Waikato River

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Waikato River passing through Hamilton
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Waikato River passing through Hamilton

The Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand. Located in the northwestern North Island, it runs for 425 kilometres from the eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, joining the Tongariro River system and emptying into Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. It drains Taupo at the lake's northeastern edge, creates the Huka Falls, then flows northwest, forming the Waikato Plains. Finally, it empties into the Tasman Sea south of Auckland at Port Waikato. The river gives its name to the Waikato region which surrounds the Waikato Plains.

The rivers main tributary is the Waipa River, which has its confluence with the Waikato at Ngaruawahia.

The Waikato River has spiritual meaning for the local Tainui Maori tribe who regard it as a source of their mana or pride. The New Zealand national marae of Turangawaewae is located close to its banks at Ngaruawahia. The name Waikato comes from Maori and translates as flowing water.

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Uses of the river

The river has long been a critical communications and transport link for the communities along its banks. The cities of Taupo and Hamilton are located on or close to its banks, as are the towns of Mangakino, Cambridge, Ngaruawahia, and Huntly.

Electricity Generation

The river has a series of eight hydroelectric power stations that generate electricity for the national grid. Between 1929 and 1971, eight dams and nine powerhouses were built to meet growing demand for electricity.

The power scheme begins at Lake Taupo which has control gates to regulate the flow of water into the river. Once released through the gates it takes nearly 18 hours for the water to flow down the river to the Tasman Sea. On its journey downstream it passes through power stations located at Aratiatia, Ohakuri, Atiamuri, Whakamaru, Maraetai,Waipapa, Arapuni and Karapiro.

Approximately 4000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity is generated annually by the scheme, which is around 13 percent of New Zealand's total electrical generating capacity.

The river also provides cooling water for the coal/gas fired thermal power station at Huntly


Environmental Issues

Two major problems currently face the river. The first is pollution due to water runoff from intensive land use in its catchment area. Dairy farming is one of the causes of this pollution. The second is a controversial plan to pump water north to Auckland to be purified and used for domestic water supply.

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