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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 8 (November 1, 1937)

Ngawha Hot Springs — Healing Waters

page 43

Ngawha Hot Springs
Healing Waters

The old Maori regarded me with commiserative eyes.

“You got te rheumatics?” he asked. “Why you no go Ngawha? Py korry! Ngawha—he cure him orright!”

“But it isn't rheumatics—“ I began

You got te neuritis?” he interrupted. “Never mind! You go Ngawha! He cure him—“

“But I haven't neuritis,” I interrupted in my turn. “I've only a relaxed throat.”

“You got te sore t'roat? Never mind! He all te same t'ing. You go Ngawha! He cure him orright.”

I became impatient of old Kaka's insistence.

“I suppose Ngawha would cure a wooden leg, eh, Kaka?” I said flippantly, and was immediately ashamed for the old fellow took me seriously. He puffed at his pipe reflectively.

“No,” he said at last. “He no cure a wooden leg, but he make you feel so good you no notice te wooden leg.”

After that, what to do but go to Ngawha!

On enquiring the state of the roads —a necessary preliminary to any projected trip in a small car in the north —we are assured that they are “not too bad.” Our pedagogic passenger, who even during week-ends thinks in terms of “two-times and parsing and capes,” speaks his piece between jolts.

“Cha-cha-change one abverb and you've got it,” he stutters, and certainly, “just too bad!” would be a more apt descriptive phrase, for the several miles of pot-holed corrugations that passes muster for a road. It is as though some mammoth monster, whose favourite diet is roads, has pounded heavily along, taking great bites with every leap, and an hour on his trail, in a baby-car makes the prospect of a hot mineral bath trebly attractive.

A Desolate Region.

Ngawha Springs are situated in a wide, shallow valley, a few miles from the main highway between Ohaeawai and Kaikohe, and a more desolate tract of country would be hard to find. Absolutely treeless, the sullen soil gives grudging sustenance even to its covering of ti-tree and heath, as their stunted growth eloquently testifies. The few small huts scattered around, erected for the accommodation of patients, appear strangely alien, so completely out of harmony are they with the stark austerity of the surroundings, and the little patches of gardens, with their depressed-looking vegetables and struggling flowers, only serve to accentuate the incongruity. It is as though ugliness, baring savage teeth, should say: “This is my demesne. Beauty shall not enter here.”

Where Forest Flourished.

And yet this waste was once the mother-earth of a mighty forest. Majestic kauris rose, here, not in isolated grandeur, but in groves and assemblies of unparalleled splendour, and so shallow their grave that almost any handful of soil, sifted through the fingers, yields leaves and cones—some in perfect form—of the buried trees. Adjacent to the valley of the springs are several small lakes of mineral water, each perhaps a couple of acres in extent. One of these, known as the Soda Lake—an apparently shallow sheet of dirty-yellow water heavily charged with mineral alkali—must have been a close-pillared temple of Tane, for its entire surface is broken by the gnarled roots, the shattered trunks and the scattered limbs of the dead giants of the forest. What a day must have been that when fickle nature, with fiery sword and thunderous cannonade, laid low at one swoop the glorious results of her centuries of quiet building! What catac
(Rly. Publicity photo.) A recent view of the Ngawha Hot Springs. North Auckland, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A recent view of the Ngawha Hot Springs. North Auckland, New Zealand.

lysmal force must the upheaval have assumed to so shatter these huge boles, some of which are splintered into matchwood, and who knows what animate—perhaps human—life went down in this orgy of destruction to share the honoured dust with the monarchs of the forest.

Nature's Compensations.

Yet, though she snatches greedily with one hand, Nature bestows generously with the other, and in this valley of death she has planted her miracle-working wells—gushing springs of living waters for the restoration of ailing humanity. The soil in the immediate vicinity of the pools is a slate-coloured clay, of a “rubbery” consistency, dimpled with tiny depressions caused by escaping gas, the continuous gentle hissing of which reminds one of the scuttling of millions of tiny crabs on a sandy shore. The springs are in two groups, one at each end of the valley. The lower baths are being commercialised on a small scale by private enterprise. An accommodation house has been established, and there are cubicles, with a communal kitchen, for those who prefer to cater for themselves. A dressing-shed is provided for the use of casual visitors—a garish little structure, this, in its striped coat of blue and yellow, utterly inconsonant with, but boldly defying, the grim bleakness of its environs. The upper pools, known as the “Maori Baths,” are, under the will of the great chief who owned them, free to all. No charge may he made for use of the baths and dressing sheds—the latter in very indifferent repair—but a small rental is derived from the huts. Here is located the famous “Bull-dog” pool, getting its name from the barking page 44 page 45 sound which accompanies the pumping of the water up through a neighbouring rock-like mineral deposit. We are told that, originally, the bark was much more realistic, until some vandal, with a scientific-inquiry turn of mind, took a pick-axe to satisfy his curiosity. In discovering the cause, he spoiled almost entirely the effect. He is not a popular figure of memory, that psuedo-scientist! It was the water from this source that was recommended for “te sore t'roat,” and the gargling chorus rivals the bull-dog in resonance. The water in the pools is dark, rubbling and bubbling with gas-bubbles like boiling cauldrons, with an uninviting oily scum. It is declared, by local authoritative statement, that the water contains in solution and suspension no less than eleven different minerals, chief of which is cinnabar (red sulphide of mercury). The whole of the valley, indeed, is impregnated with mercury, and at the top of the hill may be seen the old building of Imperial Chemicals, Ltd., which firm, during the war, exploited the soil of its rich deposits. The end of the great conflict apparently said “Good-bye to all that!”

The bottoms of the springs are inches deep in oily ooze, said also to have exceptional curative properties. A returned soldier is busy plastering this slime on an obstinate old wound, and tells us that a month of this treatment enables him to spend the rest of the year in comparative comfort. It costs the neophyte an effort to descend into these revellent pools, but, once in, all repugnance vanishes in a flood of sensuous ecstasy as the soothing water works its relaxing magic on tense and tired bodies. Its healing properties, especially in skin diseases, are undoubted, and hakihaki, the bugbear of teachers of native and mixed schools, yields immediately to its cleansing agency. Local natives point with pride to the unpitted skins of those who, afflicted with the alleged small-pox in 1913, were regular habitues of the baths, contrasting them with the scarred faces of those sufferers to whom the springs were not accessible.

Camaraderie of the Baths.

This is everyman's land, where nationals of every country join hands in the common bonds of human suffering, the most pathetic of all human relationships. Racial and national enmities and prejudices dare not raise their shamed heads here, for in the brotherhood of bodily agony every man is “his brother's keeper,” and where such responsibility is recognised, there broods the gentle spirit of true fellowship. It is a jolly little community, too, in spite of its background of pain, and good-humoured jest and badinage pass from bath to bath. To listen to some of the arguments between patients, especially those in broken English, is sheer delight. One huge Maori, his bronzed torso gleaming wetly in the winter sun, is engaged in wordy warfare with a fellow-bather—a Dalmatian whose distorted, pain-wracked body has obviously embittered his mind. The Maori is shocked at his neighbour's blasphemies and lack of' faith.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Ngawha Hot Springs area it appeared a few years ago.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Ngawha Hot Springs area it appeared a few years ago.

On our pointing out his own inconsistency, in that while he preached faith-healing, he himself was practising a rational method of treatment, the big Maori burst into a gust of sonorous laughter.

“Me!” he exclaimed, derisively. “I no come for te sickness! I come for te enjoy!”

Thankfully we reflect that we, too, are able to come primarily for “te enjoy,” but it is on account of those others, disease-wracked and tortured, to whom the measure of their enjoyment must ever be the extent of the relief they experience, that our hearts are lifted up in gratitude to the memory of the noble chief, who, in his wisdom and beneficence, decreed that these Bethesdas should be free, to Maori and pakeha alike, “for ever and ever and ever.” Te Reinga rest his great spirit—ake! ake! ake!

And “te sore t'roat?” Py korry, yes! Ngawha—he cure him orright!

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