Here is a guide to the best and most beautiful rivers in New Zealand and the activities that you can experience at each one.
10 Most Popular Rivers in New Zealand
Located in central North Island, the Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand. It goes on for 425 kilometres running from Mount Ruapehu till south of Auckland. The name Waikato comes from the Māori language and means flowing water. It is characterised by translucent and fluorescent water and forms into many gushing cascades. This is a major reason why Waikato River is a host to many water sports and other adventurous activities like kayaking, swimming, etc. There are many natural thermal pools you will come across while kayaking from Taupo to the Huka Falls. Ancient Maori rock carvings are also on the way, telling the history and spiritual importance of the River Waikato. The Taupo Bungy Jump platform is located above the river and gives picturesque views of the scenery around.
One of the main rivers of South Island, the 170 kilometres long river flows south across the Southland Plains draining into Foveaux Strait at the southeastern end of Oreti Beach, touching upon towns like Lumsden and Winton. The river is popular for swimming, fishing, rowing and kayaking. The Oreti River has been recognised as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International due to the breeding colonies of the endangered Black-billed Gulls.
The Clutha River is the biggest river by volume and the second most lengthy river in New Zealand. Known for its gold-rush history, swift turquoise waters and scenery, the Clutha flows through Central and South Otago from Lake Wanaka in the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean. You can cycle along the shores of the river on the Clutha Gold trail, following a mix of gentle riverside paths and an old railway line. The upper Clutha is used for adventure activities like rafting, kayaking, jet boat rides, water skiing, fishing, etc. You can also visit the vineyards nearby at Bannockburn, Tarras and Bendigo.
Hurunui River flows from the eastern side of the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean. It has two main tributaries - North and South. The source of the north branch is predominantly Lake Sumner, while the south branch originates in the Southern Alps at Harpers Pass, with hot springs nearby. Other tributaries include the Glenrae River, Jollie Brook, and the Mandamus River. With bungy jumping, jet boating, rafting, quad biking, four-wheel driving and horse riding among the activities on offer at Hurunui, adrenaline junkies will have the time of their lives.
Situated close to Havelock, Pelorus River flows midway between Blenheim and Nelson at the top of South Island. Where there is a bridge built above the river, there is a charming scenic reserve home to various exciting hikes. The hiking track leads up to a waterfall and rock pool where you can have some fun indulging in adventurous activities. The Pelorus River was chosen as a location by Sir Peter Jackson for a major scene in his movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. You can also try kayaking at the Hobbit Kayak Tour down the Pelorus from Pelorus Eco Adventures. Pitch up a tent for the night at the Pelorus Bridge Campground and enjoy swimming in the river and hiking the next morning. Head down the marked trail to spot a rare species of New Zealand’s only native land mammal - the long-tailed bat, in their natural environment.
Located on South Island's West Coast, River Karamea runs from the Allen Ranges through Kahurangi National Park to the Tasman Sea at Karamea. The river flows through the pristine national park forest and is one of New Zealand's prime wilderness brown trout fisheries. Kayaking is very popular, though caution must be taken with the weather during the winters as it can change anytime. In the upper levels of the Karamea River, the brown trout is found to be weighing as high as 4 pounds. Therefore, getting a fishing license or hiring a local guide is worth it. Get the breathtaking views of the river and the park by taking a tour on a helicopter!
The Ohinemuri River is located in New Zealand's North Island, at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula, between Waihi and Paeroa. The Karangahake Gorge offers stunning scenery and has a unique history of gold mining. Rent bikes in Waihi or Paeroa and cycle down the Hauraki Rail Trail which crisscrosses the Ohinemuri River through the dazzling gorge scenery and the 1100 metre long railway tunnel. During floods, the tempestuous river is an adrenalin thrill for kayakers.
A river in southwestern South Island, New Zealand, the Waiau rises in Lake Manapouri, flows south through the Southland district for 217 kilometres and enters the Te Waewae Bay of the Tasman Sea. The upper reaches of the river flowing between the lakes was doubled as the fictional River Anduin which featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Waiau River offers excellent scenery, peaceful atmosphere, fishing, cycling and jet boat tour opportunities through terrains not easily accessible by road or foot. Take a jet boat ride from the Te Anau waterfront where you can fish trouts as well!
New Zealand's third longest river, the Whanganui is a major river in the North Island. The river rises on the slopes of one of the three active volcanoes of the central plateau - Mount Tongariro situated close to Lake Rotoaira and then flows through the King Country of the central North Island. It has beautiful scenery and a unique history told by the local Maori people. Jet Boats ride through the forest, where you get the chance to explore Whanganui’s diverse flora and fauna, is quite popular. It is also one of the best locations in New Zealand to go kayaking.
Flowing from Ruahine Ranges to the Pacific Ocean at the southern end of Hawke's Bay, the remarkable Tukituki River is 117 kilometres long. The Te Mata Peak gives the best views of the Tukituki Valley and the Hawke's Bay. Cycling is quite popular on the trails alongside the river and also at the Tukituki Loop. Fishing is pretty prevalent due to the large population of brown trouts and wild rainbow.
While these are only a few rivers we have picked out, New Zealand has many more alluring rivers worth seeing. Not only rivers, New Zealand has countless number of natural attractions so majestic that one just cannot fail to visit them.