The Waikato River is the longest river in New Zealand, running for 425 kilometres (264 mi) through the North Island. It rises in the eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, joining the Tongariro River system and flowing through Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. It then drains Taupo at the lake's northeastern edge, creates the Huka Falls, and flows northwest through the Waikato Plains. It empties into the Tasman Sea south of Auckland, at Port Waikato. It gives its name to the Waikato region that surrounds the Waikato Plains. The present course of the river was largely formed about 17,000 years ago. Contributing factors were climate warming, forest being reestablished in the river headwaters and the deepening, rather than widening, of the existing river channel. The channel was gradually eroded as far up river as Piarere, leaving the old Hinuera channel through the Hinuera Gap high and dry. The remains of the old river path can be clearly seen at Hinuera where the cliffs mark the ancient river edges. The river's main tributary is the Waipa River, which has its confluence with the Waikato at Ngāruawāhia.
|• location||Lake Taupo|
|0.0 metres (0 ft)|
|Length||425 kilometres (264 mi)|
|Basin size||13,701 km2 (5,290 sq mi) to Mercer|
|• average||327 m3/s (11,500 cu ft/s)|
The name Waikato comes from the Māori language and translates as flowing water. The Waikato River has spiritual meaning for various local Māori tribes, including the large Tainui, who regard it as a source of their mana, or pride. The widely respected marae of Tūrangawaewae is close to its banks at Ngāruawāhia.
For many years Tainui tribe have sought to re-establish their links to the river after the New Zealand Wars (see Invasion of the Waikato) and the subsequent confiscations of the 1860s, and are continuing negotiations with the New Zealand government. The Tainui iwi was advised not to bring a case for the river before the Waitangi Tribunal as they would not win. An out of court settlement was arranged and the deed of settlement signed by the Crown and Waikato-Tainui in August 2008 settled the raupatu claim to the Waikato River, although other claims for land blocks and harbours are still outstanding. Waikato-Tainui now have joint management of the river with the Waikato Regional Council.