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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 11 (February 1, 1940)

The Waikato River — From Mountain Plateau to the Sea

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The Waikato River
From Mountain Plateau to the Sea

The Huka Falls, Waikato River.

The Huka Falls, Waikato River.

It rises from Ruapehu, whose shining ramparts lift so mightily above the upland plains of National Park, in the very centre of the North Island. The waters of the Little Waikato are swift and cold, fed from the great blue-white snowfields which cap the eastern ramparts of the mountain. Onward, the little torrent rushes, skirting that desert region which the Maori calls Te Rangi Po, the Place-Where-The-Sky-IsDark, where, so many hundred years ago, back in the dawn of Maori history, the great war-priest Ngatoro called down fire from Heaven upon his enemies. On the waters flow, and other streams join and swell them, Oturere from the Old Crater, Waihohonui, leaping downward from the Great Rift of Ngauruhoe, Mangatawai out of the steam-torn flanks of Tongariro.

Now the onrushing waters leap among great round boulders, and down the bright foaming cascades of the Waikato Falls; they swirl on through the golden tussock country, past grassy meadows starred with alpine flowers, and by thickets where the white and crimson snowberry bushes grow among the lichened stones. They see the grim scored flanks of Ngauruhoe and his smoking peak; they see the rugged dignity of Tongariro and the spreading mist-cloud of the Ketetahi Springs.

Then comes the joining with the Poutu, the outlet river of lovely mysterious Roto-A-Ira, and now the blended waters are the Tongariro. There is magic in the name of the Tongariro River; its musical syllables haunt trout fishermen the world over.

With the new name, the river takes on new dignity. It is green-white, foaming, translucent; it sweeps majestically beneath white pumice cliffs, and by thickets of tea-tree and kowhai, and the silver-plumed toi-toi, bright in the sunshine. The current slides by foaming boulder islands with a long sighing roar, and gathers to lie quiet in deep green pools as magically clear as liquid emerald. Here the great mountain rainbows hide like dappled sunshine among the stones, sight to set a fisherman's pulses racing. For here are some of the great trout-fishing spots of the world, Duchess Pool and Admiral Pool, Zane Grey Camp, and the famous Dreadnought Bluff.

Now, turning beneath the green shadow of graceful Pihanga Mountain, the river runs swifter, hastening to the moment when it shall merge its waters with the cold translucent flow of Taupo Lake. Spreading, three-mouthed, in a rippling tide about the great silver fan of the Tongariro Delta, it leaves Tokaanu behind, and passes into the Lake. The vast reaches of that inland sea glimmer away to the far horizon in the sunlight; the hills rise blue, marked by vast white cliffs and the white scars of pumice slides.

There is a Maori belief that the body of the river moves irresistibly from South to North across the Lake; perhaps in deference to this, the outlet at Taupo is called the Waikato.

It breaks from the Lake with a great swirl and wave of silent water. Now it is deep, jade-green, powerful, and filled with a mighty urge of movement. It is so clear that forty feet looks like a pane of glass. It passes by the wharf and the white boat-houses, and
The Aratiatia Rapids.

The Aratiatia Rapids.

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A Maori War Canoe on the Waikato River, near Ngaruawahia.

A Maori War Canoe on the Waikato River, near Ngaruawahia.

through the green banks of the old Constabulary orchard that is a motorcamp now.

The river turns toward Wairakei, and the banks are grey rock walls. They confine the current to an irresistible force that hurtles on, as though to doom, toward the pale mist of spray which hangs over the canyon of the Huka Falls. From that roaring drop, it is flung on, swifter and swifter yet, green as emeralds and white as snow, caught in the narrowing gorge of the Aratiatia, and plunged in a glorious maelstrom of colour and fury which shakes the very earth in its majesty.

Wairakei is left far behind, that wonderland of leaping steam and opal waters, and the river begins to run quieter, fuller, broader. It passes by native villages, by blue upland plains, and far pine plantations. The steamplumes of Ohaki rise like tall white flowers by the green banks.

A little way more, and the colour and glory of the Place-of-Adorning … Orakei-Korako … is thrown down by the banks like a necklace of precious stones. Cool and green and shining, the waters of Waikato slide by rosecoloured cliffs, by rocks streaked with gold and flame and saffron, by the lacy diamond fret of geysers, by glistening slides of unearthly white silica.

The waters pass the legend-haunted valley of Atiamuri, and the great rock, and imperceptibly the fascination and colour of the thermal lands is beginning to be left behind. Away and ahead is Arapuni. The current is turned to its man-diverted bed, and to the great water-races and the humming turbines. The power flows out by the tall steel pylons, over the hills and across the Island to farm and home and factory and street.

But the waters flow on, regaining their powerful placidity. Now they enter upon farming country; they pass by the little town of Cambridge with its wide grey streets and English trees and rolling green fields. They pass by hayfields, mellow under the summer sun, by grazing herds of cattle, by sheep dotting the long slopes with white.

On through the famed farming lands of the Waikato Valley the waters pass; they approach Hamilton, and pass through the grey town in a great shining curve of gentle colour. Misty elms and willows look down to the water; gardens line the banks; the long traffic bridge cuts a perfect are above the reflections.

The Waikato flows northward, stronger, deeper, still more powerful.
The Wakahake Rapids, Waikato River.

The Wakahake Rapids, Waikato River.

It passes through the country of the Maori king, by old bush valleys where the echo of the war-conch still seems to linger, where palisaded forts crumble among the fern, and battle-canoes lie rotted in the shallows. Flourishing Maori villages line the banks, and peaceful farm lands. At Ngaruawahia is held the famous Regatta, when Maoris from all over the Island gather, and the crack oarsmen of the Dominion come to wrestle for honour upon that smooth-flowing stretch of water.

But the river flows inexorably northward, through the willow stretches and overflows of Mercer, greener, mistier, moving slower and slower. It is near the end of its journey now; it turns westward, away from the ways of men, toward the bush and the lazy tidal stretches, and slowly, majestically, widening and swelling, it passes down the inlet to the sea.

Safety By Rail

The American transport accident figures for 1938 have been analysed by statisticians whose conclusions indicate once again the superior safety of railways over other forms of transport. Passengers are 14 times safer in a train in the United States than in a bus, 32 times safer than in a regular air liner, and 544 times safer than in a passenger aeroplane of any type. Statistics of this kind deserve an airing now and then if only to remind one that “Safer by Rail” is more than a mere slogan.