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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 8 (February 1, 1933)

In the Heart of Wonderland — Places of Scenic Interest and Charm near Rotorua

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In the Heart of Wonderland
Places of Scenic Interest and Charm near Rotorua

In the planning of Summer travel itineraries, few places in New Zealand offer a greater variety of attractions to the holiday-maker than Rotorua, which may now be reached from Auckland in a few hours, and in the greatest comfort, by the Auckland-Rotorua “Limited” express train. In the following article is given a brief description of some of the noted places of interest in the environs of the Geyserland town.

Ibelieve that had Lewis Carroll been fortunate enough to visit Rotorua he would have given his famous book on the adventures of Alice a different title, if merely to avoid confusion. For not only near Rotorua itself, but within a radius of several miles spread round about it, you have a succession of wonders that would have left even Alice breathless with astonishment. What is more, imagine her great delight when, on pinching herself vigorously, she would have actually found they were real. So that, with the single exception that you approach this wonderland by train instead of through a rabbit hole, I can confidently ask you to anticipate adventures just as enthralling and fascinating as those of that celebrated young lady.

Fittingly enough, the place of our first quest is named Fairy Springs. Three miles across flat country from Rotorua, you suddenly turn off the main road towards an unpretentious looking piece of bush on the hillside. The guide meets you at the gate, extracts a shilling per head from you, and conducts you downward through fragrant and overhanging evergreens to a rustic bridge. And there, over the rails, lies a deep, clear pool, which probably has no fellow in any other part of the world. The bed of the pool consists of thick sand which the ever-fresh energy of the spring waters rising from their mysterious and unplumbed depths is continually and irresistibly pushing aside and turning over. But the teeming inhabitants attract your attention even more than the spring, which is literally alive with trout. Never have you seen a nearer approach to perpetual motion than this swirling mass. Individually, you will see them, curiously inert, suspended for one moment in the green-coloured water, like some miniature zeppelin brooding in the sky; at the next moment, they have completely escaped your vision with half-a-dozen lightning movements. Throw a piece of bread into the water, and you create chaos in this community of trout, so keen is the competition for the bread; but, if you discriminate and poke the titbit gently over the edge of the pool, the bolder spirits will come forward cautiously and whisk it right out of your hand. Fairy Springs is the source of a stream which flows into Lake Rotorua, and is also the spawning ground whence come the innumerable fine trout that make the lake such a paradise for fishermen. The guide conducts you along the stream for some distance so that you may see the trout in all stages of development. The youngest are so small that they can scarcely be seen with the naked eye; the maturer fellows prowl murderously up and down stream, on the watch to seize and devour the weaker of their compatriots. At night a brilliant display of glow worms enhances the other attractions of the springs.

Over the Waters.

You can make the trip to Fairy Springs easily and comfortably in half a day, but the trip across Lake Rotorua and to Okere Falls is one of those joyous all-day outings which take you far afield into another world. It is possible to tour the fringe of the lake by car, but on a fine day the trip by launch is irresistible. The skipper casts off at 9.30 from the wharf near Ohinemutu. Seated comfortably, and drinking in deep of the bracing air, you watch the shores of the lake recede rapidly over a surface of shimmering blue. You will never again know so much contentment, for, over this lake, if anywhere, contentment is the presiding deity. Angler after

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Angler you will pass swiftly by, each casting his line amiably, smoking probably, and almost surely as oblivious to the troubles of this world as a new-born babe. Nearly an hour of this delightful cruising brings you to the first port of call, Hamurana, on the opposite shore from Rotorua. Here you disembark to visit another famous spring, about half a mile from the shore. The way lies over pleasant meadows, and by a clear, greenish-coloured stream that has its source in the spring. It is a pity that the limitations of the time-table force you to hurry, for Hamurana is one of those quiet, restful, intimate places where you would like to pitch tent, and laze about with an armful of your favourite novels. Here is lake country that adds to its many natural beauties, and its complete separation from the mundane world of bustle, a warm and pleasant climate. But the duties of the guide, a young Maori boy, leave him no time for reflection, and we hurry on to the spring. Its surface area, is small; it is really a large fissure between rocks. Gaze down into its clear depths as long as you may, you will see no bottom, for there is none known to man. The water is so wonderfully cool and pure that you will be foolish not to drink a glass of it, but the most remarkable feature of the spring is the extraordinary force and volume of its output. Cast a penny into the pool, for example, and you will see it forced upward instead of sinking, such is the tremendous urge of the rising water. The total daily output reaches the colossal figure of twelve million gallons a day.

From Hamurana, the launch turns her nose down the lake towards Okere Falls. It glides smoothly along past the rugged northern shore until near the head of the lake it reaches the shallow waters at the entrance to Ohau Channel. Here the speed is reduced to a cautious crawl. Ohau Channel is a natural canal, winding in its course, and connecting Lake Rotorua with Lake Rotoiti. At places the channel is so narrow that you could almost touch the bank with your outstretched hand, but the waters are deep and perfectly safe to navigate. For nearly two miles you wind in and out of this tortuous water-course; drooping willows occasionally swish over the top deck; on the shores you cath frequent glimpses of the delightful Maori village of Mourea. If in your dreams of paradise you have had visions of green earth and cooling trees, of clear, deep water rolling gently through their midst, of everywhere a spread of blue skies and miles of rugged bush, and if you have added to such vague dreams a longing for peace that is absolute, you will leave Ohau Channel behind you with the greatest reluctance. I sincerely envy the Maoris who wave and smile so contentedly as the launch passes. The old Omar Khayyam grows strong in me; here is my wilderness, and here would love and I conspire if the bonds of this world were looser. The channel is no less a Mecca for the angler; in May, particularly, fisherman's luck is at its best.

Entering Rotoiti, the launch makes straight ahead for the northern shore, and shallower arm of the lake. Drawing near to the head you pass a tiny island, consecrated to the burial of a celebrated chief. About this and other spots around these lakes, hover the ghosts of many stirring incidents of the past, stories of valour, audacity and cunning, that make the Maori warrior a picturesque, if somewhat terrible figure, in history. In all these stories the launch skippers are deeply versed, for they have imbibed them from youth, and they seem to have a natural gift of narration that keeps you hanging breathlessly on every word.


A sudden turn of the prow of the launch, and you come almost by stealth on the landing stage at Okere. Here is another of those places where water and trees mingle with such beauty. Every-one tumbles out of the launch in the highest spirits, lunches, and submits to the disarming smile of a Maori guide who leads the party for about a quarter of a mile to see the electric power station and Hinemoa's cave. Five million gallons of water pass through the Falls daily at a tremendous pace. Less impressive, but more interesting is Hinemoa's Cave, which lies at the very foot of the bank close to the water's edge. You make the descent rather carefully down steps carved out of the rocks, and enter one of those caverns which you read about in stories of smugglers, except that in this case were smuggled women and children, not goods. The place was a safe haven of refuge in case of at tack, for which the Maori ever held himself in readiness; the path to it, though re-conditioned for tourists, was (as it is to-day) very narrow and effectively concealed at the top. You may glance at these scenes with the mild curiosity of a 1933 pakeha, but let your imagination take you back a hundred years or more, and you will hardly expect to reascend those steps without a furtive, cat-like tread, ready to strike off the first tattooed head that you saw.

Mokoia the Sacred Isle.

From Okere the launch heads back again for Lake Rotorua. This time she makes down the middle of the lake, for she is aiming at Mokoia, her last port of call during the trip. Mokoia! It was almost the first glimpse you caught of the lake, an isolated patch of beauty in the centre. But, to the Maoris, Mokoia is not merely an island; they (I speak particularly of the older page 35 Maoris) regard it almost with the reverence that Christians give to the Holy Land, and few visit or leave it without tears in their eyes. For several centuries Mokoia has been the treasure-house of all the sacred emblems of the Arawa tribe, and it has also witnessed the performance of their greatest religious ceremonies. While many legends have woven themselves around the island, none are more interesting than two stories known to be true. Hongi, a famous chief in the north, had grown up dreaming of the day when he would swoop down upon the Arawas
“An emerald lake now shimmers in the blase.“ (Rly. Publicity photo.) Lake Rotoma, one of the enchanting lakes near Rotorua.

“An emerald lake now shimmers in the blase.“
(Rly. Publicity photo.) Lake Rotoma, one of the enchanting lakes near Rotorua.

and exact a terrible vengeance for their massacre of the Ngapuhis. When the opportunity came, he sailed down the East Coast with a force of one hundred warriors, and penetrating inland, reached the stretch of bush blocking the approach to Lake Rotoiti. Horigi's implacable resolution was not to crumble at such an obstacle, the famous Hongi's track was hewn out, and the canoe carried overland to the lake. With every precaution Hongi made the journey into Lake Rotorua, and as they saw him approaching, the Maoris on Mokoia, innocent of any danger, hastened down to the water's edge to give a warm greeting to their supposed neighbours. But with a volley of musket shots, Hongi changed their salutations into cries of dismay and in a very short space of time not a single one of the would-be hosts was alive. Thus Hongi quenched his terrible thirst The other is the famous story of the romance of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. As often, two fathers had attempted to direct the course of love, and love, willy-nilly, had marked out a path for itself. Two miles across the water from Mokoia, Hinemoa lived, outwardly obedient to her fattier, the chief of the Owhata Village, who, strict jailer as he was, used every precaution to keep her by his side. But the call of her lover's plaintive music, which she could distinguish clearly on a still night, made her yearning irresistible, and spurning her father's caution in withdrawing the canoes, she plunged into the lake when the village was asleep, and succeeded in reaching the island, numb with cold, but rejoicing. The bath in which she rested, at that time filled with warm spring water, has ever since borne the name of Hinemoa's bath, and is to-day the chief spot of interest on the island. Mokoia is a communal possession, and its owners are said to run into hundreds. Every few years the Maoris come across to cultivate the land, which at other times is allowed to lie fallow; otherwise the island is usually deserted. Less than half an hour you spend at Mokoia, but if, as a pakehd, you do not come away with tears in your eyes, page 36 you will gaze back at it with a new sympathy and interest in Maori tradition.

To Waimangu and the Grim Mountain.

After a day or two's rest, which is desirable if you are not pushed for time, you will be eager to make the next long trip, called the Government Round Trip. It is possible to make this trip either via Wairoa Village or via Waimangu (though the latter is the less strenuous, since the steep part of the walk is all down hill). The first stage of the journey is eighteen miles long, and is done by motor-car, which brings you to the ruins of the old accommodation house. This stands on the crest of the hill, and down before you spreads the Waimangu Valley, casting up clouds of steam from its questionable depths. As you stand near this mournful shell of a dwelling waiting for the guide to move off, you can picture the tragedy which occurred here on 1st April, 1917. Had you stood on this very spot on that unlucky day you would have noticed nothing unusual down there beyond the rising clouds of steam, for what was known as Frying Pan Flat blew up abruptly, not only carrying part of the accommodation house several hundreds of yards over the hill, but radically changing the appearance of the surrounding country-side. Fortunately no tourist party was about at the time, and only two lives were lost Frying Pan Flat disappeared, giving way to a boiling lake. The guide tells you the whole story as you pass by, but, in your eagerness to catch every detail, don't elbow your way too near to the edge of the cliff for there is only one entrance to the lake and no exit It is impossible to say how much latent energy still lies cooped up in the area which surrounds the lake. After Waimangu, you wander leisurely along through fern and bracken to the shores of Rotomahana. Almost at every step wisps of steam arise from the ground, and boiling springs and hot pools are very numerous. In one place you will discover boiling and cold water flowing along side by side. At Rotomahana the Government launch takes you aboard, and you begin now the easiest and in some ways the most interesting part of the trip.

The Great Eruption.

To the north, rearing itself almost out of the lake, rises Mount Tarawera. With its square, dark, cavernous top, it is altogether a grim mountain, reminding you strongly of that picture you so often see of Napoleon with his square chin, brooding, terrible and implacable. So that the story of the eruption of 1886, if you have not already heard it, causes you no surprise. At that time Rotomahana was only one-thirtieth of its present size, and on the shore opposite the mountain lay the Pink and White Terraces, justly celebrated as the Eight Wonder of the world. Round about were Maori settlements. But even in this scene of perfect peace and beauty, Nature was playing a dual role. During a peaceful night in June, Tarawera suddenly let hell loose for many miles around, the Pink and White Terraces, and the lake vanished, great areas of vegetation were ruined, and many Maoris killed. Guide Warbrick, who until recently conducted the Government launch, was near at hand on that occasion, can give you a more vivid account of it than anyone else Imagine four blazing craters, and the air thick with flying debris 1 Ghastly flames rolling up out of the intense darkness, making it more horrible! But the main suggestion to-day of that disaster is the grim mountain still crouched brooding and sinister against the sky. Underneath him the gleaming waters of Rotomahana ripple peacefully. While the Pink and White Terraces are gone for ever, the steaming cliffs in their former vicinity, are a weird and remarkable sight For a short distance this amazing thermal activity extends even to the lake, which boils and bubbles under the keel of the launch. It is not merely the hundreds of jets and wreaths of steam curling up and intertwining that hold your fascinated gaze, for the brilliant rainbow colours of the cliffs are almost as attractive. These colours are produced by chemical action. Under the shadow of Tarawera, you leave the launch, take a pleasant walk through a wide grove of trees, and join the launch on Lake Tarawera. The incline leading to the lake is still thickly strewn with cinders and volcanic ash, eloquent testimony to the eruption of 1886. A launch trip of several miles now passes very pleasantly, and you step on shore again at Wairoa to join the motor car back to Rotorua. As you pass through Wairoa, you can see the remains of the buried village of that name, another relic of 1886. A portion of an old hotel still exists, and the guide will point out other fragments, strange, stark skeletons, fitting very ill into the present peaceful and beautiful surroundings. After the eruption the inhabitants, or rather the survivors, decamped in all haste and founded new homes near Whakarewarewa. It is interesting that among these Maoris were the grandparents of Rangi, perhaps the most famous of the present-day guides.

Wairoa, however, is not the last of the day's wonders, for you have yet to see the blue and the green lakes, strikingly true to their names on a bright day, and lastly the Tikitapu Bush, which, wonderfully green and luxuriant as it is now, bears no trace of the destruction it suffered in 1886.

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(RLY. Pybliccity Photo.) a winter scene at craigieburnstation, south isiland, N.Z

(RLY. Pybliccity Photo.)
a winter scene at craigieburnstation, south isiland, N.Z