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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand. A Narrative of 600 Miles of Travel through Maoriland.

Chapter V. — Hot-Spring Life

Chapter V.
Hot-Spring Life.

Ohinemutu and Lake Rotorua—Te Ruapeka—The old pa—Native baths—Delightful bathing—A curious graveyard—Pigs—Area of thermal action—Character of the springs—Chemical constituents —Noted springs—Whakarewarewa — Te Koutu Kahotawa—"Tenakoe, pakeha"—Hot and cold.

The township of Ohinemutu occupies one of the grandest situations in the whole of the Lake district. It is built on a slight eminence called Pukeroa, which rises with a gradual slope from the shores of Lake Rotorua, whose bright blue waters add a romantic charm to the surrounding country.

In front the broad surface of the lake spreads itself out in a circle of nearly twenty-five miles in circumference, and along the bright, sandy shore of this beautiful sheet of water small bays, fringed with trees, and jutting points, clothed with the greenest vegetation, add variety to the attractive scene; beyond these again, wide, fern-clad flats roll away to the base of the distant hills, which, rising in the form of a complete semicircle around, seemed to have formed at some period or another the area of an immense lake-basin, until the waters, bursting into the rugged gorges, swept into the valleys of the country beyond. Some page 57of the hills fall with a gentle slope to the very brink of the water, others send out their rock-bound spurs, while some, again, mounting high above the rest, have their tall summits clothed with dense forests; while deep ravines, thick with a marvellous growth of vegetation, send down their crystal streams to mingle with the fierce waters of the boiling springs, which skirt the lake and send forth their jets and clouds of steam for miles around.

The native settlement, Te Ruapeka, is situated on a long peninsula, about 100 yards wide at its broadest part, narrowing gradually towards its end, where it terminates in a sharp point, as it runs flatly out almost on a level with the waters of the lake.

Every part of this strip of land, from one end to the other, is dotted about and riddled with thermal springs, some of which shoot out of the ground from small apertures, while others assume the form of large, steaming pools. They are of all degrees of temperature, from tepid heat to boiling-point; and while you may cook your food in one, you may take a delicious bath in another, and get scalded to death in a third.

In former times a pa stood at the further end of the peninsula, but one stormy night a rumbling noise was heard, then a sound of hissing steam, the trembling earth opened, and the pa with all its people sank bodily into the depths of the lake.

All the whares of the settlement are built, after the native fashion, of raupo, with large recesses in front of the doorways, the woodwork of which is curiously carved, and forms a very good specimen of the Maori order of architecture. The whares are clus-page 58tered promiscuously about the springs, and it is no unfrequent occurrence to see a stalwart savage, a buxom woman with a baby in her arms, a sprightly youth, or a dark-eyed damsel come out from the carved portals of a hut in the primitive costume of
native woman and child.(Ohinemutu.)

native woman and child.

our first parents, and jump into one of the many square stone baths dotted about, and with no other regard for their neighbours who may be standing or squatting around than if they were so many carved images.

The natives use these baths at all times of the day, page 59and even at all times of the night—that is to say, if a man feels chilly in bed, he gets up and makes for his bath in order to get warm again. Bathing here seems to be a second nature, and the women and girls arrange afternoon bath-parties just as we might assemble our friends at an afternoon tea.

There is something very delightful in bathing in the open in one of these thermal springs. I had my first and last Turkish bath in Constantinople, where the whole process had been so elaborately improved upon by all that Eastern art for luxury could devise, that to go through the ordeal was positively painful, by reason of the state of luxuriousness to which it had been wrought. Here all is primitive simplicity, ceremony is dispensed with, perfumes—at least of "Araby the blest"—are unknown. You sniff the fresh air, which in these parts feels like the elixir of life, plunge in, and sit for hours, mooning the time away in a soft, stimulating heat, beneath the glowing rays of the sun; and if you are not satisfied with this, to complete the luxury you may leave the bath, and sit down, naked as you are, on a seat of heated slabs, where you may be steamed and "vaporized" on the coldest day or the most frigid night without fear of taking cold or of being doubled up by rheumatism.

Not only do the natives use the springs for bathing and curative purposes, and not only do they warm their houses by their means, and perform all their culinary duties by their aid, but they actually bury their dead among them. I went down to the further point of the native settlement, where there is a small graveyard situated among boiling springs and steam-page 60ing fissures that crop up everywhere over the ground, as if the volcanic fires below were just ready to burst forth and swallow up the living with the dead. Portions of curious carvings, old canoes, and grotesque figures in wood lay scattered about in every direction, and one was apt to wonder how it was that they had not long since been destroyed or carted off to grace some antiquarian museum as relics of a rude art which is fast falling into decay. But these remnants of native industry were all tapu, and were as sacred in the eyes of the Maoris as would be a piece of the "true cross" on the altar of a cathedral in Catholic Spain. There was a small, dilapidated hut here filled with coffins containing the remains of several celebrated chiefs, and not far off was an oblong tomb, built of wood, surmounted by a cross, and as I gazed upon it and then upon the grotesque figures lying around, it seemed as if the darkness of heathenism had grappled here with the light of Christianity. It was sacred to the beloved wife of Rotohiko Haupapa, the giant chief of Rotorua. Immediately behind it was a spring with a temperature a little over boilingpoint —in fact, anywhere in the vicinity it was only necessary to sit upon the grass, and you would find the heat from below rise up at once, or to put your finger beneath the roots, when the soil would feel hot enough to boil an egg. It appeared strange that the dead should be buried in so singular a spot (unless they had done something very naughty when in the flesh), and as the hot water bubbled up and hissed through the fissures of the rocks, it seemed to whisper forth the sighs of those below.

page 61

When walking around the whares, and noticing the various phases of Maori hot-spring life, I saw half a dozen members of the porcine tribe come quietly along with an easy, self-satisfied air, as if they had just gone through their morning ablutions in the warm, bubbling fountains, and were going to root round for steamed potatoes, boiled cabbage, and other delicacies. Suddenly a half-naked Maori slunk out of his hut, with a long knife between his teeth. Quick as thought, and with the skill of a champion assassin, he seized the foremost pig by the hind leg. A prod from the knife, and the crimson blood of the murdered animal mingled with a rill of boiling water, which was running past in a hurry, as it were, to cool itself in the lake. A twist of the wrist, and the pig was jerked into a steaming pool, where the heated waters twirled and hissed as if in a red-hot cauldron. Out again in an instant, and then he set to work to scrape off the bristles, which came away in flakes, as if they had simply been stuck on by nature by the aid of a little glue, and the skin of the porker gleamed white as snow beneath the sun. In two minutes more he was disemboweled, and then he was placed over a steam-hole, with a couple of sacks over him, to be cooked for the evening meal. From the time that pig gaily walked the earth until the end of that terrible process, about fifteen minutes expired.

The area in the immediate vicinity of Lake Rotorua where the action of the thermal springs is most active may be said to extend from Whakarewarewa on the one side to Te Koutu on the other. The distance between the two points is about three and a half miles, page 62the thermal action extending inland for about a mile from the border of the lake to Ariki Kapakapa, celebrated for its big holes of black, boiling mud. A short distance from the eastern shore of the lake is Tikitere, a narrow valley in the centre of which is a boiling-water basin, about seventy feet in diameter, and which is surrounded in every direction by hot mud-pools and boiling springs. Close to Tikitere is Lake Rotoiti,1 whose deep bays and jutting headlands impart to it a very beautiful appearance. Hot springs occur on its southern shore, while still further to the east of it, again, are the warm lakes known as Rotoma and Rotoehu, the waters of the two latter being rendered of a greyish, opaque colour by the action of the subaqueous springs.

All the country within the existing range of thermal action, and, in fact, considerably beyond it, bears the distinctive traces of the combined work of fire and water, while the ground for miles around is covered with silicious and sulphurous deposits, together with pumice, scoria, obsidian, alum, oxide of iron, and various other products, the result of the igneous and aqueous action which is everywhere observable in the form of geysers, hot springs, boiling mud-holes, solfataras, and fumaroles, and which are known to the natives under the more general terms of ngawha, puia, and waiariki.2 All the geysers and most of the

1 The word roto in Maori is equivalent to lake. Hence Roto-rua, "lake number two;" Eoto-iti, "small lake;" Koto-ma, "white lake;" Roto-ehu, "muddy lake;" Roto-mohana, "warm lake," &c.

2 The term ngawha is used to designate non-intermittent springs and solfataras; puia is applied to geysers and hot fountains; waiariki means a spring suitable for bathing.

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native village(Lake Rotoiti).[Page 62

native village
(Lake Rotoiti).
[Page 62

page 63springs are intermittent, while not a few are very erratic in their movements, subsiding in one place and breaking out in another with wonderful rapidity. The water of some of the springs is as blue and as bright as crystal, in others it is of a greenish tint, while in not a few it assumes a dirty yellow colour. Nearly every spring possesses properties peculiar to itself, and mostly all are more or less efficacious in the treatment of rheumatic and nervous complaints, and cutaneous and spinal disorders.

Upon analysis, the springs are found to contain various chemical ingredients, but in different proportions, according to the quality or properties of the water. Among the principal chemical bodies may be mentioned the chlorides of sodium, potassium, lithium, calcium, and magnesium; the sulphates of soda, lime, potash, magnesia, alumina, and iron; the silicates of soda, lime, and magnesia. In the acids, hydrochloric, sulphuric, and muriatic are found in abundance, while both sulphuretted hydrogen and carbonic acid gas are largely evolved.

The most important springs are situated at Sulphur Point—a small peninsula at the southern end of Lake Rotorua. One of the most noted is Whangapipiro, a large circular pool of hot saline water, with silicates, and with an alkaline reaction. The water, which is only a few degrees below boiling-point, is perfectly blue, and as clear as crystal, and when you look down into its deep and apparently fathomless basin, the white, alabaster-like deposits of silica hanging around its sides make it appear like a picturesque grotto formed of coral rock. Near to this bath is Te Kauhanga, or the page 64"Pain-killer," the water of which is saline, with excess of acid and acid reaction. It is very efficacious in cases of acute rheumatism, and many marvellous cures are said to have been effected by it. Not far distant is Te Kauwhanga, a large, muddy basin, with a constant discharge of gas, which rises in the form of large bubbles upon the slimy-looking surface. The waters of this bath are slightly saline, with excess of acid and acid reaction, while the gas which is constantly evolved produces upon many, when inhaled, similar effects to those of laughing-gas. Nearer to the lake is Te Pupunitanga formed by a warm spring of transparent water, the properties of which are aluminous, and strongly acid, with acid reaction. The water of this spring is very beneficial in cases of acute rheumatism and cutaneous disorders, and when used in its natural state—that is to say, without the admixture of fresh water—it produces a tingling sensation, and causes the skin to assume for a short time the redness of a boiled lobster. The "Coffee-pot" is a hole about twelve feet in diameter, full of hot, bubbling mud of the colour of coffee, and which rolls and splutters about in a constant state of ebullition. The "Sulphur Cups," not far distant, are formed by small sulphurous springs of various degrees of temperature, which flow out of circular, cup-shaped basins, about four feet in diameter, around which the bright yellow mineral is deposited in the form of glittering crystals, while the "Cream. Cups"—delicate and beautiful in formation—are fashioned out of cup-shaped craters, from the centre of each of which shoots forth a jet of sulphurous gas and steam.

From Sulphur Point I rode across to Whakare-page 65warewa. Situated about two miles to the south-west, and at the base of a range of bare hills, was a native settlement, surrounded by a wide area of thermal action. Here the geysers, hot springs, mud-holes, mud-cones, and solfataras were scattered about in every direction, while the ground hissed and seethed, as it were, in fury beneath one's feet. It was just such a place where you would expect at any moment to go head-first into a mud-hole or boiling spring, or be scalded to death by a shower of hot water from the big geysers as they threw up their steaming columns of silvery liquid high into the air with a loud, rumbling sound like distant thunder. One of the largest geysers here, called by the natives Waikite, issues from a cone of silicious rock nearly fifty feet high and over a hundred feet in diameter, and in its most active moments throws up an enormous column of boiling water to a height of sixty feet. Many of the numerous springs here possess great curative properties, while the mudholes and fumaroles are amongst the largest and most active in the district.

At Te Koutu, which lies on the shores of the lake, about a mile on the north side of Ohinemutu, there is a very interesting chain of warm springs and mudholes. This is one of the most beautiful situations on Rotorua, of which a splendid view is obtained, with the island of Mokoia in the distance, and the forest-clad mountain Ngongotaha, rising to a height of 2554 feet above the level of the sea, and just in rear of the small native settlement, which here skirts the margin of the wide expanse of water. There is one beautiful spring here, called Tupuhi, of clear, hot water, which fills a page 66snow-white silicious basin, about ninety feet long, while within a few feet of it is a circular basin of the same kind, in which the water is only of tepid heat. It is surrounded by a mantle of green grass, and the water of the darkest blue makes it look like a big turquoise set in a border of alabaster and emeralds.

I was shown round this locality by a native guide, who took me to a large hole where a warm spring, called Kahotawa, bubbled up in a mixture of greenish mud and scum. Its black sides were overgrown with ferns, and a few sticks were placed across it in a mystic, cabalistic kind of way. When we got near to it, I noticed that my guide drew back, and when I motioned for him to follow me, in order to explain the mystery, he informed me in the most solemn way that it was tapu for the Maori, but not for the pakeha. He afterwards stated that it was sacred to an aged chief, or rangatira, who had been buried in it. I did not envy the old man his last resting-place, for I had never seen a grave that looked so much like a cauldron of hot turtle soup.

Soon afterwards I passed in front of a whare built within a few feet of the lake, where there was an open bathright in front of the doorway. It was formed of a few slabs let into the ground, like a square box, to hold the water. A small warm spring filled it, and then ran over its sides into the lake. I should not have taken any notice of this simple contrivance, had it not been for the fact that a maiden of some seventeen summers was reclining at full length in it, in the simple yet attractive costume of Eve, and with a short black pipe in her mouth. I had stepped round the page 67corner of the hut, and was within a foot of going head-first into the bath before her well-rounded form met my gaze. She was, however, in no way disconcerted by this contretemps, but, fixing her dark eyes upon me, said, in the most unconcerned way imaginable, "Tenakoe, pakeha."1 There was not the slightest tinge of immodesty in her manner; she simply lay shining beneath the sun, with all the grace with which nature had endowed her, looking like a beautiful bronze statue encased in a block of crystal.

At some distance further on I got into a warm bath myself, which caused a delightful sensation of glowing warmth, and when I was tired of this I plunged into the cool water of the lake, which produced an effect which seemed to brace up every nerve and muscle. There is nothing which strings up the system so well as a mixed bath of this kind, and there is no place where it can be enjoyed with greater comfort or pleasure than at Te Koutu, where the springs are close to the shore, and where the waters of the lake shallow gradually over a white bed of sandy pumice.

1 Tenakoe, pakeha, "I salute you, stranger," is the usual Maori salutation addressed to Europeans.