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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 5 (September 1, 1930)

How Tikitere got its Hot Springs — Scenes and Stories in a Strange Thermal Valley

page 34

How Tikitere got its Hot Springs
Scenes and Stories in a Strange Thermal Valley

“The thermal regions of New Zealand,” stated Professor F. Schaffer, a distinguished scientist of Vienna, “eclipse those of Yellowstone Park.” Nowhere, perhaps, is the thermal phenomena of our country more impressive than at Tikitere (near Rotorua), the interesting story of which is told by Mr. James Cowan in the following article.

It is a curiously fascinating place in spite of (or perhaps because of) its almost repulsive features, this unbeautiful scar on the face of our Rotorua wonderland that is called Tikitere by the Maoris, and a variety of Dantesque names by pakeha visitors. In atmosphere as in appearance it is a slice of the material Hades. Boiling water and boiling mud of grey and brown and black, and of ferocious wickedness, hot streams, sulphur bridges over horrible spluttering pits, sulphur caves, and a lost-and-damned character altogether. No beauteous geysers here; no pure sparkling fountains arched by rainbows. But it draws those who know it to come again and again.

The Keepers of Boiling-water Glen.

There was, in the days of the past, a guardian of this wizardly wound on the face of Nature that perfectly fitted the place. She was the venerable Arihi Takurua, who with her old-soldier husband, Paddy McCrory—they both died some years ago—lived here fully half a century, and guided visitors about the place. The greater part of their lives was spent in this uncanny corner. Very bent, almost a hunchback, with a coloured shawl about her grey head and tattooed face, keen bright eyes peering out, she looked a witch of the enchanted valley, as she came out to meet the travellers, grasping in her long talon-like fingers a spear-headed walking staff.

But Arihi of Tikitere really was a pleasant and kindly old dame, and the capital cup of tea she could produce for her fleeting paying guests was no witch's brew, though the kettle was boiled in one of wild Nature's stoves, a plopping and gurgling steam-vent.

Arihi, too, was a kindly nurse to many a crippled sufferer who camped here to bathe in the open, in the healing hot waters of Muriwai, the little dark stream that carries off the mineralised drainings of the thermal valley.

The name Arihi, by the way, is Alice, Maorified; it was given her in her girlhood by the missionary, Thomas Chapman, and his wife, whose station was at Te Ngae, down yonder overlooking the east shore of Rotorua lake.

The Earth-Mother's Thumping Heart.

It was a sufficiently weird experience to spend a night at Tikitere. On one of my long rides around the Lakes country, and into all sorts of queer corners; I put my horse in the near-by grass paddock, and, after tea with the old couple, slept, or tried to sleep, in one of the guest-huts of slab-and-thatch that composed the tiny hamlet of the Boiling-Mud Valley. All night long there was a quiver in the ground, as one lay on the mat-covered floor, and now and again a hollow thump reminded one that the fearful pools of ever-boiling water and mud were only a few yards away.

But it was safe enough, said Alice and Paddy. They had eaten and slept and loved on the brink of a visible hell for many a year, and there was little change in that valley of uncanny sounds, sights and smells all their life there. Even the Tarawera eruption and earthquake in 1886 hardly affected Tikitere's features at all.

The Legend of Tikitere—The Two Wise Women.

This is the folk-tale of the origin of Tikitere's boiling pools, as told by old Arihi, who had it from her tohunga elders in her youth. Very long ago there came to these shores from Hawaiki, in the Great South Sea, two wise women, Chieftainesses and priestesses, whose names were Kuiwai and Haungaroa. With them came their brother Tane-Whakaraka, and sundry people of less degree, workers and food-bearers. The women were most learned women in occult page 35 lore, and possessed wonderful mana, as will be seen. They landed on the Bay of Plenty coast, and wandered inland to these parts, exploring the country and naming places. They came to this valley, Tikitere (the name is said to have been that of an ancient sailing-canoe from Hawaiki), and here they camped awhile. It was just a glen in the forest then; it had no boiling springs or mud lakelets.

“Calcareous caldrons, deep and large, With geysers hissing to their marge.”—Alfred Domett. (Rly. Publicity photo.) “Hell's Gates,” Tikitere, Rotorua, New Zealand.

“Calcareous caldrons, deep and large,
With geysers hissing to their marge.”—Alfred Domett.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
“Hell's Gates,” Tikitere, Rotorua, New Zealand.

Tane the Forester.

The brother Tane Whakaraka presently became restless, eager for further travel. He was a great hunter, a bird-spearsman and snare-setter. He discovered that all this country around the lakes was a grand place for his fowling, and so he resolved to set off into the ranges on a long bird-hunting expedition, with several of his followers. Wild pigeons, kaka parrots, tui, bellbirds, kokako or crow—the bush swarmed with them, and they were tame as tame could be. A paradise this for the Maori birder.

Tane pointed to the blue mountains and said to his sisters:

“I am going up yonder. I may be a long time away. I have fixed my heart upon those hills. Remain you here and I will bring you the spoils of the forest.”

And off to the unknown heights, to the eastward of Rotorua lake, went Tane, trailing his long bird-spear.

The Hills of Heart's Desire.

That was the last the priestess sisters ever saw of him. Long they waited here in Tikitere glen, waited anxiously, ever turning their eyes towards the purple ranges yonder. They gave a name to the mountain; it was Whakapoungakau, which means the Place of Heart's Desire, because of their brother's saying that he had fixed his heart upon going there.

Tane Whakaraka never returned to them. Perhaps he and his few men had been slain in the forest by the tangata-whenua, the original people of the land, or perhaps he had wandered on to other parts and found a new home to his liking. They knew not what had happened.

The Creation of the Springs.

At last, in sorrow, they resolved to return to the sea coast, and to their old home in Hawaiki. They did so, but before they departed they put forth their wizardly powers, and called upon Ruaimoko, the god of volcanoes, to the end that there should be wai-ariki, or bathing pool of hot water, wherein their brother should be able to refresh his weary body when he returned from page 36 the great forest. And Ru, the ruler of the underworld, responded to their prayer, and sent forth his hidden fires and out burst the boiling springs; and so here to-day at Tikitere you see those great cauldrons of Ruaimoko, the steaming puia and ngawha and wai-ariki.

And then the weird sisters went their way, leaving the tall columns of steam that ever ascend from this valley of wonders as a sign and a guiding mark for their lost brother.

What became of Tane, the bird-hunter, whether he has left his bones in his Hills of Heart's Desire or not, no man knows. But there the wizard-made boiling waters and the huge cauldrons of boiling mud fume and bubble to-day; and that is how Tikitere got its hot springs.

Soft Waters of Healing.

Tane the woodsman would no doubt have had to content himself with a dip in Muriwai hot creek if, or when, he returned to the valley, for those huge pools of boiling mud and muddy water, ever-splashing and swirling, are scarcely the ponds a tired bushman, or anyone else, would have selected for a bath. Yon great pool of greyish water and mud called Huritin:—“The Ever-Revolving”—pool
”Sable lazy-bubbling pools Of spluttering mud that never cools.” (Rly. Publicity photo.) “The Porridge Pot,” Tikitere, Rotorua.

Sable lazy-bubbling pools
Of spluttering mud that never cools
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
“The Porridge Pot,” Tikitere, Rotorua.

of infernal broth, half obscured by sulphurous steam clouds, has a temperature, as some scientific visitor once ascertained, of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The unctuous ponds of black mud look even hotter. But Muriwai stream, flowing down in a rauporeed-fringed dark brooklet, is more pleasant than its appearance would lead one to imagine. It is just agreeably warm, and it is a place of wondrous healing for rheumaticky limbs this Styxlike stream.

Agreeable, too, is a bath under that warm cascade at the upper end of the valley, the narrow stream which falls over a grey rock in a little waterfall, which the Maoris call Te Mimi-o-te-kakahi, likening it to the thin stream of water ejected by the lake bivalve, the kakahi when it is taken up in the dredge-nets. It is not so discoloured as Muriwai, for it is high above the mud-pots; it flows from the great boiling springs on the hillside, whose lofty pillars of vapour you may see many miles away. Steam-columns seemingly laid like snowy-white feathers against the green; the sign and token of the priestess sisters for their brother who roved the fatal Hills of Heart's Desire.