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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 6 (October 1, 1927)

Enchantment of Rotorua. — Lakeland, Geyserland, Storyland

page 7

Enchantment of Rotorua.
Lakeland, Geyserland, Storyland

No matter how many times one has visited Rotorua, a return to Geyserland always has something of the charm of breaking into a region of magic as well as of wonder and beauty. When first I went up that way it was in its semiprimitive condition, considerably over thirty years ago, and the Maori villages around the lakes were more populous than they are to-day. On Mokoia Island, for instance, there were many people living-it is now deserted most of the year except for an old man and woman by way of tribal caretaker-and it was a scene of picturesque native life, with its decorated houses, its large cultivations, its many canoes, and its fishing nets for the capture of the koura or crayfish that then teemed in Rotorua before the greedy trout gobbled them up.

A Barbarian Barber.

They had some free-and-easy ways in old Ohinemutu those days, pakeha as well as Maori. The township barber didn't trouble about heating water in his shop. All he had to do when a customer entered for a shave was to run across the road with his billy of tank-water, set it for a few moments on a steam jet that issued from the earth at the bottom of a cutting just under Pukeroa, and everything was ready for the fell deed. Rotorua is a more sophisticated place these times; it has all the conveniences and luxuries of a city.

Nature's Supremacy.

Nevertheless much of the olden charm remains; and Nature has a way of asserting herself in unexpected forms and places now and again, just by way of reminding mere man that she after all is supreme.

This time of the year is in some important respects the pleasantest time for a Geyserland tour. The “Kowhai floods,” as the Maori calls the heavy rains of spring, are over and the heat of summer has not yet had time to turn the pumice roads into all-pervading dust. The place is not yet crowded with holiday folk; the fish have not yet learned to be wary of the man with the rod; there is a newness, a fresh-washed air about the town and the parks and gardens after the winter's rest and generous moisture. Yet every season of the year has its own appeal in Lakeland; even mid-winter I have found very pleasant there, because for weeks at a time the days are clear and bright.

For Full Enjoyment.

The true way to enjoy this land of lakes and hot springs is to get a house there for some weeks and months and leisurely explore every bit of the everywhere-fascinating country. But for the ordinary holiday visitor pressed for time it is important to get round to the big “sights,” the geysers of Whakarewarewa and the wonderful warm Lake Rotomahana with little delay, and this is easily possible in these days of rapid transit.


The principal geyser active here is Pohutu, which throws a beautiful column of boiling water fifty to seventy feet in the air, shooting with tremendous force from an oval tube or funnel about two feet wide. Close to the geyser pipe is a deep pool of blue water which is a kind of indicator to the big spouter; it becomes a furiously boiling cauldron just before Pohutu bursts forth. Close by are two small geysers, one called the “Prince of Wales' Feathers” from the form of its spout. Other geysers there are, but in a quiescent state; they may become active again at any time. The glittering terrace of white silica just above the Puarenga, where that brown and sulphurous stream goes swirling down between its painted banks, is the gathering place for visitors who want to see Pohutu Geyser play, with a tremble of the ground an all-pervading subterranean sound:—

“Like ponderous engines infinite, working

at some tremendous task below.”

Pohutu means “splashing,” an appropriate name for this wonderful intermittent fountain, whose hot spray is showered over the glistening terraces, to cascade thence into the weird river below.

There is a boiling lake at Whakarewarewa, called “Tamaheke's Pond.” It is supplied by small ever-working geysers in its centre, half-hidden by clouds of steam. This great hot pond supplies douche baths of great value for rheumatic complaints and its waters are tapped for the main supply in the Rotorua Government Sanatorium Baths. But this tapping of geyser ponds for bath supplies and the Maoris' use of boiling springs for cooking, are the only way in which the great springs are used by man. There have been suggestions to use the power and heat of some of the boiling fountains for

Pages 17 to 32 are dated September, having been prepared to appear coincident with Railway Statement, 1927.

page 8 commercial purposes, but no practicable method has yet been devised.

The “Warm 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, the last quarter of a century. Prior to 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 in one cyclopean convulsion, to be rained down in devastating showers of mud and rock upon the doomed lands around. After the eruption, the emptied lake-bottom was a furnace of fiery volcanoes and craters of boiling water and boiling mud; then, gradually cooling, the fresh lake was formed, and now the new Roto-mahana is six miles long, several hundreds of feet deep, and engulfs an area approximately thirty times that of the lake of 1886. 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. All around, on shore, and in the lake, are boiling springs. It is Nature's most terrifying laboratory. But even here in this seven-times heated place there is luxuriant vegetable life. Beautiful ferns and mosses grow everywhere, even in the hot spray of the springs, and a soft garment of green shrubs climbs to the summit of the steam-soaked heights.

Maori Dancers.

Maori Dancers.

The Bays of Lake Rotoiti.

But the bays of Rotoiti are the true havens of enchantment. Here there are no boiling puias except that idyllic hot spring of Manupirua, softly issuing from the pumice beneath its ancient overshadowing pohutukawa tree. All is quietness and sylvan beauty. Bays within bays there are, wooded from water-edge to skyline, and great fern-trees almost dip their feather-like fronds into the deep blue waters. Old village sites there are in these bays, gone back to the wilds, and the cherry groves, which seem to flourish even in the bush, bear full well for the summer-time picnicker, who has them all to himself, for to the Maori, as often as not, they are tapu. Knolled headlands, of a picture-like prettiness, once stockaded holds of the Arawa, such as storied Motutawa with its white-faced “suicide cliff,” project into the lake, and between them curve the daintiest of whitebeached bays of smooth pumice sand lapped by the gently breathing waters of the calm deep lake. On these shelving sands the motor-launch may be run nose on and moored to one of the overhanging trees, safe from all the winds that blow. On the sands the day's trout catch, or rather, a part of it, for the gods are very kind to fishermen in these parts, will be grilled in the camp-fire, and tent and launch will replace the town hotel. For that matter, in the spells of fine rainless weather there is no need for the tent; the pohutukawa boughs make roof enough, and the wall-less bedroom on the sands gives space enough to fill the lungs with Nature's pure, germless air. Up again in the morning early, before the mists have cleared from the sleepy lake, to catch one's breakfast of trout, and perhaps a dish of the little koura, the fresh-water crayfish, that still abounds in these parts and that may be caught either with the habitant's trawl net or by the more primitive expedient of lowering weighted bundles of fern over the boat's side where they are seen through the clear waters crawling on the white sandy bottom. If you like the bay you may stay there, for no one will disturb you, or you may move on to another cove, fishing as you go, and finding secure moorings every night.