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In Maori one of the meanings of "ara puni" is "blocked path" making Arapuni Lake an appropriate name for the man made reservoir on the North Island of New Zealand. The long narrow lake stretches 22 miles along the Waikato River providing both electricity and fantastic recreation opportunities.
Arapuni Lake was created by the Arapuni Dam, one of six major dams on the Waikato River. The concrete dam was built to supply hydroelectricity, and it was the first hydroelectric station built by the government on the Waikato River. Construction on the dam started in 1924, and the reservoir was completed in 1929. The dam has been through several expansions and repairs over the years including an efficiency upgrade in 2007. With eight generation units, Arapuni has the largest single capacity of any hydroelectric system station on the Waikato River. It is owned and operated by state owned Mighty River Power. The Arapuni power station is called the "Old Workhorse of the Waikato," and both the power house and dam are protected by the Historic Places Trust.
There is a road across the dam, and the Waikato River Trail starts at the suspension bridge just below the dam. Spanning the gorge, the Arapuni Swing Bridge has pedestrian access and breathtaking views. At the time of its construction, the engineering of the bridge was overshadowed by the dam, but today it is recognized and protected by the Historic Places Trust.
The Waikato River makes up both the inflow and outflow of Arapuni Lake with the Arapuni Dam at the northern end of the lake and the Waipapa Dam at the southern end. Access to the lake is from one of several boat launches, and there is more than enough water for boating, water skiing, rowing, and swimming. Because the shore access is limited, most anglers fish from a boat, and Arapuni Lake is a very popular trout lake. The lake is stocked, and healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout average five and a half pounds and 20 inches.
Arapuni is also the name of a small settlement at the dam. The rural village is an artist community made up of woodworkers, painters, potters, fabric artists, and metalworkers. The Arapuni Residents Association calls Arapuni the "Hidden Path," and the small community is a hidden treat. For visitors who want to join the quiet community, there is real estate for sale. Accommodations range from some vacation rentals to private and government run campgrounds around Lake Arapuni. Nearby towns have cafes, restaurants, and antique shopping, and Arapuni Lake is just 40 miles from Hamilton. One of New Zealand's larger cities, Hamilton has restaurants, museums and any amenities a visitor might need.
The area around Arapuni Lake has a long volcanic history. Cliffs of ignimbrite, a volcanic rock, point up like fingers on one shore of the lake. In the background, Maungatauri, an extinct volcano, rises to 2,614 feet at its peak. Maungatauri is part of the 8,406 acre Maungatauri Ecological Island, an attempt to remove invasive pests and restore the mountain's native diversity. Visitors can explore the preserve from one of the walking trails.
The interesting geological features and the creative locals combine with the beautiful water and abundant fish to make Lake Arapuni an exceptional New Zealand vacation destination.
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