A few times each day, spill gates from a dam are opened at the top of the Aratiatia rapids and the narrow gorge fills with turbulent water surging past at up to 90,000 litres per second. Then, as the gates are closed about thirty minutes later, the turbulence recedes to a placid stream. By seeing the transition to full-flow and back again, visitors can fully appreciate the power of nature.
At Aratiatia the Waikato River falls naturally through 28 metres in the space of one kilometre. This natural drop has been harnessed for environmentally-sustainable hydroelectric power - headwaters are diverted through a tunnel to the power station. Each day at 10am, 12 noon and 2pm - and also at 4pm in summer - the flow through the Aratiatia rapids is allowed to resume its natural rate. There are several excellent vantage points on the high rock bluffs that dominate this turbulent stretch of the river.
The name Aratiatia means 'stairway of Tia'. It refers to a zig-zag pattern of stakes that allow travellers to ascend a steep climb and the early Maori explorer Tia, a high priest of the Arawa tribe, who passed through the gorge on his way to discover Lake Taupo.
A scenic two-hour hiking trail between Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids offers excellent views of the Waikato River. It passes through a 142 hectare reserve on the shores of Lake Aratiaitia at the top of the rapids. Mountain bikes are allowed on this trail.
The Aratiatia Rapids are about 10 kilometres north of Taupo. A bus from Taupo stops there several times a day on a circuit of local attractions.