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Monday, 30 Apr 2007

In Rotorua the earth is a living presence alive and boiling and all who walk it become Tangata whenua (people of the land)

In Rotorua the land is a living  fiery presence
In Rotorua the land is a
living fiery presence

Maori often describe themselves as Tangata whenua (people of the land) to underline their connection with their tribal home ground.

The term is also connective for Maori in their relationship with Aotearoa (New Zealand). Anyone who scents the pungent tang of Rotorua's sulphur meets the earth as Tangata whenua. Here the earth is alive and boiling mud, geysers and steaming pools demand respect from all who walk here. Rotorua is home to the ancient fiery atua (god) Tamaohoi.

Editor's note: In response to site user requests we have built multi-view ability  into this feature. Just  hold your mouse over an image to see  the big picture.

Buried Village -Te Wairoa Rotorua.  The carving is original  GoSeeNZ pic
Buried Village -Te Wairoa Rotorua. The carving is original GoSeeNZ pic

The volcanic and geothermal activity in Rotorua district has shaped a dramatic landscape puntuated with volcanic mountains, valleys, geysers, springs and hot pools.

Over hundreds of thousands of years, molten lava exploded through the earth's thin crust in the area where Tarawera Mountain now stands. Eruptions built up the mountain, layer upon layer of rhyolite forced from the fires below.

Then early on the morning of June 10th 1886, Tarawera Mountain erupted. By 2.30am its three peaks were in eruption, columns reaching thousands of metres into the sky.

Basalt magma mixed with the hydro-thermal system under Lake Rotomahana and at around 3.20am the bed of Lake Rotomahana blew out, taking with it the famous calcareous sinter Pink and White Terraces. 
Often referred to as a "Wonder of the World" the Terraces were formed by volcanic thermal hot springs. The White Terrace, Te Tarata, (Tattooed Rock) was larger and covered three hectares. The silica-rich waters warmed by magma had slowly formed the two glistening terraces which brought visitors from all over the world.

The nearby villages of Te Ariki and Moura were buried under a scalding pyroclastic flow.

Boardwalk Rotorua thermal pools
Boardwalk Rotorua thermal pools

The settlement of Te Wairoa (about 150 people) gateway to the Terraces was almost completely destroyed as falling rocks and mud rose to the roofs. Only days before Te Wairoa's tohunga (priest) Tuhoto Ariki had warned his people that departure from ancestral ways would bring punishment from Tamaohoi.

Close to the explosion ash built to a depth of 22m. More than 2 billion cubic yards of ash was spread over an area of more than 6000 sq. miles. It is amazing that in the face of this catocylismic eruption only 15 peope from Te Wairoa were killed. The final toll overall is thought to be about 150 dead.

The eruption of Tarawera Mountain happened over 100 years ago. Rotorua is close to the point where great tectonic plates meet. The land has been moving for thousands of years and continues to do so.

Deep in Tarawera Mountain the pressure builds, the mountain sleeps.

Tourists from all over the world visit the mountain, many transported to its awesome summit by descendants of Tangata whenua guides who escorted early visitors, making them part of New Zealand's first essay into international tourism in the 1830's.

Boiling  mud pool Rotorua
Boiling mud pool Rotorua

The "Great South Seas Spa" was where tourism began in Rotorua. Now its Rotorua's Bath House with a diverse past. People came from all over the world to take the waters and curative treatments. One 'cure' was an electric bath. Pretty shocking we thought (please excuse the pun).

Entrenched in Rotorua's history is the major focus on tourism by the Rotorua community. We found this in the ready to help attitude of locals and the signage which puts steaming thermal pools and bubbling mud into context in places like Kuirua Park beside Ranolf St.


To get close to another kind of explosive spirit the violent eruption of Mount Tarawera can be appreciated through exhibits at the Rotorua Museum or explore the excavated site of Te Wairoa Village now known as "The Buried Village" .

About 15 minutes from Rotorua. It is open from 9am to 5.30pm in the Summer and 9am to 4.30pm in winter. The descendants of the survivors now live in their thermal village at Te Whakarewarewa, true Tangata whenua (people of the land). This is in Tyron St Rotorua. 

There are cultural performances twice a day, guided tours carving displays, weaponry, musical instruments and flax weaving demonstrations. 

The Thermal Village is open from 8.30am to 5pm in summer and winter. There are a number of geysers which can be seen from the  village. At Te Puia 30m Pohutu geyser is a show-stopper. Rotorua's hot mud pools owe their presence to the Rotorua caldera.

Rotorua district is one of the most active geothermal regions in the world. It is astride a major fault line which surfaces south of Taupo as the volcanoes Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngaruahoe. It runs through Rotorua and runs out to sea to surface again as White island. The biggest volcano in the Rotorua area is Lake Rotorua.

Hell's Gate Geothermal Reserve is set in 50 acres with a large variety of geothermal features. There are steaming fumeroles beside the track and pools of boiling mud. Hell’s Gate Tikitere is a unique place of extreme contrasts. The formations and colours are remarkable in a world of cascading hot water and unearthly sights. There are even examples of “land coral”. 

At Kakahi Falls the water temperature is about 40C, about the temperature of a hot shower. 

The falls are special to the Maori people, as they were used by Maori warriors to bathe and cleanse themselves after battle. Kakahi was a noted warrior of Rangiteaorere and the falls honour his name. 

The site is also of importance to local Maori because the Tohunga or Medicine man for the tribe would bring the new born baby boys to these falls and dedicate them to the God of War. 

The geothermal reserve at Hell's Gate is different from  other thermal reserves in the Rotorua/Taupo area, as its heat source is only 1km below the surface. 

At the Wai Ora Spa Facility visitors can experience the unique geothermal mud and sulphurous waters in privacy as well as in a totally unique environment.  

This is a uniquely New Zealand Spa Experience. The geothermal muds and waters of Rotorua are renown for their curative and invigorating properties—and this is particularly so at “Hell's Gate” - Rotorua’s most active geothermal reserve.  

For more than 700 years “Hells Gate” or Tikitere as it is known to the Maori has been a special place of healing from the medicinal sulphur lake to the curative waters and muds of  the geothermal pool “Hurutini”.

Mokoia Island island in Lake Rotorua is sacred to Māori of the Arawa iwi.The island has an area of 1.35 square kilometres and is a rhyolite lava dome, rising to 180m above the lake surface.

Wikipedia the free online encyclopedia notes that Mokoia is the focus of one of the most famous New Zealand legends, that of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. 

According to legend, the two lovers were forbidden to marry, and Hinemoa's father Umukaria, a chief from the shores of the lake, ordered that she not be allowed to travel by canoe to Tutanekai's tribal village on the island. 

Hinemoa decided to swim 3.2 km across the lake to the island, guided by the sound of Tutanekai's flute-playing.  She wrapped hue or gourds around her to help her float and swam to the island.

The foreshores of the island also have geothermal springs with hot spring water forming the Hinemoa pool known to locals as Waikimihia.

Rotorua is the heartland of New Zealand Maori culture, and visitors have many opportunities to experience Te Maori. It is rich in history, both Maori and Pakeha. Mokoia Island Experiences run cruises to the island which range from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours. The extended experience includes a tradional Maori welcome, guides, history and culture.

The beauty of Rotorua's lakes takes on a new aspect when they are seen as extinct volcanoes. Lake Rotokahi is tapu (sacred). Only those with tribal links use it. There are 11 main lakes, plus rivers and streams. There are 15 lakes where anglers match their skills against Rainbow and Brown trout. White water rafting the Kaituna River tackles the highest (7m) commercially rafted falls in the world. The Mairoa River is white water heaven.

Skyline scenic attraction Rotorua
Skyline scenic attraction Rotorua

On the side of Mt Ngongotaha a gondola ride soars 487m to Luge Park and sweeping views over Rotorua, Lake Rotorua and the surrounding area.

Rotorua is on the southern shore of Lake Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island of New Zealand.

It has a population of 68,360 of which 30 per cent is Maori and 65 per cent European. Rotorua attracts 1.6 million visitors each year. 

The wet months are June, July and August. It gets most sun in January and February. Rotorua is 60km south of Tauranga, 105 km south-east of Hamilton and 82 km north-east of Taupo.

The Redwoods, Whaharewarewa

Minutes from central Rotorua is another wonder fit for gods. Like a natural cathedral magnificent stands of Californian Coastal Redwoods tower.

Redwood Forest giants near Redwood Family Holiday Park Rotorua
Redwood Forest giants near Redwood Family Holiday Park Rotorua

Among the mighty trees are some of the finest walking and mountain bike trails in the world. There are superb panoramic views of Rotorua City, Lake and surrounding district.

Known simply locally as "The Redwoods" 288 hectares of the Whakarewarewa Forest is managed by the Rotorua District Council. This area, recognised for the diverse range of exotic trees and flourishing native undergrowth, has been set aside for recreation.

The Redwoods and Whaharewarewa Forest encompassess 5667 hectares of native and exotic trees adjoining the Blue and Green lakes and the Whaharewarewa Thermal Reserve. 

In 1899 170 tree species from all over the world were planted in what is New Zaland first exotic forest. many trees did not survive but hectares of of Californian Redwoods planted in 1901 thrived.

The most popular walk is the Redwood Memorial Grove track. It is like being in a wonderful cathederal. Golden beams of sunlight shaft through the Californian Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) which were planted in 1901.

These towering trees stand at about 60m and their massive trunks reach 163cm in diameter. The Grove is dedicated to the memory of the men and women of the New Zealand Forest Service who died in the two World Wars.

Redwood Forest Rotorua
Redwood Forest Rotorua

At the ANZAC Dawn Service at Gallipoli in 2007 Thousands of New Zealanders and Australians gathered in the pre-dawn darkness at Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula to mark 92 years since the ill-fated landing of troops at Anzac Cove.

The first speaker at the memorial service New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters began a plea for peace with an acknowledgement to the Gods of the four winds. When the Winds sing  in the mighty Redwood trees of Rotorua the Forestry Fallen are remembered.

Entry to the forest, tracks and Gift Shop & Visitor Centre is free.

Walking tracks - several tracks catering for various fitness levels

Nature trail – with trees and shrubs identified

Mountain Bike tracks – purpose built trail network for all skill levels

Orienteering - a children’s or beginners course and an advanced course

Scenic picnic areas

Outdoor function facilities for small groups, weddings and events

Multi sport event venue

Meeting Room with private courtyard available to book for small groups

Educational Group guided tours – set options or tailored to your request – bookings are essential

Rotorua's Daughter of the Skies made our world smaller

In 1909 Hine O te Rangi, Jean Batten CBE, "Daughter of the Skies", to the Te Arawa people was born in Rotorua. Te Arawa people arrived on the Arawa canoe in the mid-14th century from Hawaiki, the legendary home of all Maori in Eastern Polynesia (Hawaiki). They moved inland and settled in the Rotorua and Taupo-National Park area.

In 1936 Jean Batten (28) already recognised as a world celebrity New Zealand's pioneer aviatrix sent Auckland into raptures when she landed her tiny Percival Gull on a small grass airstrip at Mangere after crossing the Tasman in 10 and a half hours.

Emerging from the cockpit glamorous in makeup and white flying suit she was greeted by a crowd estimated at 6000. Jean flew 14,224 miles in 11 days 45 minutes direct from England to New Zealand and set a record which stood for 44 years. 

Jean became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia - and back in 1935. She smashed Amy Johnson's England-Australia record by five days in 1934 landing in Darwin in 14 days 22 hours.

In 1936 her touchdown in Sydney drew big crowds and intense interest. Next stop New Zealand. But before she tackled the Tasman she was criticised in a newspaper editorial about the potential cost of her rescue should she crash.

Jean replied with a short gallant statement -

"If I go down in the sea no one must fly out and look for me. I have

chosen to make this flight, and I am confident I can make it, but I

have no wish to imperil the lives of others or cause trouble or

expense to my country."

She took off at 4.40am, October 16, 1936. The flight took 10 and a half hours. Thousands on both sides of the Tasman hung on regular news updates of her flight as she battled terrible weather. News of her Auckland landing banked traffic up for 22km.

When she visited Rotorua Jean was gifted a chief's feather cloak and given the title Hine O te Rangi, "Daughter of the Skies".

Her interest in becoming a pilot was sparked when, in 1929, she met the Australian pilot, Charles Kingsford-Smith and he took her flying in his Southern Cross. He had become a hero when he made the first trans-Pacific flight (1928) from America to Australia in the Southern Cross.

A few weeks before her birth Frenchman Bleriot became the first man to fly the English Channel. Jean's mother Ellen cut out a newspaper report of the flight and pinned it to the wall beside Jean's cot. It was an omen for Jean from a free-spirited, strong, independent mother.

Jean and her mother are said to have been "incredibily close". From 1933 to 1937 Jean's flying skills reset and reset solo distance endurance records. Her 1936 England - New Zealand solo record stood until Judith Chisholm broke it in 1980.

The Percival Vega Gull G-ADPR Jean Batten flew into history on her England-New Zealand flight now stops hurrying jetsetters in their tracks as it hangs above their heads in Auckland's Jean Batten International Terminal.

In 1938 she was awarded the medal of the Federation Aeronautique, aviation's highest honor. She was the first woman to receive it. Jean's mother Ellen died in 1965 at 89 leaving her daughter desolate.

Jean Batten one of the greatest women aviators of all time died in Majorca in 1982 of complications after a dog bite. Her unmarked, communal paupers grave was later found in Palma. An obscure exit from a stellar performer. But her legacy was proof of the potential of air travel to make the world a village. And as always Jean Batten, Rotorua's Hine O te Rangi left flying solo.

To learn more Rotorua Museum in Government Gardens gets at the essence of Rotorua its people, culture and volcanic landscape. It opens from 9am to 8pm in Summer and 9am to 5pm in winter. Allow an hour and half for the experience.

Editors Note: Also See -

GoSee gives High 5 to North Island New Zealand highway to steam, hiss and bubble adventure

Whakarewarewa Maori Village brings traditional living to life

New Zealand's iconic Te Puia binds threads of Maori culture for future generations

For more information
contact: Garth Morrison
Editor Go See Australia and Go See New Zealand Directory

Information Centre Rotorua
Information Centre Rotorua

Lake cruise Rotorua
Lake cruise Rotorua

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Steaming thermal pool Rotorua the water is too hot to hold your hand in
Steaming thermal pool Rotorua

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