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June 2015 Issue
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High and dry

Photo: Pat Barrett
The walkway and bridge are accessed on the south side of Arapuni on the Arapuni Road

Arapuni Suspension Bridge, Waikato / easy


Deep in the heart of the Waikato, hidden from the highway by the slot gorge through which the Waikato River flows is a remarkable series of hydroelectric dams. One of the most spectacular is the Arapuni and its adjacent suspension bridge, which spans the gorge and provides an eagle’s-eye-view of the dam, river, and magnificent forest.

Driving through Arapuni on our way to Putaruru, we almost missed the power station and its amazing setting in the gorge below the road. At first we only noticed the concrete dam and peaceful northern arm of Lake Arapuni, but as we headed north again, around Arapuni, the walkway signs and proximity of the gorge caught my eye.

There is no difficulty in reaching the bridge, just a short hike through a park and down a steep flight of steps to the cliff face where the spectacle awaits.

At first it’s hard to take in all the features of the gorge and power station, as they are so far below your line of sight, but that bridge captures all attention anyway and just begs to be crossed. At 152m long and 54m above the river, and with a relatively steep gradient – the east end is 8m higher than the west side – it’s visually stunning. We weren’t long in getting out on the wires and strolling towards the far end; the river hissing and foaming below where it runs from the tailrace and alongside the thickly forested banks.

As we padded the bridge deck the power station was fully revealed, tucked against the cliff in what seems to be a precarious environment. It churns out copious volumes of white water and no doubt plenty of mega-wattage for the national grid. Construction of the dam began in 1925, the suspension bridge providing access for the workers to reach the dam site from the upper level and site of present day Arapuni. At the time, its appearance, straddling the gorge, was overshadowed by the major feat of engineering occurring beneath the bridge’s decking; the Arapuni Power Station was New Zealand’s largest civil engineering project.

However, the bridge is now a tourist attraction and one of New Zealand’s longest suspension bridges.

If gaping from the bridge is not enough, there is the possibility to extend your time in the gorge environs by taking to a section of the nearby Waikato River Trail and Cycleway which passes alongside the gorge, with plenty of opportunity to explore further afield. For us though, with limited time, crossing the bridge and sensing the pulse of the river surging through the defile beneath the soles of our feet was suspense enough in the Waikato canyon.