Several times a day, the spill gates from a dam on the Waikato River are opened and transform the otherwise calm waterway into a turbulent melee of white-water rapids. As it courses through the gorge, the raging power of the river is harnessed by a nearby power plant in order to produce hydroelectric power.
The Aratiatia Rapids are one of the main attractions of the Lake Taupo area. Combine a trip to the rapids with a visit to nearby Huka Falls, where you can witness the intense power of the river’s surge as it plummets down a 36-foot (11-meter) drop from a narrow ravine. Tours of the Lake Taupo region typically stop at the Aratiatia Rapids and Orakei Korako geothermal area, and often include a sightseeing cruise on Lake Taupo.
Things to Know Before You Go
The rapids can be viewed from two lookouts on the riverside cliffs near the main car park: one is a 5-minute walk away, while the other is about 10 minutes away
Swimming at the Aratiatia Rapids is both prohibited and extremely dangerous.
A safety siren plays before the dam opens, though spills may happen at any time, so wear a waterproof in case you get splashed.
How to Get There
The Aratiatia Rapids are situated about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the center of Taupo. Drive here via the Thermal Explorer Highway, taking the Aratiatia Road exit. The journey should take about 15 minutes.
When to Get There
In winter (April-September), the dam is released three times a day at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm. In summer (October-March), the dam is released four times a day at 10am, 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm. Arrive at least 15 minutes before the release time to ensure you have enough time to park and find a viewing spot.
The Aratiatia Rapids in*The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug*
The Aratiatia Rapids featured on the big screen in Peter Jackson’s 2013 epic,The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The rapids were, together with the Pelorus River in the Marlborough region, the filming site of the barrel escape scene, during which the dwarves escape from the elves by hiding in wine barrels that are thrown downstream.