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Rotorua Rotorua

21st February 2012

Discovering a Buried Village, Exploring Rotorua Museum and an Evening of Pool

    I had a chat with the two Scottish lasses, who were camped out on the next pitch, and I topped up their car in the process. It was an old banger which one of the girl's brothers had helped her buy from a garage.
    They were spending a month in New Zealand trying to see as much as they could, on a tight budget. Good luck to them I thought.
    "Did you hear the rain last night?" asked Jess, the shorter of the two. I looked around and the grass was soaking. I hadn't heard a thing. Unfortunately for the girls, the groundsheet of their tent acted like a sieve; not a good sign considering the weather was about to turn.
The Blue Lake (Tikitapu)
    This morning, heading south of Rotorua, the Tarawera Road took me past the pretty, iridescent waters of the Blue Lake (Tikitapu) and the sacred Green Lake (Rotokakahi). Tikitapu was named as the place where the daughter of a high born chief lost her sacred greenstone neck ornament (Tikitapu). The lake is turquoise due to reflection from the white rhyolite and pumice bottom. Rotokakahi was named lake of the shellfish (kakahi). This lake is emerald green due to a shallow, sandy bottom. I was aiming for the Buried Village (Te Wairoa), so named after it was buried by the devastating 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption, which blasted rock, lava and ash over a 15,500 square kilometre area. The villages of Te Wairoa, Te Ariki and Moura were buried, killing 147 Maori and 6 Europeans. The two famous Pink and White Terraces that cascaded down the hillside were also lost in the eruption.
    A brief history of the village follows. American missionaries reverend Seymour and Ellen Spencer arrived in New Zealand in 1842 and from 1845 worked with the Tuhourangi people from their homestead at Kariri (Galilee) beside Lake Tarawera. By the 1850s soil fertility has decreased, and with the influx of tourism to the Tarawera area, many Maori people drifted to the nearby village of Te Wairoa, where the settlement offered many attractions. Reverend Spencer and his family moved to Te Wairoa in 1852 and established a mission church at Te Mu to serve the expanding population.
Excavated Artefacts form Te Wairoa School
    Reverend Seymour and Ellen Spencer arrived with a vision for a model village. Each whare, or house, was surrounded by its own carefully fenced 100sq. m garden. Maori residents were encouraged to attend school and church and to grow wheat in addition to their kumara cultivations. Sufficient wheat was grown in the early years to establish a flour mill operated by water power from the diverted Wairoa Stream. The village grew in significance and became the headquarters of the Tuhourangi sub-tribe of the Arawa confederation.
    By the 1860s European clothing was more commonly worn and Maori people were occasionally building European style houses in place of the traditional raupo and bark whare. At the same time nearby tribes were becoming involved in land wars, and by 1865 garrisons were established throughout the district. Many Maori retreated to Kariri where there was a fortified pa.
    Spencer's excursions were restricted and it became difficult to hold his congregation together. Many men were employed in road building and in the service of the Government, and some were involved in the land wars. By 1867 card playing, gambling and drinking were increasing. Mrs Spencer and her daughters left for the coast in March 1868 when the district was threatened with violence by a party led by Te Kooti, the feared warrior from the east. Spencer himself left the station at Te Wairoa in 1870 and the mission was never re-opened. The 25 years of mission work at Te Wairoa were over.
    Te Wairoa with its two hotels became a favourite staging post for tourists who were on their way to see the marvels of the Pink and White Terraces; the "eighth wonder of the world". Local Maori would act as guides, and one even bought the rights to the terraces, enabling charges to be made for tourists travelling across the lake to see them, taking photographs or making sketches of them.
1860s Pit-sawn Rimu Pioneer House Moved From Ohinematu
    Charles Haszard and his daughter Clara taught at the small school and lived in the attached schoolhouse with the rest of a large family. Charles Haszard, the "Native School" teacher, was also required by the Government to dispense medicines. This had been a difficult and frustrating task as insufficient medicine had been available to treat outbreaks of illness, including Typhoid and respiratory problems. Many deaths occurred and tangi (mourning) were too common.
    Everything was about to change for ever. The night of 9th June 1886 was cold and silent. Shortly after midnight, residents of Te Wairoa were woken by earthquakes. By 02:30 craters were erupting "lava" along an 8km rift extending north-eastward across Tarawera.
    An immense black column of ash and smoke, 9.5km in height, rose from the direction of Tarawera. A freezing wind, electrical displays, fireballs, and a red glow were accompanied by rumbling and roaring.
    By around 03:20, the eruption had spread southward to Rotomahana. Violent steam eruptions were produced when hot molten rock encountered surface and subsurface water. These explosions sent up ash and mud that covered much of the surrounding area.
    Debris continued to fall until about 6am, when the day dawned on a devastated landscape. A 16km long rift extended across the mountain top from Tarawera and into what is now the Waimangu Valley.
    Meanwhile, what of the Haszard family? On the eve of the eruption the family and their two guest surveyors, Blythe and Lundis, had observed a conjunction of Mars and the Moon. They were not long in bed when they were awakened by earthquakes. An electrical display was seen over Tarawera.
    The group was soon joined by Mere Hamiora, who had been staying at the old mission house. Together they gathered in the drawing room, listening to a distant roaring and stones falling on the roof, and nervously watching the flames of the stove blown into the room by cold blasts of wind. Clara and Ina took turns playing the organ and singing hymns so that the small children would not be alarmed.
Tohunga's (priest) Whare
    Amelia, the mother, gathered the children round her chair in the middle of the room. Here is her heart-rending account:-
    "I wriggled the chair backwards towards the chiffonier. Just then a large beam fell down from the roof, striking my husband, and falling at one end at the spot where I had been sitting. The other end crashed down on the chiffonier, resting with agonising weight on my leg, and pinned me in a crouching position on my chair. The roar and din was awful all the time, and I couldn't move."
    "Mona ..... cried to me to give her more room, as I was pressing her against the beam, but the load of volcanic mud pouring down on me prevented me from being able to render and assistance, and the child was crushed and smothered in my arms, and died."
    "My little boy, who had been standing by me, said, "We can't live, can we?" and I replied, "No, dear, we will die together." He then said, "Jesus will come and take us," and I never heard his voice again. While the debris and mud were falling in, one of my little girls gave a glad cry of "papa", and spoke no more. All through the night, the roar of the volcano, the sound of falling mud, and the heat of the flames continued. I could not move or make anyone hear, and but for the corrugated iron on the building I'm sure I should have been burnt."
    "Edna, I think, died shortly after Adolphus, as she said, "Oh, my head!" as the mud was bearing down on her, and she spoke no more ...... "
Whare Excavated in the Late 1930s
    The Buried Village contains a permanent exhibition telling the story of the local Te Arawa people and the devastating eruption. I strolled around the "village", the results of excavations carried out in the 30s and 40s are visible today, combined with substantial reconstruction. A collection of whare were on display, some surrounded in deep mounds that would have been the ash and mud deposited on that fateful night. The excavated remains of the Rotomahana Hotel, owned by Joseph McRae, told its own grim tale. This two-storied building collapsed under the weight of mud and was excavated in 1986. Much of the land has been unexcavated out of respect for both Maori and pakeha who still remain buried under the ash and mud. Smooth green lawns kept the past's secrets hidden below, as in many tragedies around the world.
    A dripping, fern-draped short bush walk through the valley brought me to the Te Wairoa Falls, where the Wairoa River plunged 30m over rocky outcrops. The walk helped take my mind off the tragedy that had occurred here, and the personal account from Mrs Haszard, which I found rather haunting - to be trapped in a helpless position whilst your children die around you I find hard to contemplate.
    I finished the walk as the heavens opened, and headed back to Rotorua, and parked up in the Government Gardens. I wanted to amble around the gardens, but more importantly I wished to visit the Rotorua Museum within the gardens.
    The museum had an interesting set of displays and films which gave a good account of the town and its surroundings and its history plus an insight into the buildings former use as a bath house.
    Rotorua is built entirely in the crater of a volcano, the distant skyline all around is the rim. The highly acidic, milky coloured water of Sulphur Bay lies on top of an active geothermal field. Each day about 80,000 tonnes of water flows out of the Rotorua geothermal field, of which about 28,000 tonnes per day up-flows directly into Lake Rotorua, most of this occurring in Sulphur Bay. The rocky outcrops and islands are sinter cemented lakebeds laid down during the past 9,000 years when the lake was 10-15m higher. These have become protected nesting places for red-billed, black backed and black-billed gulls. The whole of Sulphur Bay and parts of its shoreline is one of the few wildlife sanctuaries in the North Island. The oxygen-low water forces the birds to leave the area daily in search of food.
    Lake Rotorua is the oldest continuously existent lake in New Zealand. It formed in the crater of a vast caldera left after a violent eruption some 220,000 years ago. Around 200 cubic kilometres of material was spewed over the surrounding land. From about 65,000 years ago to about 22,000 years ago the lake was 80m higher than today. This resulted from a huge volcanic eruption out of neighbouring Okataina volcano, which blocked the outlet of Lake Rotorua for more than 40,000 years.
Rotorua Museum
    The Rotorua district is rich in stories of the Arawa people who have occupied the area for some 700 years. A key possession for tribes has always been the jewel-like island of Mokoia, set in the middle of lake Rotorua. The 180m high lava dome has been the scene of horrendous battles such as the invasion in 1823 by the warriors of Ngapuhi chief Hongi Hika, who circled the island with massive war canoes for several days, taunting the inhabitants, before attacking and massacring them. It is also the setting for one of New Zealand's great love stories. Hinemoa, a high-born young woman who lived on the headland of Owhata, swam across the lake to join her forbidden lover, Tutanekai. Tutanekai attracted Hinemoa's attention and guided her to the island by playing beautiful melodies on his bone flute.
    As for the building itself, the museum is housed in a structure with a romantic past. The Bath House building, which opened in 1908, was designed along the lines of European spas, and represents the New Zealand Government's first major investment in the tourism industry.
A Panoramic View of Sulphur Bay      (please use scroll bar)

    Balneology, the treatment of diseases by means of baths or water cures, was a science with roots in the spa culture of Europe. Thermal baths had been used since Roman times for the treatment of a wide variety of illnesses. Spas became fashionable in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries, providing a relaxing meeting place for royalty and leading society figures, as well as the place to "take the cure".
    The Government Gardens in which the museum stood were created in the 1890s by Camille Malfroy. This ambitious undertaking transformed a scrub-covered geothermal wilderness into an oasis of Edwardian charm. Small boarding houses once lined Hinemaru Street which forms the western boundary of the Government Gardens. Bath House patrons strolled through the grounds for their treatments, enjoying the carefully laid out gardens. In 1908, the year the building opened, 2,000 people lived in the little town of Rotorua, and the dusty streets were lined with government-owned buildings. Today more than 67,000 people live in the town and district, and the boarding houses have been replaced by District Council administrative buildings.
Government Gardens Hot Spring
    In the evening I retired to a bar in town to watch Sky Sports, and was quietly sipping my beer when a young woman sidled up to me. It was Jess from the camp, closely followed by Angie. They were walking through town and by pure chance had spotted me in the bar, and had come in to share a drink with me. How sweet that they should do that; perhaps they took pity on me being alone. Straightaway the two girls recognised the barman from the internet cafe; obviously doing a couple of jobs at the same time.
    Sadly the bar was about to close. "Tuesday night in Rotorua is very quiet, so everything closes early," the barman told us. He advised we walk around a couple of blocks to the Lava Bar, which is always a bit lively. So we did, and it did have a lot more life. There seemed to be a horizontal bungy jump which was driving a lot of the young folk into ecstasy; I'm not sure why.
    We shared another drink or two, and chatted about this and that, and I could tell that one of the likely lads standing around the table had designs on Angie, and sure enough he made his move and went through his chat-up routine. Why is it that when young men are drunk, their motives become so transparent? I learned from Jess that the two lasses had known each other since they were 11 years old, but now live far from each other up in Scotland; meeting up maybe twice a year. They had struggled to save up for the trip, but had persevered and now here they were, enjoying every minute of it. "Angie's parents are like second parents to me," said Jess. "So where are your parents?" I asked her. "Years ago, my mam went down to England to visit her mam, and she never came back. She just walked out on us. After that, my dad struggled bringing up me and my brothers, but drank himself to death. So I survive on my own now," she told me. The poor lass. I just gave her a hug, not that she needed it, she seemed a very independent young woman who could take all the knocks that the world threw at her, but the hug said more than words could say.
    A group of Maori guys were hogging the solitary pool table. Jess wanted a game of pool, but felt intimidated by these guys all standing around. Although she said she was shy, the wily young woman plucked up courage to ask if she and I could take on the winners. The guys had no problem with that, and soon the three of us were part of the crowd, laughing and joking and just having fun.
    The short, wiry chap playing with us was good, very good. He could have wiped the table clean at each visit, but he made all his shots tricky for himself, trying to go for in-offs and the likes. It turned out he played on the professional circuit for substantial sums of money. I spent a lot of time talking to a giant of a man. He had a ready smile, twinkle in his eye, and was softly spoken. "Where ya from?" he asked. "England, Ipswich," I replied, expecting to enlighten him where that was. "I know of Ipswich. I was in Yorkshire, at Ilkley," he said. "Ilkley moor bar t'at," I joked with him, and he laughed out loud, repeating it in a Yorkshire accent. The huge guy, Alan, was Samoan, grew up in Auckland, and had played rugby for 8 months at Ilkley, whilst working as a labourer there. Up until that point he always thought Britons were arrogant, but he changed his tune when he lived in Britain, and he adored the place. "You don't play for New Zealand then?" I said to make him laugh even more, a smiley infectious laugh. "No, but I did play for the national volleyball team," he answered. He now lived in Christchurch with his young family, but he was up in Rotorua working as a learning assistant whilst simultaneously studying to become a teacher. He was a hardworking, honest guy who seemed like he would make an excellent teacher. I wished him well.
    The games of pool flashed by, and we were all turfed out at 1am. The girls and I walked back to the campsite, Angie recounting her tales of woe regarding being chatted up by the young Kiwi lad. She could handle herself and ran rings around him. How we laughed. It had been an excellent evening. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time, so had the girls, and by all accounts the pool players too.

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Rotorua Rotorua

Uploaded from Top10 Campsite, Rotorua on 22nd February at 11:10

Last updated 21.2.2012