explore the area, a 2-hour walking trail runs from the dramatic Huka Falls all the way to the Aratiatia dam, where you can enjoy spectacular vistas along the river and rapids from the many viewing platforms en route.