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Art & Heritage

Waitaki River, three dams, three lakes

  • 3 minutes

Waitaki Valley, Otago

Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki dams places to visit

Waitaki river

Waitaki River is a braided river of 209 km flowing into the Pacific Ocean between Timaru and Oamaru. Waitaki River origins are the confluence of the Ōhau and Tekapo rivers, now at the head of the artificial Lake Benmore. All these rivers are fed by glacial lakes, Pukaki, Tekapo and Ohau.

@Braided River Jet boating
@Braided River Jet boating


  • Braided River Jet Boating. Picnic with the locals as you are introduced to their world, the Waitaki River. Braided River Jet Boating is a small, family owned and operated business run by South Canterbury locals, Ronald and Anna Clearwater, offering tailor made jet boating experiences and commercial freshwater transport on waterways throughout the South Island of New Zealand.
  • Second only in flow to the mighty Clutha River to the south, the Waitaki is widely recognised for its annual salmon run and its big water trout fishing.
  • Waitaki River recreational fishing (salmon and trout). The Waitaki River is popular for trout and salmon angling and was ranked as the 6th most fished river in New Zealand in the 2014-2015 National Angling Survey. The fishery as we know it today was established in the 1930’s by the construction of the Waitaki Dam which separated the lower 65 km of river from the greater Waitaki Catchment. Source Waitaki River

Linked by the braided, crystal clear sharp blue Waitaki River, lakes Waitake, Aviemore and Benmore the lakes are now recreation places to visit in the summer with campers returning to Fisherman’s Bend year after year.


What is a braided river? The Waitaki River is a rare example of a braided river with a constantly changing river course creating new islands and wetlands as the river direction changes. The braided river is a gravel ribbon thread and a unique habitat for NZ species evolved to flourish in the ever changing freshwater environment. For more information about braided rivers check out Braided River Aid.


The key to successful fishing on the Waitaki River is knowing the flow. A flow recorder located at Kurow can be viewed on the Environment Canterbury “River Flow data” Website. Many anglers use this to gauge the fishability of the river.

How many dams are on the Waitaki River?

The Waitaki River has three dams Lake Benmore (artificial lake), Lake Aviemore and Lake Waitaki now controlled by three hydroelectric dams. The river flow is now controlled by three dams Benmore, Lake Aviemore and Lake Waitaki. The Waitaki has several tributaries, the Ahuriri River and the Hakataramea River. The Waitaki District is on the south side of the river bank in Otago province while the north side of the river is Canterbury province.


The largest earthen dam in Aotearoa New Zealand. Benmore has six 90 megawatt generating units, and a generation output of up to 540 megawatts. Benmore is the country’s second-largest hydro station after Manapōuri. It generates enough electricity each year for about 298,000 average New Zealand homes. Lake Benmore is located in Canterbury with the actual dam located in Otago, Waitaki Valley.

The view of the concrete pipes going to the power station at Benmore Dam, Waitaki Valley, New Zealand
Benmore Dam, Waitaki Valley
What is there to do at Lake Benmore?
  • Benmore Peninsula Walk. This circuit track passes through an exotic forest and around a peninsula jutting out into Lake Benmore…
  • Deep Stream Track. Walk within a flooded canyon to a shady picnic or fishing spot near Lake Aviemore in the Waitaki Valley…
  • Otamatakou Track
Can you swim in Lake Benmore?

Yes, you can swim in Lake Benmore. The Falstone Reserve Campground, Lake Benmore is a great spot for swimming with buoys ensuring boats are kept away.



The 16km section of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail that passes from Sailors Cutting – a scenic recreation and camping area to Benmore Dam is undeniably picturesque. Think of weeping willows brushing the water edge. Bike, walk or saunter past deciduous trees with views over Benmore stunning.


It is a steep climb to the top of Benmore Dam.

Can you tour Benmore Dam Hydroelectric Power Plant?

Benmore Dam, Otago you can walk, cycle or drive across the dam and there are parking and viewing areas at either end. The visitor centre is no longer open and has been replaced with a painted mural and information plaque.

Aviemore Dam, constructed in 1962 is partially earthen dam and partially low heat cement. Aviemore has the largest steel penstocks (the pipes that bring the water into the powerhouse) of any power station in New Zealand. The penstocks are 7 metres in diameter.

Aviemore hydroelectric dam, New Zealand
Aviemore hydroelectric dam
Can you swim in Lake Aviemore?

This site is monitored for recreational water quality during the summer months only. The area is managed by the Department of Conservation with several scenic walks. Check out Lake Benmore and Lake Aviemore area: Canterbury places to go.

Photo moment

Ahuriri Arm of Lake Benmore is glorious. The snowcapped mountains reflect in Lake Aviemore with sheep in the foreground is a quintessential NZ rural scene.

Waitaki Dams – Benmore check out for a virtual tour of the dam.


Ngutuparore, Wrybill bird

Try to find and observe the only bird in the world with a beak bent sideways so that I can fossick successfully for grubs and insects under stones.

Waitaki dam Power Station on the Waitaki River, New Zealand
Waitaki Power Station on the Waitaki River


Waitaki was the first power station to be built on the Waitaki River. Waitaki Dam did not divert the natural river flow. The station’s powerhouse was completed in 1934 after the dam was built. Currently the power station, with the increased water flow, has a capacity of  105MW.

Can you go camping at lake Waitaki?

Yes, you can camp. Waitaki Lakes Council offers six affordable, kiwi-style camping grounds in the beautiful Waitaki Lakes area. The sunny and sheltered camping grounds provide easy access to the lakes, rivers, local townships (Kurow, Otematata, Omarama and Twizel), a golf course, playgrounds, and walking and cycling tracks. Check Waitaki Lakes camping for camping fees, regulations and booking conditions.

Can you stay at lake Waitaki?

Yes, there is accommodation at Lake Waitaki. Lake Waitaki Lodge Resort is located on the edge of Lake Waitaki. Originally built in the 1930’s to house the Dam’s workers, Lake Waitaki village comprises several substantial houses that have been completely refurbished to comfortably accommodate families and large groups. Nearby Kurow with its gold course, museum and cafe is an added bonus.


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