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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 2 (June 2, 1930)

By Rail to the Geyser Country — The Hot Springs and the Lakes of the Rotorua Thermal Region

page 25

By Rail to the Geyser Country
The Hot Springs and the Lakes of the Rotorua Thermal Region

In Geyserland's Capital

The white population of Rotorua is about four thousand. The town is in no way cramped for room; it spreads leisurely over a wide area of level ground, and houses are now dotting the roadside right out to Whakarewarewa, two miles away. Rotorua, once clothed with nothing but stunted manuka, is a delightful place of shade and flowers. The pumice soil grows trees and flowers wonderfully well. The tall plantation of eucalyptus and other trees that borders the railway station is quite a little forest, the growth of fewer than fifty years. There are many pretty private gardens, and if now and then a hot spring or sulphur “mudpot” may be heard gurgling and bubbling in a corner of the garden, the flowers seem all the more rich and more fragrant for it. Photographs of the town taken before the opening of the railway in 1894, and those of to-day reveal a most remarkable contrast. Rotorua now would hardly be recognised as the little village of the pre-railway era. It is quite as advanced as large cities in some important respects. On the Kaituna River, at Okere, the swift outlet of Lake Rotoiti, twelve miles from the town, the natural water force is utilised for the generation of electricity for the town. There is an excellent gravitation water supply, pure and inexhaustible, from great springs high up on the Moerangi range.

Less than half a century has seen Rotorua's development into a comfortable and beautiful modern town, a resort for travellers from all parts of the world, people who come to these waters of healing to rid themselves of their aches and pains, and win freedom and suppleness for crippled limbs; thousands of people, too, who come for the pleasure of travel in a novel country, a land full of scenic surprises and thrills and again, fishermen who find in Rotorua and Taupo the finest trout-angling in the world. Here is a State spa building, with baths of every kind, and every sort of scientific apparatus designed to supplement the good work of the healing waters. Here is a Government Sanatorium, a hospital, where those disabled by rheumatism or other trouble for which these springs are a panacea, are admitted on certain conditions. New and greatly improved buildings are now being erected there. On Pukeroa Hill amidst groves of English oaks, is the King George V. Hospital, a large institution originally established for wounded and sick soldiers. This is to be closed, and its place taken by a new sanatorium in the Government gardens.

The hotel and boardinghouse accommodation for travellers is quite equal to that in the large cities of the Dominion. Numerous large hotels, including three licensed to sell liquor, stand in convenient nearness to the railway station; and there is one at Whakarewarewa.

Motor cars ply about the streets, and motor-launches on the lake, at Rotorua's front door. The fisherman will find all the tackle he requires in the town shops; every branch of business is represented here, and there is no need to trouble about laying in a special equipment for travel and sport before coming to the town. All parts of the thermal country, the East Coast and the interior of the Island, are readily reached by motor car services. Lake Taupo is only a few hours by motor distant; the Tongariro National Park can be reached in a day's run; Tauranga, Whakatane, and other parts of the Bay of Plenty, are within easy compass by scenic roads.

The Waters of Healing.

The most common form of hydro-thermal activity in the Lakes Country is the hot spring, often an old geyser which has relapsed into a gently but continually boiling well or cauldron. Many of these boiling fountains supply the medicinal baths for which Rotorua is famous. They have been classified scientifically under the following groups:—

1.—Saline, containing chiefly chloride of sodium.

2.—Alkaline, containing carbonates and bicarbonates of soda and potash.

3.—Alkaline ailiceous, waters containing much silicic acid, but changing rapidly in exposure to the atmosphere and becoming alkaline.

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4.—Hepatic or sulphurous, waters which contain sulphuretted hydrogen and sulphurous acid.

5.—Acid waters, in which there is an excess of mineral acids, such as hydrochloride and sulphuric acid.

It is the sulphurous waters whose presence is most marked at Rotorua, and the odour of sulphuretted hydrogen is the most insistent characteristic of the hot springs groups.

Some of the best known of these springs, all valuable as healers of man's aches and pains, are the Whangapipiro, or Madame Rachel's Bath, and Te Pupunitanga, or the Priest's Bath, in the Government grounds at Rotorua; the Postmaster's Bath, an exceedingly powerful wai-ariki, on the shores of Rotorua Lake; Te Kauwhanga; the Waihunuhunu-kuri spring Ohinemutu; Turikore or the Spout Bath, and the “Oil Bath,” at Whakarewarewa—types these of a thousand medicinal springs in the Thermal Zone, some used for bathing only, others fit for invalids' drinking. Many of these springs bear English names, which may appear cryptic or fantastic to a visitor; the explanation is that they were usually given because of some pakeha pioneer who derived benefit from their life - renewing wells and who proclaimed the virtues of the waters. The Priest's Bath and the Postmaster's Bath are examples.

In the early days the invalid who ventured into the manuka, where the warm springs bubbled up and sent their steam clouds softly curling above the thickets, had either to camp with the Maoris or live in a tent beside the spring. Things are very different now at Rotorua, where the hand of man has transformed so much of the land.

In the State Gardens.

In the Government gardens (a park of 180 acres), there is a fern-fringed pond in which trout and ducks compete for the visitors' daily offerings of bread. Sometimes the hunk of bread is too big for the trout to swallow straight off, but he does not abandon it to the duck bobbling at it alongside him. He gets a grip on a corner of it, and swims away to a place where he can deal with it when it is thoroughly soaked. As a rule, the fish is quicker on the grab in the water than the duck, but the latter has the advantage of a longer reach in the air. So you see a chunk of bread won by a neck from the trout, who jostles up, mouth open, against his feathered rival. Luckily there are no eels in the ponds, otherwise the duckling mortality would be great. A good many loaves of bread must be divided between the Government fish and waterfowl in the course of a week.

Out at the Fairy Springs, too, the rainbow trout that crowd the crystal waters, are smart in the bread - snatching art. They sometimes form a sort of queue there. Trout number one glides up to the spring side, jumps at just the right moment, and gets his crumb from the pleased tourist. With a wriggle he puts his helm hard over and makes way for number two, and so on. The stranger to Rotorua soon discovers that it is well to be quick on the withdraw when trout are feeding. An Australian girl who held her contribution too long and too close to the trout jaws, emitted an amazed squeal. The fish had nipped her fingers.

“While off beneath the trembling ground Rumbles a drear persistent sound.”—Domett. (Rly. Publicity photo.) A party of tourists, sight-seeing at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, New Zealand.

“While off beneath the trembling ground
Rumbles a drear persistent sound.”—Domett.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A party of tourists, sight-seeing at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, New Zealand.

Along the Maori Shore.

Curious things you see in modern Ohinemutu, the headquarters village of the Arawa tribe. In the village square, a few yards from the tribal flagstaff, with its ancient warlock of a carved and tattooed figure at its foot, there is a pakeha-Maori edition of an electric light pole. This pole is carved in native fashion, and at its top is a little whata, or storehouse, like a pigeon cote. This is in imitation of the ancient tohunga's tree-top storehouse for sacred relics and offerings. The whata pole carries insulators and electric globe, and sometimes one will see the light burning all day long, as is often the way in the Rotorua streets. It is one of the customs of the country, for power is cheap. The Okere Falls are always on tap. Ohinemutu is a jumble of new and old. Next page 27 door to a weatherboard cottage there is an age-stained little dwelling with barge-boards made from the sides of some ancient canoe, and the front gable is topped by a fierce old gargoyle of a tekoteko, a carved mask of totara, tattooed and painted by some long-gone Arawa artist, its features time-battered and lichen-crusted—an antique and wizardly thing. More carving as one passes along the Ruapeka Bay and the dazzling white pumice sands; a boiling spring, fenced in on two sides, for the public safety, with short palings, and a brace of carved, grimacing figures, red painted; they might be the Maori genii loci guarding the tapu scalding well. By the side of this terrific ngawha is a big-lettered notice, “Keep Out.” A trifle superfluous! A little way above this splashing cauldron there is a picture-like Maori carved house, all of the olden time except for its glass windows.

Of carving here and in Whakarewarewa there is a great deal to be seen, for this is the home of the most expert of all the native wood workers. The pretty church of St. Faith, in the hot spring village, is a joint product of pakeha architecture and Maori artcraft. So, too, is the little Catholic Church; its fine interior decoration is of an earlier date.

In the Valley of the Geysers.

Yonder at Whakarewarewa, hot springs bubble and flop within a few feet of the pakeha-Maori houses, and hot vapours rise from a thousand crevices. The valley is one gorgeously hued palette, splashed in some mad spasm with the colours from a score of titanic paint-pots. The setting for Maori life here is indeed amazing for its colour scheme. The silica terraces—papa-kowhatu—that glitter like snowfields in the sun, with a formation that resembles the most delicate coral in places, have a foil in the background of dark-green fern and manuka. There are cliffs asparkle with alum crystals, and there are rocks and earth yellow with sulphur. The banks of the brown sulphurous Puarenga stream that flows through the valley, are pitted with grey and blue and black mud-pools. There are cliffsides of amber and chocolate, and the rich red ferruginous earth of the kokowai, a red ochre which, when mixed with oil, made a paint for the Maori.

“The play of natural children is the infancy of art.” (Rly. Publicity photo.) Maori boys in characteristic poses in a hot pool, Rotorua, New Zealand.

“The play of natural children is the infancy of art.”
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Maori boys in characteristic poses in a hot pool, Rotorua, New Zealand.

Wairoa Geyser, which once we induced to spout in lofty volume, whenever we pleased, by casting into his throat an emetic of soap, has been inactive for many years. But Pohutu remains, the glory of Whakarewarewa, it (or “he” or “she” as Lakeland people indifferently refer to a puia) sometimes spouts away almost continuously for seven or eight hours, a long narrow column of boiling water ejected with terrific force and roarings, rising in quick pulsations, subsiding, and presently bursting forth again. Connected with Pohutu is Te Horo, or “The Chasm,” a fearful-looking deep, clear, ever-boiling cauldron, and near by is a hard-working and beautiful little geyser, Wai- page 28 korohihi, its feathery sprays falling in glittering showers and flowing in little cascades down the coralline rock to the dark stream below. Other small geysers there are; one of them, Papakura. is ever working away by itself between the manuka thickets and the river.

Out on the Lakes.

When the visitor has seen something of the hot-spring pitted lake shores, and has watched Pohutu spout its forty or sixty or seventy feet into the air, a pulsing diamonded rainbow shaft of living white against the blue of heaven, and has gazed into porridge-pots and fumaroles, puia and ngawha without end, he will want to see something of the Lakes. And after all, to my mind, the water cruises are the greatest joy the geyser country has to offer. Here the traveller may combine trout-fishing with his boating and camping in a fashion altogether delightful. The canal-like little river, the Ohau, which connects the lakes of Rotorua and Roto-iti, is useful beyond price, because it permits the sailing boat or motor launch to pass through and extend the cruise twenty miles from Rotorua town. Rotorua's shores hold many excellent camping places, where the fisherman may moor his launch and pitch his tent, away from the disturbing crowd, and away from the disturbing crowd, and the Ohau itself, just where it comes eddying out of Rotorua, is another favourite fishing place, where houseboats are seen moored to the willow banks in summer time. The angler in such spots need not go far for fish. The superior merits of Taupo's or Waikato's big fighting fish have been extolled by overseas visiting sportsmen, but these quiet waters of the Rotorua twin lakes, and Tarawera and other near-by lakes, furnish sport enough and to spare for the average angler, and even the trawling despised by the expert fly-fishermen holds plenty of excitement. The launch, slowed to half-speed, patrols the grounds just beyond the mouths of the hill streams—the best fishing places—and the angler with a bright minnow on his line, stands expectantly in the stern, until the tug comes, and then the joyful cry of “Fish!” is raised. The launch is stopped, and angler and rainbow trout tussle for mastery. Sometimes salmo iridens comes off best, and streaks indignantly up into his home stream with sundry fathoms of line hanging from his strong jaws.

Trout fishing is only one of the interests which this soft blue lake holds for one. There is lovely old Mokoia, a green mountain rising from the middle of the lake.

“An island like a little book Full of a hundred tales.”

The Maori Carver's Art. (Govt. Publicity photo.) Storehouse in the Model Maori Pa, Whakarewarewa.

The Maori Carver's Art.
(Govt. Publicity photo.)
Storehouse in the Model Maori Pa, Whakarewarewa.

There are old-time villages around the mainland shores, each with its carved meeting-house. There is Hamurana of the crystal fount; you can reach it by car, too, and combine the trip with a visit to that most marvellous of trout pools, the Fairy Spring, Te Puna - a - Tuhoe of Maori legend.

Te Wairoa, Tarawera and Roto-mahana.

The road from Rotorua to Te Wairoa, the historic buried village at the west end of Lake Tarawera, is a way of beauty and story. It passes through the woods of Rauporoa and Turwiriwiri; this bush was destroyed by the eruption of 1886, but has grown again with good luxuriance, ferny and mossy and creeper-hung. There is Lake Tikitapu, of turquoise hue, shadowed over by forested mountains and dark fern slants; beyond, again, are the new forests of the Government plantations.

There is its sister lake, Roto-kakahi, green in colour, with its two islands; and then there is Tarawera spread out before you, with the sinister old mountain looming blue-grey above it.

There are some of the remains of the old buildings; the broken tops of the church windows up there on the terrace of Te Mu, are just level with the ground to-day. Elms and oaks, poplars and blue-gums, flowering acacia, all grow green on the Wairoa. On the way up to an old mission house, there is an avenue of great it or whanake, cabbage trees, planted there three-quarters of a century ago. Up page 29 yonder, in those flower-decked shades, where wild strawberries and blue columbines grow, I heard one day the high sweet “whee, whee, whee, tio-o” of the shining cuckoo, the pipi-wharauroa, sounding clear and sharp as a Navy bo's'n's whistle, high amidst the leafy rigging of the gums.

Boating on a Boiling Lake.

Roto-mahana, the “Warm Lake” of the Maoris, is the most singular example of a volcanic lake in the islands, for it has been subject to extraordinary changes during a marvellously brief period. Before the Tarawera eruption in 1886, Roto-mahana was but a small, shallow, reedy lagoon of about a mile in length. When Tarawera burst out a huge rift split the mountain from end to end and extended down into the lake at its foot. The waters of the lake, so suddenly gaining access to the hidden fires below, were converted into steam, and then up went the lake bottom and the islands and the terraces on its margin, hurled into the air to deluge the land for many scores of miles. The new Roto-mahana is six miles long, and several hundreds of feet deep. Along the northern and western shore line there is a zone of tremendous hydro-thermal activity. Here one may boat for two miles along geyser-pitted cliffs, strangely painted by chemical action. The cliffs are steaming from lakeside to skyline, and thousands of warm vapour-wreaths curl like white smoke into the upper air. Nor is the heat confined to the cliffs. The water on which you are floating is boiling in many places, and here and there you feel below your boat the thump of water-hidden geysers.

Lakes and Forests.

Other lakes there are, and these, to one's mind, more entrancing than wondrous and fearsome Roto-mahana. The great charm of some of them, especially Okataina, is the rich and lovely forest which covers so much of the shore. I have seen nothing finer around our North Island lakes, even Waikaremoana, than the cliff-climbing forest of pohutukawa trees on the western shore of Okataina. For nearly a thousand feet, from waterline to skyline, it clothes the mountain side, and glorious indeed it is in the midsummer season of bush flowers.

Then there is Rotoiti, about which a book could be written; there are also those lakes of the woods, Rotoehu and Rotoma, true places of enchantment, all within a few hours' car run of Rotorua town. And in forest drives there is nothing in our land to excel in fragrant solemn beauty the three miles avenue through the rimu woods between Rotoiti and the north end of Okataina. It is a wild poem, a picture of the real New Zealand, that should be treasured as one of the most precious things of our country.

Across the Great Mamaku Plateau. (Rly. Publicity. Photo.) The Auckland-Rotorua “Limited Express” ascending the Mamaku Hill, on the last stage of the run to Rotorua.

Across the Great Mamaku Plateau.
(Rly. Publicity. Photo.)
The Auckland-Rotorua “Limited Express” ascending the Mamaku Hill, on the last stage of the run to Rotorua.