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Waikato River, Rotorua Overview

Flowing in all its glory for four hundred and twenty-five kilometres, the Waikato River has bagged the title of the longest river in New Zealand. Its journey begins in the central part of the North Island, from the eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, from which it flows through the largest lake of New Zealand, Lake Taupo, while joining the Tongariro River System.

The naming of this river has an interesting background. The word Waikato translates to “flowing water” in the Maori language, and this gushing water body is held with great significance among the tribes who inhabit the area. The large Maori tribe, Tainui, consider it to be one of the primary sources of their pride and dignity, or as they call it, ‘mana’. The lake goes on to descend into the depths of the magnificent Huka Falls before cutting through the Waikato Plains running past nine hydroelectric power stations, and finally emptying itself into the vast Tasman Sea at Port Waikato.

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Things to Do


The Waikato River provides a great environment for public cruises. The light breeze, coupled with the soft gurgling of the river adds a certain enchanting aura to the place. There are a number of different cruises that you can choose from, depending on which path you would like to explore.

There are cruises which take people from Aratiatia to the steep Huka Falls, the ones which begin from Hamilton Gardens and take people through the Fairfield Bridge while also paying a visit to the Mystery Creek, and other cruises which take people across the river itself to have a look at the Orakei Korako, or, the Hidden Valley. A relatively new course has also opened up for public cruising since 2009, whose journey begins from Tuakau and ends at Port Waikato.


Perhaps the most common recreational activity, the serene Waikato River is extremely popular among boating and kayaking enthusiasts. If you are looking for less river traffic, it is suggested that you avoid that section of the river which cuts through Hamilton, since this area witnesses numerous clubs and schools with rowing riffs, thus experiencing diverse river traffic.

For the more adventurous in spirit, you can also participate in the rowing races that are often held here. Jet skis provide an exciting activity to people, while the river is also home to kayaks, canoes, rafts, and waka.

Cycle Trails:- 

Other activities that make it a renowned place among tourists and locals alike include the Waikato River walk trails as well as cycle trails. Consisting of five sections, these trails fall between Aratiatia and Lake Karapiro.

While moving through these tracks, you shall come across vast farmlands, wetlands, landmarks that are of historical significance, as well as views of several tranquil lakes.  Recently, a relaxed horse trek has also come into operation, to give you an extraordinary experience while enjoying the lush surroundings.


The Waikato River is home to a wide variety of water plants and animals. From native fish to the newly introduced ones, from aquatic plants to invertebrates, this river is a significant space of ecological diversity.

There are at least nineteen different species of native fish to be found in this water body, among which the yellow-eyed mullet, shortfin and longfin eels, torrent fish, black flounder, giant kokopu, and lamprey, are just to name a few.

Apart from these, several species of fish have been introduced to the river, including koi carp, rainbow trout, catfish, and gambusia, among others.

Among the plants, one may find that the river teems with hornwort, oxygen weed, sweet grass, and bulrush.

Snails, freshwater sponges, koura, and worms have also found a home on the Waikato river bed.

How To Reach Waikato River

  • Waikato is located to the south of Auckland, on the western coast of the North Island.
  • If you start from the former, you can drive along the Southern Motorway before proceeding towards the State Highway 1.
  • You shall arrive at Hamilton, the main city of Waikato, in about an hour and forty minutes. 
  • If you prefer travelling by train, then you may take the Overlander Train, which halts at Hamilton before moving to its final destination, Wellington.

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