In 1897 the river flooded and all six bridges over it were damaged or destroyed. The port at the mouth of the river was also washed away and never rebuilt.
The river is a popular leisure and recreation area for jetboating, white water rafting, kayaking and fishing, and includes public camp grounds along its banks, including Vinegar Hill, New Zealand. Its sheer vertical "paapa" (clay) cliffs (unique to this part of New Zealand) and deep canyons provide the perfect setting for adventure activities such as bungy jumps and flying fox rides. Gravity Canyon  on the Mokai reach is a world-famous attraction. Part of the river was used as the Anduin River in Peter Jackson's movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.