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Aratiatia Rapids and Aratiatia Dam- the best place to visit at Taupō

Aratiatia Rapids

After our recent visit to Queenstown, we began contemplating our options for exploring the North Island before returning to Malaysia at the end of the month. Our local in-laws proposed a captivating 4-day and 3-night journey to the Taupō and Rotorua region. This post is all about our first stop, Aratiatia Rapids.

Intrigued by the prospect of discovering an area we had yet to explore during our previous trips to New Zealand, we immediately agreed to embark on this exciting adventure.

We began our journey from Auckland, driving directly to the car park at Aratiatia Rapids. The entire trip took us approximately four hours, and we started early to ensure we wouldn’t miss the water release schedule of the Aratiatia Dam.

1. Arriving at Aratiatia Rapids

Aratiatia Rapids

The Taupō region stands as a captivating holiday destination for many reasons. Its abundant waterways, impressive geothermal area, rugged rocky outcrops, and lush forests contribute to a tapestry of intriguing natural elements.

We reached the car park at 11:45 am,  just before the scheduled water release at noon. Ample parking lots are available for cars and campervans at the Aratiatia Dam.

On the opposite side of the road, we followed a sign pointing us toward the Aratiatia Rapids Walk. The short walk offers two viewing platforms: mid and top viewpoints.

Memorial stone

Aratiatia Rapids

A memorial stone is at the fork of the trail towards the mid-viewpoint.

We continue walking up to the top viewpoint. However, we realized it was quite distant from the rapids. Recognizing this, we hurriedly descended back to the mid viewpoint, and it was during our descent that we first heard the sound of the sirens, indicating the imminent release of water. 

We arrived at the mid-viewpoint on time. Perched upon the high rock bluffs, this lookout point offers panoramic views of the river below.

As we eagerly awaited the spectacle, other visitors continued to arrive, accompanied by the sound of second sirens that signaled the imminent opening of the dam. 

Three sirens are sounded, each at five-minute intervals, effectively providing ample notice of the impending moment.

Besides the lookout points, a group of kids was viewing the releases from the main Aratiatia Bridge near the car park.

2. Water released from Aratiatia Dam

the best place to visit at Taupō

As soon as the dam initiated the opening of its floodgates, an incredible sight unfolded before our eyes! None of us knew what to expect, but the initial moments proved surreal as the water gradually filled the first pool near the dam.

the best place to visit at Taupō

However, a remarkable transformation occurred when the water overflowed into the narrow gorge. The rushing water surged through the gorge, encountering no obstacles to impede the force of the mighty Waikato River. The waves crashed with tremendous power, cascading an impressive 28 meters within a mere kilometer. 

Aratiatia Falls

For 15 minutes, the dam gates remained open, completely submerging the gorge. A breathtaking display of white foam could be witnessed in both directions as the forceful surge relentlessly coursed through the canyon, gradually dissipating into the calmer waters downstream.

Aratiatia Falls

3. Aratiatia Dam Release Schedule

Situated on the Waikato River, downstream of Lake Taupō, Aratiatia Dam and Aratiatia Rapids lie approximately 16km from Taupo town center. 

During the summer months from October to March, the Aratiatia Dam opens at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm. From April to September, dam releases occur at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 2:00 pm in winter.

the best place to visit at Taupō

4. The historical significance of Aratiatia

the best place to visit at Taupō

The name “Aratiatia” derives from the legendary Maori explorer Tia, who was captivated by the cascading tiers of the rapids. In the Maori language, “Aratiatia” translates to “stairway of Tia.”

Back in 1964, the powerful energy of the gorge was efficiently harnessed to construct a hydroelectric dam—a sustainable approach to generating power that provides enough electricity for approximately 90,000 households! The Aratiatia Power Station holds historical significance as the first hydroelectric power station constructed on the Waikato River, which happens to be New Zealand’s longest river. 

The dam operates by redirecting the river’s headwaters through a tunnel to the power station, where the electricity is generated. As a result of the dam’s construction, the rapids no longer experienced the flow of water. However, to restore the Aratiatia Rapids to their natural state, 80,000 liters of water are released from the dam 3-4 times a day. This process transforms the rapids into turbulence, rage, and tumult, offering an awe-inspiring spectacle. Approximately half an hour later, the forceful water gradually recedes, leaving behind a serene stream—a remarkable contrast.

5. Our next destination: Huka Falls

After witnessing the magnificent water release at the Aratiatia Dam, we indulged in a delightful lunch before proceeding to our next stop: Huka Falls. We will share the highlights of our trip to Huka Falls once we have compiled the necessary footage. Stay tuned for the updates!

Watch the video we shot during our trip to 👇👇 Aratiatia Rapids.

We also upload a video we shot during our trip to Aratiatia Rapids. Please click the image below to bring you to our YouTube channel (shot in high definition!). You may also want to check out our visit to Queenstown Gardens and Huka Falls.

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