Story: Volcanic Plateau places
Page 9 – Wairākei to Ōhakuri
Waikato River – Taupō to Waipapa
From Lake Taupō’s outlet, at the lake’s northern end, the Waikato River flows through the Volcanic Plateau in a huge loop before leaving it at Waipapa. After cutting down into volcanic deposits, most dramatically at the Huka Falls and Aratiatia Rapids, it flows north-east through low-lying land around Broadlands and Reporoa – at one time part of a much larger Lake Taupō.
The river then turns north-west, cutting into more volcanic deposits. Since the 1950s its flow has been harnessed by hydroelectric power stations at Ōhakuri, Ātiamuri, Whakamaru, Maraetai and Waipapa.
Geothermal field and power station, settlement and resort, 10 km north of Taupō. The field has hot springs, steam and pools. The Wairākei geothermal power station, the first in New Zealand and the second in the world (the first was at Larderello in northern Italy) was built between 1956 and 1963. It has a 175-megawatt capacity. The station reduced geothermal activity – the Karapiti blowhole, which used to display to 60 metres, was destroyed, but some activity can still be seen in the Craters of the Moon reserve.
There has been a resort at Wairākei since the 1880s. The golf course was upgraded to international standard in 1970.
Dumped in the river
In February 1989 the body of cricket umpire Peter Plumley-Walker was found floating below the Huka Falls, with wrists and ankles bound. A teenage dominatrix and her partner were tried three times for murder and finally acquitted. It is alleged that Plumley-Walker died during a bondage session at their Auckland house, and the pair took the body to Taupō and dumped it into the river.
The Huka Falls are the most dramatic natural feature on the Waikato River north of Taupō. About 5 km from the lake outlet, the river plunges over an 11-metre ledge after passing through a 230-metre chasm. The relentless, turbulent water can be watched from a swing bridge or lookouts, close enough for visitors to be drenched in spray. The falls also attract adventurous kayakers. The falls appear white and intense ice-blue, as suggested by their name (huka means froth or sugar). The luxury Huka Lodge is upstream.
Rapids, dam and hydroelectricity station on the Waikato River, 12–13 km north-east of Taupō. The station was built between 1959 and 1964, and has a 90-megawatt capacity. Its dam forms Lake Aratiatia, which stretches 6–7 kilometres upstream. Aratiatia means the stairway of Tia, a Te Arawa ancestor. The spillways alongside the dam are opened daily to activate the rapids downstream, and the rush of water is watched by 60,000 visitors each year.
Settlement on the Waikato River, 32 km north-east of Taupō. Ōhaaki is the site of New Zealand’s second geothermal power station, opened in 1989 with a 108-megawatt capacity. The local Ngāti Tahu people were consulted over its construction and operation. The station uses a tower to cool the water and re-injects condensate into the geothermal field to conserve it. Steam production has declined as cool water from the geothermal field’s edges encroach on production wells, and output has fallen to about 40 megawatts.
A geothermal area on the west bank of the Waikato River, at the southern end of man-made Lake Ōhakuri. Much of the geothermal field was flooded when the lake formed. Visitors can still take a boat across the river to view silica terraces and a geyser.
Lake and hydroelectric power station on the Waikato River, 37 km north-west of Taupō by road, 80 km downstream by river. The 112-megawatt station was built in 1956–61, forming Lake Ōhakuri, the North Island’s largest artificial lake at 13 sq km. The campground gets around 20,000 visitors annually.
Returned servicemen took up land between Ōhakuri and upper Ātiamuri after the Second World War. They are remembered in the road names Matapan, Maleme, Galatos (from the ill-fated Greece and Crete campaigns of 1941) and Dunkirk.