Port Waikato is on the south bank of the Waikato River at its outflow into the Tasman Sea, in northern New Zealand. Now a small town with a population of under 300 (the town straddles three meshblocks which had populations of 51, 228 and 162 in 2013, though the District Council says the population was 1006) it was an important port during the New Zealand Land Wars of the 19th century. It was the first of the colonial settlements to be constructed after the wars, being started in 1863. It had until then been called Putataka, but soon the present name was in general use. The Māori name remains for the 354 m (1,161 ft) hill above the town.
For many years Port Waikato was the transhipment point between ships of the Northern Steamship Co and the river steamers of the Waikato Shipping Co, run by Caesar Roose. The frequency increased to twice a week in 1924. At the same time a Cambridge to Port Waikato excursion was being run 2 or 3 times a year, taking 12 to 14 hours downstream and a few hours longer upstream.
The Port has a Wharf Store, established 1893, a take-away shop, café, campground, library, community hall, fire station, surf lifesaving club, yachting club and an active fishing club.
Port Waikato is a well-known surfing and whitebaiting destination and a popular holiday spot. Fish can be caught off the rocks and surf beach, and off the sand dunes that border the river mouth. Flounder and mullet are also plentiful using drag nets. It is also one of the few places dinosaur fossils can be found in New Zealand.
Just south of the town are spectacular limestone outcrops where Weathertop footage from the Lord of the Rings was shot.
A school camp was established near the town in the 1920s, which boasts a well-formed BMX track. Port Waikato also serves as a popular wedding destination.
Port Waikato is a 75-minute drive south from Auckland's central business district, or a bus runs on Thursdays.
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