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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 7 (October 1, 1936)

Pictures of New Zealand Life

page 54

Pictures of New Zealand Life

The Story of the Priest's Bath.

The deliciously soft and soothing thermal waters of the Priest's Bath at the Rotorua Spa are famed in many countries besides New Zealand. Thousands of people have found relief and healing in the warm baths fed by the great spring in the Sanatorium gardens. But the why and wherefore of the name has puzzled everyone. Who was the priest, and what was the story of the spring? “Aua!” as the Maori says— “don't know.” That is the usual reply you will get at Rotorua.

The origin of the name dates back seventy years, long before there was a State township at Rotorua. Hot-Spring-Land was then a purely Maori region, and thickets of manuka covered most of the present beautiful park land on the shore of the lake. At that period, about 1865, there was a certain Father Mahoney living at Tauranga, the priest of that pakeha-Maori parish. He suffered severely from rheumatism, and as he had heard from the Maoris that there was a marvellous healing hot-spring at Rotorua he decided to travel to the Lake country and try the mineral waters for his complaint. As soon as he was able to walk, he set out on foot.

Father Mahoney's Journey.

There were no roads, simply narrow and difficult bush tracks. He struggled slowly along with a heavy swag on his back, containing some provisions, a small tent and his portable altar. In great pain the good Father tramped through forest and scrub. He was several days in the wild lone country, and at last, in despair of ever reaching Rotorua, he was about to turn back, when in the distance he saw a lake, the blue waters of Rotorua. With that cheering sight before him, he trudged on and at last came to the Maori villages and the hot springs. The Maoris guided him to the wonderful geyser-pool called Te Pupunitanga.

He pitched his tent there, beside the steaming pool, and for some days he bathed there, in the water issuing from the sandy ground; he almost lived in the bath. Daily he improved; in about a week he was free of pain and perfectly cured of his rheumatism. He returned thankfully to Tauranga and he spread the story of his wonderful cure. From that day to this the spring in which he found healing and new life has been called the Priest's Bath.

Te Pupunitanga, the Maori name of this pool in the manuka, means “The Ambush”; there is a tradition of an olden battle there, in which two of the Rotorua tribes met in combat in the lakeside manuka.

Passengers Came Last.

Here is a report of shipping movements at the Port of Russell, Bay of Islands, published in an Auckland paper, November, 1863:

Entered Inwards.

October 31—Sylph, 70 tons, Norris, from Auckland, with general cargo, 1 passenger

November 4—Sea Breeze, 70 tons, Fernandez, from Auckland, with general cargo, 7 passengers.

November 6—Addison, barque, 426 tons, Pierce, New Bedford, from the Whaling Grounds, with 600 barrels sperm, 260 barrels whale oil.

Cleared Outwards.

October 28—Sea Breeze, 70 tons, Fernandez, for Auckland, with 26 head cattle, 15 cwt. honey, 2 passengers.

November 3—Sylph, 70 tons, Norris. for Auckland, with 25 head cattle, 24 sheep, 4 tons kauri gum, 5 kegs tobacco, 7 passengers.

November 7—Sea Breeze, 70 tons, Fernandez, for Auckland, with 25 head cattle, 1 dog cart, 1 passenger.

Observe the relative order of the items carried along the coast by those old-time schooners, the Sylph and Sea Breeze. The passengers were very small beer indeed; they not only came after the cattle in the list, but after the kauri gum, the honey, and the dogcart.

I knew those two skippers, Gregory Norris and Tom Fernandez, in their later years; they were perfect sailormen, with a taste for a bit of sport, and many a time they cracked on every bit of sail and some more, racing their smart little craft in and out of Auckland harbour. There was stuff for a book in Captain Fernandez's adventures in the South Sea Islands.

Over the Range.

Tirohanga-Kawhia— “The View of Kawhia” —is the very appropriate name of the point from which you gain your first view of the beautiful harbour of the West, should you approach it by land. It is high up on this part-wooded shoulder of Pirongia Mountain which divides the Waipa and the Waikato from the tidal waters of Kawhia. By the motor road to it from Te Awamutu you pass the old military township of Pirongia—it was called Alexandra when it was founded in 1864—and the farm which was once the Maori thatched town of Whatiwhatihoe (“The Place of Broken Paddles”), where once King Tawhiao and his chiefs ruled in primitive dignity. Then up into the hills until at Tirohanga-Kawhia there is the first glimpse of the western harbour. It is luxurious motoring now. For myself I prefer my memories of old-time, the ride across country to Oparau, the head of navigation on Kawhia, from the King Country township of Otorohanga.