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At 425km in length, the Waikato is the longest river in New Zealand. It begins on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, draining into Lake Taupo and exiting at the north-east. After flowing through a series of hydro electric dams and passing through Cambridge, Hamilton, Ngaruawahia and Huntly, the river ends as it enters the Tasman Sea at Waikato Heads.
The Waikato River offers great kayaking, boating, rowing and trout fishing spots, particularly on its picturesque hydro lakes such as Lake Karapiro, home of the 2010 World Rowing Championships. Along its banks, scenic walking and cycling tracks have been developed and have proved to be a popular way to enjoy the tranquility of the river.
Walkers, joggers and cyclist can be found enjoying the riverside paths all year round and a relaxed horse trek is another way to admire the sights of the river. Venturing on to the river is also made easy with a boat cruise through Hamilton's tree-lined cityscape which offers the chance to learn more about the city’s rich history and culture.
Waikato River Trails
The Waikato River Trails offer a myriad of stunning walking and biking tracks in the South Waikato area as part of the National Cycleway Project. These trails cover about 100km, winding their way along a path that encompasses native bush, farmland, historic landmarks, wetlands and expansive lake and river views.
The Waikato River has carved a distinctive path through the region geologically and historically, being important to both Maori and European settlement of the area.
The great voyaging Tainui waka (canoe) is said to have named the river “Waikato”, meaning “flowing water” after observing the river’s strong pull to the sea.
The river is an important taonga (treasure) of the Tainui tribe and provides a physical and spiritual sustenance for Maori in the region. A well-known tribal proverb refers to the taniwha (mythical water spirit) dwelling in the river as a metaphor for Maori chiefs: “Waikato taniwha rau, he piko he taniwha, he piko he taniwha” which translates to “Waikato of a hundred taniwha. At every bend a taniwha can be found.” The expression relates the strength of the Waikato tribes to that of the river.