The Waikato river essentially defines the Waikato region. Waikato is a Maori word that means flowing river. At 425 kilometres long, it is the longest river in New Zealand. Its source is the eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, and it empties into the Tasman Sea at Port Waikato, near Raglan on the west coast.
The river has a series of eight hydroelectric power stations that generate electricity for the national grid. The river also provides cooling water for the coal/natural gas fired thermal power station at Huntly, just north of Hamilton.
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 Turangawaewae is close to its banks at Ngaruawahia. In 2008, the Crown and Tainui reached a settlement for historical claims over the Waikato River, resulting in shared control and management of the river by Tainui and other local bodies. Here is a newspaper report of the settlement deal.
The river splits Hamilton into two parts: the west side and the east side. However, most inhabitants refer to the two parts as either "this side" or "that side", depending on which side of the river they happen to find themselves at the time! I live on the east side, and rarely go across to the west side, except for the occasional swim at the public pool.
This photo was taken from the Flagstaff pedestrian bridge, looking back towards the Pukete bridge and the city centre.