The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 7 (December 15, 1926)
Impressions of a Trip from Rotorua to the Wairakei Valley
Leaving Rotorua at 9.15 a.m. in a 75 h.p. 6-cyl. Studebaker, on a beautifully clear morning, we soon left the township behind. After passing the steaming district of Whakarewarewa we ran into the low-lying hills along a rather indifferent road which, for a great part of the 53-mile journey, put a severe test on the springs of our car. Our chaffeur, a half-caste Maori, being an excellent driver, minimised the bad effects of the road, much to our comfort. He had considerable local knowledge and explained the different points of interest as we wended our way through the fern-clad hills.
About two miles out we passed the Government Afforestation district where, with prison labour, 45,000 acres have been planted with 180,000,000 trees consisting of oregon, corsican, macrocarpa, pinus insignus, larch, and several other of the pine species. These trees have made wonderful growth and make a very pleasing sight against the somewhat barrenness of the country. There are fire lanes left between the areas so as to check fires in case of an outbreak, and look-out huts are provided on high prominences where men are stationed for seven months in the year. One of these look-out stations is placed on the top of Rainbow mountain, a high hill which comes into view suddenly and looks very pretty with the different colours of clay and sand, which are visible from quite a distance. This mountain has a number of steaming patches on its sides, so that I think the look-out men on top are hardly to be envied in their positions. After passing this mountain a short halt was made in order to get a few snapshots. We secured a number having a small steaming lake, called the Blue Lake, in the foreground.
Once again on the road and we passed the turn-off to Waimanga, now extinct, but, when active, it was the finest geyser in the world, playing to a height of 900 feet. We next passed the turn-off to the Waiotapu Geyser Hotel (this part of the journey is described later) and then out on to a kind of undulating plain. To me, this part of the country resembled an immense crater, the edge being plainly seen for miles and miles. As we bowled along quite a number of steaming patches were observed on either side. It is on these plains that the Soldiers' Settlement is located and, judging by appearances, some of the farms must be making head-way.
After about 25 miles of these plains, we again started to climb some small foot-hills and soon came upon the famous Waikato River. Here we turned off to visit the pretty Aratiatia rapids. These are a sight worth seeing, and some good “snaps” were secured. A half-an-hour's further running and we pulled up at the Wairakei Geyser Hotel. This hotel is situated right in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand. It is a wild and barren land. Indeed, the whole landscape impels the thought that the country travelled through was part of the crater of a huge volcano that once held in its maw the whole centre of the North Island. One was much surprised to come on such an up-to-date hostelry after travelling through such wild country. Every convenience was provided, including a naturally heated swimming pool, fairy pool, post office (where pine cones could be obtained), and last, but by no means least, a bar for the supply of tobacco, cigarettes, matches, etc.
After an excellent lunch, we were taken by our driver to the narrow track that led to the wonders of the Wairakei Valley. We were told to go along the track until we met the Maori guide, who was repairing the track. After five minutes walking we came upon him. “Tena koutou!” (“good-day, all!”) was his welcome, and one of our party replied “Tena koe.” (“Good-day to you”), “Kei te pewhia koe?” (“how are you?”), and he answered “Kei te pai.” (“I am well.”) Then he added, “you have come to see the wonders of my garden.”
This old fellow's name was “Jack.” He was a full-blooded Maori with grey hair, which is not a usual sight amongst the natives. He spoke fairly good English, and I will try and write down the exact words he used when explaining to us the different sights.
“Come along, gents.”
We followed on for a few yards, when Jack turned round and said, “Don't go off the track, gents.”
We had been warned previously about this, so we obeyed like good boys. After going a short distance further, Jack pointed with his little walking stick to the “Twin Pools,” one narrow and the other rather wide. Both are pools of boiling water.
Unfortunately we could not go round to get a close up view of the “Champagne Pool,” as a slip had come down and blocked the track. We crossed the creek of hot water which runs down the valley and climbed up the other side where we were able to see the “Dragon's Mouth,” which is a spurting hot spring coming out of an opening resembling a dragon's mouth, while alongside is another called the “Bull-dog.” It is very like a bull-dog sitting on his haunches. From this position we could also see the “Ink Pot,” or “Devil's Hole,” so called because of the dark boiling fluid that rises and falls every few seconds. This “Ink Pot” is referred to as the Maori Cooking Hole. Old Jack supplied the story as follows:—
“Well, Gents, the old Maori say that in the olden times the Maori he used to bring the food from long distance and cook here. Before they come down the hill they ask the Food God and worship him, then they knew they could leave their baskets of food in the pot to cook.”
We moved on to the “Tangi wai” (crying water”) pool and Jack told the legend about this. His story was to the effect that the pool got its name from some Maori woman weeping over the loss of her husband.
We next saw three boiling pools which are separated, one from the other, by only twelve inches. One contained salt, one soda and the other was a mineral water. Our guide proved this by throwing a handful of silica into each, the salt and mineral ones responding but not the soda. He then showed us his monkeys, which were formations of silica very much resembling monkeys sitting up, having been so formed by the action of the boiling springs.
Jack informed us that this was the first half of the valley and that it was very ordinary compared with the second half. The next pool he called his tide gauge, because, he claimed that, although we were in the middle of the North Island, 150 miles from the sea and about 2,000 feet above it, the rise and fall of the tide affected this pool. To show to what precision of time these pools played, he worked off quite a bit of magic. When we arrived opposite this pool, Jack said, “Now, come on and let the gents hear what you have to say.” The pool immediately started to play, and whilst it was playing, Jack told his story keeping an eye on his watch. “Now, Gents, this what I call my tide water gauge. When it low water on the coast this pool low, and when it high water this pool high. This pool in direct line with White Island (a boiling sulphur island off the coast) right in line with volcano chain.” Then, addressing the pool, he said: “Now I finished my talk, page 67 how about you?” and the pool immediately died down to still water!
We crossed a small bridge in the centre of which there is a spasmodic spouting from a small geyser. Jack told us when to run past. It was appropriately named “Hell's Gate.”
We passed on to where there are some small pink terraces formed. On top of these (about twenty feet up) a small pool boils over every twenty-five minutes and gives a very pretty effect with the boiling water trickling down the steps.
We were next shown where the Prince of Wales' Feathers are produced. This is a small geyser so arranged that if the cold water running into it is cut off, it boils up in twenty minutes and throws cut three jets of boiling water and steam which resemble the feathers.
The “Dancing Rock Pool” was next visited. This is a pool of boiling water, about six feet across set in the rocky side of the creek. Just underneath the surface of this pool is a rock which is just visible and when it lifts three times —“Go for your life!”—the boiling water is thrown right around the edges. This was another instance of clockwork regularity.
“Well, Gents, this is the Dancing Rock Pool,” said Jack. “When the White Man come to New Zealand he bring the sheep, the dog and the elephant. He also bring his wife and child and a chair to sit down on.” This explanation referred to the formations of silica which resembled these figures. “Here you see the back of a woolly lamb [This is very distinct, resembling the hindquarters and tail of a woolly lamb]. Here you see the head and trunk of the elephant [The resemblance also good]. Here you see the dog, and over there the chair with the woman and child on her breast” [This last very life-like].
There was still one more place to visit, where one could sit on a rock and feel it lifting, but unfortunately, or shall we say fortunately, owing to the recent heavy rains something had “gone wrong with the works.” We were, however, able to hear a low crackling noise which denoted the lifting of this stone. We were now able to get a view of the “Champagne Pool” which was sparkling and bubbling all over like a glass of champagne.
This concluded our valley trip, and after improving the financial position of Jack, we retraced our steps to the Geyser Hotel where “the cup that cheers but not inebriates” awaited us; after which, one of our party having spied a gramophone, we endeavoured to reduce the pile of the sitting room carpet by some weird movements thought to be dancing.
It was then decided to have a swim in the hot swimming pool and three of the party indulged whilst the others took snaps of the bathers. The prints are not for public view.
(To be continued.)