Spilling 259 miles (417 kilometers) from Mt. Ruapehu to its terminus at the Tasman Sea, the Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand. Located outside of Taupo, in the central part of the North Island, this river forms the lifeblood of the region’s aquatic playground. Kayakers from around the world come to play in its rapids.
The Waikato River funnels through a canyon to form Huka Falls. Jet boat and helicopter tours zip toward the base of the falls for an up-close view of their fury. The area downstream is popular for fly-fishing, boating, and canoeing. A gentle river cruise or kayak/rafting excursion on tranquil waters is an ideal choice for families or beginning paddlers and may include an opportunity to soak in thermal pools.
Things to Know Before You Go
No experience is necessary on guided kayak trips, as paddling instruction is provided.
Use sunscreen, and wear clothing and shoes appropriate for getting wet.
Bring a towel and swimwear for dipping into the river or thermal springs.
Children must be accompanied by an adult; minimum ages may apply.
The Huka Falls footbridge is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.
How to Get There
The most popular places to access the Waikato River for white-water kayaking and rafting are between Taupo and Turangi, whereas rowing, fishing, and flat-water kayaking are popular near Hamilton and Cambridge. Huka Falls is easily reached by public bus from Taniwha Street in downtown Taupo. It’s a 10-minute drive via the Thermal Explorer Highway and Huka Falls Road. Parking on-site fills quickly in the high season.
When to Get There
Most rafting and jet boat excursions operate year-round; some offer morning or afternoon departures to suit your schedule. Arrive early for a safety briefing and to ensure plenty of time to gear up. Jet boats typically have heated handrails, and spray jackets are provided in cooler months.
Where to View the Raging Waters
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 white torrent. A hiking trail connects Huka Falls with the Aratiatia Rapids, connecting two of Taupo’s best places to feel the Waikato’s natural power.