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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 4 (July 2, 1934.)

Rotorua Re-discovered

page 47

Rotorua Re-discovered

The Ward Bath House, Rotorua.

The Ward Bath House, Rotorua.

I Knew all about Rotorua. 1 had, never been there, but a ohidish imagination had, years ago, filled in the gaps among the technical details to be found in the school geography books. Rotorua, these stated dispassionately, was one of the main thermal regions of the world. The earth's crust was very thin there, a fact which invited the deduction that the sulphurous terrors of the earth's centre must be alarmingly near. By some mysterious means—the geographers did not explain just how—boiling water and mud containing valuable medicinal properties, bubbled from the earth; geysers shot continuously or intermittently into the air without suggesting any reason for their action.

However coldly these facts might have been presented, they stimulated the imagination. Then I read the brochures of the Tourist Department which were more prodigal of their epithets. Descriptions of “diabolical manifestations” and of “internal creatures making wild play with oozy plasticine” made me blink. I wrestled with “bubbling cauldrons,” porridge pots,” “champagne bowls” and “sodasyphons,” which overawed and attracted me in turn by their uncanniness. Nothing was said about the smell, but friends had given warning.

I would go and see these things, and it was with pleasant anticipation that I stepped on to the Rotorua Express, and into one of the most sensible and comfortable carriages I had yet travelled in. There was no sign of Nature in wrathful mood as the Express sped through the plain land, and less to suggest it as we began to wind through the fern-clad hills, relieved here and there by knots of native bush. The journey was pleasant enough, but surely nothing enchanting could lie at the end of it! The lake, which soon spread out before us, was not surpassingly beautiful, and when the station signs showed that we had arrived I was frankly disappointed. Surely the publicity writers had been deceiving me these several years! No geysers belched their steaming burdens on to the platform; the panting of the engine, as if it had done the journey in a hurry, seemed more realistic than anything this place had to offer. Photographs and scenic “shorts” had conveyed the impression that the town teemed with graceful Maori maidens dancing the “poi-poi.” None of them greeted me on the platform, but, instead, a squad of smart, gold-braided hotel porters. I took refuge in the thought about anticipation always being better than realisation and then began to argue with myself. Was it likely that a seasoned tourist resort would display all its attractions along the railway platform like new season's goods in a shop window? Surely that was not business. It was during the next few weeks, as I wandered alone and in company on and off the beaten track, that Rotorua gradually revealed herself, and my faith in the publicity writers returned. I had not known nearly all.

Rotorua, is, by its own confession, a resort for tourists, and it is doing no more than justice to the inhabitants to say that they keep this constantly in mind. They have something good to show and don't mind saying so. They also cultivate another art without which the local glamour would not long endure: story-telling. The street names themselves are constant reminders of the past glory of the Arawas and of their entrancing tribal legends. The incantations offered up by experienced guides as they approach a spot of unusual thermal activity are part of the stock-in-trade, calculated to heighten the effect rather than to deceive any page 48 but the most credulous. Thus is the atmosphere created, and I for one would not have it otherwise. But there was something more. Casual conversation with passers-by, labourers, gardeners and others, brought to light local apprehension at the strange pranks Nature sometimes plays in this region; stories of sudden and mysterious disappearances, told with such earnestness and artlessness that one finds oneself, almost involuntarily, going to peer beneath the ledge of the pool to see what became of the man who was last seen bathing his feet while sitting on the rock above.

Rotorua has personality, and its people are most careful—probably unconsciously so—to preserve it. Its natural advantages have received generous treatment from the State. For example, many local bodies must be envious of the Borough Council, which, alone in New Zealand, is empowered by law to strike a rate for the development of the borough as a tourist centre. The other controlling body is the Government Tourist Department. One can only hazard a guess as to what it values its assets at, in terms of money, but in terms of health and aesthetics, it is beyond valuation. Most of the places of interest have been preserved in time by the State for the people, and the borough must rank as a place where State Socialism has achieved some of its most desirable results. The splendidly appointed baths, and the squaremiles of exotic conifers, standing like a massed army along the southern boundary, testify to that.

Rotorua without the Maoris would be like peaches without cream. And the Maori during the carnival season is something to be experienced. I witnessed the genuine excitement of the primitive mind when rival teams pitted themselves against each other in the tug-of-war. I listened, with thousands of others, to the haunting melodies sung by the “girls of the village,” and to the ferocious hakas given by “the boys of the village.” They were not new, but they were still tremendously effective. Dusky warriors imitated the skill of their ancestors as they dipped their paddles in unison during the canoe races of the regatta. At night, the hangi which was being prepared in the town square smoked like a sulphur pool. I paid my shilling and received a conglomeration of meat, kumaras and potatoes, cooked to a turn by mass production methods and handed out in wicker baskets, locally made for the purpose.

The low-pitched, resonant voice of the Maori is pleasing to the ear, and more than once I provoked conversation just to gain the satisfaction of hearing it. One young man, basking at full length on the lake shore, told me he had a dairy farm across the water. “By Jove, I dry the cows off quick this year, so's I get here,” he confided in me mirthfully.

Sitting in a meeting-house at Ohinemutu, an old Maori woman, her lower lip blue with the real tattoo, proudly displayed specimens of her carving, lamenting the while that carving was a dying art. On a Sunday afternoon, at Whakarewarewa, I saw in the flesh the creature of my juvenile fancy, a chubby Maori lad, who dived for pennies and got them. But commercialism had gained a premature hold upon him, because he constantly demanded “thrupences.”

It does not seem difficult for Rotorua to make merry, for there is no suspicion of artificiality in its Christmas and New Year jollity. Once King Carnival is enthroned he reigns. No irksome restrictions spoil the revelry. Lines of motor cars seem to park themselves naturally without the metropolitan bark of traffic inspectors. The only grudge that the townspeople bear against cars is that they treat them like dogs. On at least two establishments will be found, in bold lettering: “Beware of the motor!”

By degrees I came to know Rotorua, and to believe the guide books. Most of the attractions so rightly advertised will be found there. In addition, the visitor who takes the trouble can find many more for himself and reap the satisfaction of his own discoveries. The thermal wonders, except where they have been harnessed for balneological purposes, lie in their primeval state. They excite admiration and command respect, while the healthgiving qualities of the waters which man has turned to that purpose are known the world over. The picturesqueness of the Maori life, a natural concomitant of the thermal regions, remains.

Man has aided Nature. There are good trips, secluded walks, spacious and well-kept playing grounds for young and old. The summer sun is kind, and the breeze temperate. Most important of all, perhaps, the people of Rotorua seemed to have discovered a secret formula for making spontaneous ous fun at the proper time [gap — reason: illegible] carnival mood is a study in psychology as well as in thermology [gap — reason: illegible]

“Tobacco absolutely free from nicotine?” writes Mr. Eugene analytical chemist of note. “No I'm afraid it's as hopeless to look for that as it is to discover the philosoper'name stone or the elixir of life. The nearest approach to tobacco of such purity—and is a near approach—is made in Zealand. I know, becaus when i was there there for the big game fishing a year two ago I found that 'the tobacco of the country, as the Maorilanders call it, contains surprisingly little nicotine. The manufacturers toast it (having installed special machinery for the purpose), with the result that so much of the nicotine is eliminated that what remains is negligible. Both flavour and bouquet are delightful. No wonder this tobacco finds so much favour with smokers in 'the Britain of the South.' Thus the testimony in favour of New Zealand toasted tobacco is always growing! The four brands are: Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Riverhead-Gold, Cavendish, and Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead). Smoke them as freely as you will they are harmless—because they're toasted.*

The Government Gardens at Rotorua.

The Government Gardens at Rotorua.