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About the Waikato River

Photo of Waikato RiverThe Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand. Its catchment covers 14,260 square km or 12 per cent of the area of the North Island. The river starts its journey to the sea from high in the central North Island volcanic zone, 2797 metres above sea level.

From there it flows into Lake Taupo. Leaving the lake, the river cuts through the volcanic plateau flowing north, passing through eight hydro electric dams, and onto the lowlands from Cambridge to Mercer.

The river finally flows into the Tasman Sea at Port Waikato after a journey of 425 km from Lake Taupo.

The Waikato River is a tupuna (ancestor), a taonga (treasure), and the mauri (life force) of Tainui Waka and Ngati Tuwharetoa.

Key facts


425km – New Zealand’s longest river


Mt Ruapehu


Flows out to sea at Puuaha o Waikato (Port Waikato)

Passes through

Lake Taupō, Huka Falls, Cambridge, Hamilton, Ngaruawahia and Huntly

Taonga to

Waikato-Tainui, Raukawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa and the Te Arawa iwi

  •  The Waikato region generates more power than any other region in New Zealand. There are eight hydro electric dams, capable of generating 1450MW of electricity, in the middle reach of the river.
  • It takes several weeks for a drop of water to flow from Taupo to Port Waikato, without the dams it would take about seven days.
  • Lake Karapiro, the largest hydro lake on the river, is home to a variety of cultural and sporting events, including those at an international level.
  • Find out more about the history of the Waikato River and what it means for Waikato River iwi here.
  • Find out about the relationship the tribes of Waikato have with the Waikato River and their concerns about its health in Waikato Te Awa – a taonga.


The health of the Waikato River and catchment

The following report was prepared for the Guardians Establishment Committee in March 2008.

The health of the Waikato River and catchment - information for the Guardians Establishment Committee [PDF, 688 KB]