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Karapiro Power Station
Part of the Karapiro Dam
Karapiro Power Station is located in New Zealand
Karapiro Power Station
Location of Karapiro Power Station in New Zealand
Country New Zealand
Location Near Cambridge, Waikato
Coordinates 37°55′26″S 175°32′21″E / 37.92389°S 175.53917°E / -37.92389; 175.53917
Status Operational
Construction began 1940 (1940)
Opening date May 1948 (May 1948)
Owner(s) Mercury Energy
Dam and spillways
Type of dam Arch dam
Impounds Waikato River
Height 52.4 m (172 ft)
Length 335 m (1,099 ft)
Width (crest) 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in)
Width (base) 15.2 m (50 ft)
Spillways Four
Creates Lake Karapiro
Surface area 7.7 km2 (3.0 sq mi)
Maximum water depth 30.5 m (100 ft)
Power station
Type Conventional
Hydraulic head 30 m (98 ft)
Turbines 3 × Kaplan
Installed capacity 90 MW
Annual generation 525 GWh

The Karapiro Power Station is a hydroelectric power station at Karapiro on the Waikato River, in the North Island of New Zealand. The power station lies on Lake Karapiro, a major rowing regatta venue. Karapiro is 30 kilometres (19 mi) south-east and upstream from the city of Hamilton and several kilometres from Cambridge. It is the last of the eight hydroelectric power stations on the Waikato River.

Karapiro is a baseload power station, as it is required to maintain water flow in the lower Waikato River even during low inflows to the catchment and during low electricity demand. Only two turbines are required to keep the river flow at a reasonable level, with the third turbine being available for peak generation and during maintenance on either of the other turbines.

Like all of the hydroelectric power stations on the Waikato River, Karapiro is operated by electricity generator Mercury Energy.


Karapiro was the second power station built in the Waikato hydro scheme, after Arapuni. Construction of the dam and power station began in 1940, but a materials and labour shortage due to World War II meant progress was slow. The station was completed in 1947, four years behind schedule.

The creation of Lake Karapiro behind the dam flooded the Horahora Power Station, the first power station built on the Waikato River.

The first generator was commissioned on 10 April 1947, just six days after Horahora was flooded. However, problems with the guide bearing meant full generation didn't start until 21 April 1947. The second generator was commissioned on 21 September 1947. In the first 12 months (to 31 March 1948), the station produced 349,568 megawatt-hours of electricity, just over 20 percent of the North Island's electricity requirements.

The third and final generator was commissioned in May 1948.

Aerial View of Karapiro Hydro Power Station
Aerial view of Karapiro Hydro Power Station, Waikato River, February 1969

The bridge over the spillway is the only road access to the turbine hall. The first bridge had a supporting column in the center of the bridge. The bridge was destroyed by the water running through the spillway in a significant flood event (Source: Mighty River Photo archives). The replacement bridge is as you see today with no supporting column.

To the left of the four spillway gates are three siphon tubes. These were designed for the management of the lake level under normal river flow and the spillway gates were to be used in only extreme conditions. The design of the siphon tubes was faulty: The flow of water was supposed to be stopped by a blast of air, but this never worked properly - resulting in the spillway gates to be used for lake level control.


The Dam's spillway.

Karapiro's powerhouse is located on the northern bank of the river, with a diversion tunnel and spillway also on the northern bank. The river is dammed by a concrete arch dam south of the powerhouse, with the electricity substation on the southern bank of the river.

Water from Lake Karapiro runs through the penstocks to three Kaplan turbines. Each turbine turns a generator, outputting 32 megawatts of electricity each at 11,000 volts. Around 3,770 litres (830 imp gal; 1,000 US gal) of water every second is required to run through the turbines to generate 1 MW of electricity.

Karapiro is controlled remotely by Mercury Energy's Waikato River control room in Hamilton.


As part of the power station's construction, a 110,000-volt double-circuit line was built from the station to Hamilton substation. The line was commissioned on 29 March 1947. This line remains in service today as the main connection from Karapiro to the rest of the national grid. In addition, 110,000-volt single-circuit lines connect Karapiro with Te Awamutu and Hinuera substations. All the lines are now owned and operated by national grid operator Transpower.

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