77. Rotorua – We Made it!

I’ve sometimes had doubts we’d get as far as Rotorua on our year long trip, but with a bit of rushing and passing over areas that we’d like to get back to, here we are right in the centre of some of NZ’s most overtly active volcanics – at last!

We ended up crashing in Rotorua for two whole weeks. We’d hit a point where we needed to stop travelling so frenetically – we’d been rush rush rushing from one sight to the next, this region to that, and we were feeling a little like we were passing the world by too rapidly. So for us, stopping was a natural thing that was barely discussed; we just found ourselves continuing to be in Rotorua day after day, feeling low key and relaxed. Some days we did very little, other days we took longer ventures into the local and wider environment. Some of the highlights, which I’ll cover slowly over several blogs, were Ohinemutu, Kuirau Park, Okere Falls, the Buried Village of Te Wairoa, Lake Tarawera and its hot water beach, Mt Tarawera, White Island and Rainbow Mountain. My very favourites were the Buried Village, Mt Tarawera and White Island.

When we tried to go to the large museum in Rotorua (closed for earthquake strengthening) we could smell the strong aroma – or stench – of sulphur, but to my surprise – just because of what I’d heard from others – in most areas of the city there was no smell at all.

The stick and daub look on the information centre in the middle of Rotorua.
Looking along Lake Rotorua – on the left you can see one of the church belonging to the Māori village Ohinemutu; we’re going there next.
Looking the other way along Lake Rotorua.
And looking straight out into Lake Rotorua…there’s Motu Mokoia, the island of Mokoia that lies within Lake Rotorua. As a small child I would listen to a record of my parents that had a narrator with a very deep voice, telling the love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, and how Hinemoa swam across the lake to be with Tutanekai. We used to sing Pokarekare Ana all the time as kids, which is a musical version of the story. Amazing to be seeing the island that’s the subject of the story and song!

Lake Rotorua is a caldera, which means that so much lava (in the form of pumice) was blasted out of the magma chamber inside the volcano that there was nothing left to hold the mountain up, so it collapsed into itself. Mokoia Island is a remnant of the lava dome that was central to the volcano, which blew up around quarter of a million years ago. Lake Taupo is also a caldera, and there are several others in this region too, some of them very old and quite eroded.

The waters of Lake Rotorua itself have a high sulphur content that can take on a yellowish hue in the sun.
Tama te Kapua meeting house in Ohinemutu.
The Ohinemutu complex belongs to local iwi Ngāti Whakaue who regard themselves as descendents of the Arawa waka, same as Ngāti Hei of Whitianga.
Ngāti Whakaue gifted land to the crown so the city of Rotorua could be built.
The church of Ohinemetu.
In the past, apparently, there’s been no charge, but I guess with the amount of people who visit now there always have to be hosts/guardians on site to talk with us constant stream of interested visitors.
The famous Māori Jesus inside the church, etched into the glass – he’s really meant to be walking on the water so I wasn’t quite in the right position for this, oops. Whether or not you hold religious beliefs, this etching and indeed the other paintings, carvings and panels within the church are simply beautiful; and the atmosphere is calm and peaceful.
In the grounds of Ohinemutu there’s plenty of geothermal activity, and the next few photos show us walking around the grounds. People live in the wider complex; you can see some of the houses in the background of these photos.
One of our friendly hosts told us that the hot water at Ohinemutu is used by its residents for bathing and washing but only where the water and steam are clean; alkaline rather than acidic.
We walked all around Kuirau Park, where there’s geothermal activity and lovely flower beds – yes, bear in mind when looking at these photos that we are still bang smack in the middle of winter. I don’t think I’ve experienced such a warm winter for a long time, if ever!
There was a bed planted out for blind people, I guess they can touch, feel and smell the plants and flowers. We wondered about bees, but I guess if you’re blind then your hearing is heightened and you would hear them buzzing around.
We went to Kuirau Park, which is a large public park in the middle or Rotorua which is always open.
These community hot pools stand at one end of Kuirau Park – we took our turn soaking our feet and swapping stories with a South American couple and their young son, before taking photos for one another!
Walking around the extensive grounds of Kuirau Park…
Waiparuparu used to be a community pool used by local iwi for bathing and cooking, with cooking being done only in the steam or in the alkaline waters.

A sign told us that Māori have been cooking for many centuries in these waters, and that kete o harakeke or flax baskets were lowered into the water so that food such as berries and shellfish could be boiled.

In 1870 the sinter (silica that precipitates out of the geothermal waters) lining the perimeter of Waiparuparu began to be used to build chimneys on houses. Some of the houses in Ohinemutu still have these sinter chimneys on them, still standing and in use. Wish we’d known this back at Ohinemutu – we would have taken a better look!
The water of Waiparuparu pool are much reduced compared to their past levels – this is very usual for geothermal activity which is always on the move, leaving one area to pop up in another.
This one has has moved on too!
We saw both of these plants, pictured below…
The last pool we arrived at was huge, and we found a bridge crossing over it.
There was a taniwha by this lake, and a story to go with it.
Some of the pools in Kuirau Park are alkaline and contain salt minerals, and some are acidic and produce sulphuric acid on contact with air. We wondered if this one was acidic, due to the algae growing across the surface.
Thus ends our walk around one of the most fascinating parks we’ve ever been in.

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