Aratiatia Rapids

The power of nature is unleashed when dam gates open and a torrent of water surges along the riverbed.

Witness the awe-inspiring sight of rushing water when the dam gates of Aratiatia Rapids are opened. The powerful cascade fills up a narrow gorge and can be viewed from several vantage points. Once you have watched nature at work, explore the beautiful surrounding bushland on foot or by mountain bike.

The rapids are harnessed for hydroelectric power by a nearby power station. As the gates open, water spills out at up to 23,775 gallons (90,000 liters) per second. When they close, the turbulent water retreats to a gentle stream.

The rapids attracted global attention when they featured in Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit: the Desolation of the Smaug. This was one of the locations for the barrel riding scene where the dwarves try to get away from the elves. They climbed into barrels that were then hurled downstream. Rest assured that for the filming, no actors were actually in the wooden containers when they were dropped into the water.

The falls tumble down 91.8 feet (28 meters) over the course of 0.6 miles (1 kilometer). View the water show from one of the lookouts on the overlooking rocky bluffs. Another great location is from the bridge at the dam on Aratiatia Road. Alternatively, ride the rapids on a jet boat tour.

Make a day of exploring the surrounding countryside. Hike or mountain bike through the scenic reserve off Aratiatia Road, on the banks of the Waikato River. Take the 2-hour scenic trail that passes through the 351-acre (142-hectare) protected area. See an array of native flora and fauna as you go.

Aratiatia Rapids are located off State Highway 1, approximately 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) north of Taupo. Come by rental car, taxi or bus from the lakeside town. The dam’s control gates open several times a day throughout the year with an additional opening in the summer. Check the times with the Taupo Visitor Centre’s website.