The Waikato River, the longest in New
Zealand, is located in the central North Island. Rising on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu in
Tongariro National Park as the Tongariro River, it flows north through Lake Taupo and,
issuing from the lake's northeastern corner, tumbles over Huka Falls and flows northwest
to enter the Tasman Sea south of Auckland. The river is 264 miles (425 km) long. It has a
gentle gradient and carries a heavy load of ash from the volcanic highlands. The Waikato
has formed numerous lakes and lagoons along its lower reaches.
Its principal tributaries are the Waipa and Poutu. Major towns in its valley are
Taupo, Rotorua, Cambridge, and Hamilton (head of navigation for small steamers). Eight
power stations built on the river between Taupo and Karapiro are a major source of
hydroelectric power. The artificial lakes created by the power stations are
popular recreation areas. A thermal-power station at Huntly, using coal mined nearby,
began operating in 1980. The river, whose name is Maori for "flowing water," was
the scene of several skirmishes between the British and the Waikato tribes in 1863-65.
Its power grows every metre as it draws strength from countless
drains, streams and springs. On its journey, the Waikato River churns through the turbines
of eight dams, lighting much of the North Island. It feeds on sewage from eight towns and
one city, Hamilton, and is mixed with treated waste from 10 or more major industries.
Its warmed by Huntly Power Station, thickened by fertilisers and leachates from
rubbish dumps, pumped into orchards and farms for irrigation, and drunk by 140,000 people.
The Waikato became a working river when Tainui migrated to the
region and began to farm its banks. Eventually, they saw the river as being inextricably
linked with their own history. They still view the rivers banks, water, fish and
plants in a holistic way, and have lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal.