Rotorua (Day 3) to Lake Taupo
21.09.2009 - 21.09.2009 20 °C
For a change of scenery we spent last night out at Blue Lake. Blue Lake is located 11km south of the city next door to its sister, the Green Lake. Blue Lake is round in shape and has no stream or river feeding into it. The white rhyolite bottom causes the sunlight to make it blue in colour. It is a popular spot for campers and holiday makers. The Green Lake is sacred to the Maori people so there is no access into the lake.
Our first visit of the day was to the nearby (about 4kms down the road) “Buried Village”. The famous volcanic eruption of Mt Tarawera on June 10, 1886 was New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster. For 4 hours, rocks, ash and mud came down on the small village of Te Wairoa. More than 150 people perished. The eruption destroyed the eighth wonder of the world – the stunning pink and white terraces and buried the staging post for those who travelled to see the marvels under 2 metres of volcanic material.
Te Wairoa has been largely excavated and now you can walk around the site and look at a lot of the objects that were recovered from the ruins that are in the museum. The village is located in peaceful and lush surroundings. Wandering through the museum I got to look at the personal belongings, household items and tools of the villagers. A pair of children’s leather shoes that were entombed that are on display are a poignant reminder of the loss of human life. I remember learning of this eruption at school, so I was fascinated during the whole circuit walk of the site. Following the visit, we got in the car and drove a kilometre eastwards to a lookout where you can view the volcano that caused the devastation. It is hard to believe how terrible the landscape would have looked like on the day of the eruption.
After a quick trip into town, we went to visit the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. This village is the home of the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiato people. At present 25 families live here and most work here also. This is where we got to learn more about the Maori culture. The village is located on the southern edge of Rotorua’s geothermal area.
Our guide took us to see the meeting house, the cooking and bathing pools as well as the cemetery. Most of the homes here do their cooking in steam boxes (they call them their microwaves!) that are buried into the earth. There are bubbling hot water pools that are used for cooking vegetables. Before leaving we brought some corn on the cob. A local Maori Lady walked us over to the pool. Pulled a muslin bag from the waters and took the corn out for us. We had to help ourselves to seasonings. Sam and Pat were quite amazed at this and even more so by the “microwaves”. The corn by the way was delicious.
The cooking pools and steam boxes are shared by all families in the village and food is generally cooked together, side by side. The nearby bathing pools are really baths that have water feed into them at approximately 45 °C. They are open air and are used in all weather conditions. People here often bath together - gossiping or singing songs. The water is lovely and warm and your skin becomes soft to touch once it is immersed. There are also mud pools and geysers.
The cemetery is tucked away and consists of above ground tombs all painted white. Near the tombs a small steam vent shots out smoke. It looks pretty spooky, but explains the reason why the tombs are above ground - no one is buried in the hot earth here. These villagers have a very interesting backyard.
A surprising happenstance that we found out, was that the survivors of the Te Wairoa disaster were resettled here at Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. Te Wairoa was set up by an Anglican Missionary, so when the villagers resettled they took the church along with them. By then the Catholic Missionaries had also arrived in the village. The Chief of the tribe was in a quandary (Maoris’ do not have a religion as such). So in the vein of King Solomon, he said that those standing to one side would be Anglicans and those standing on the other would be Catholic. In some circumstances families were split, religion wise. However to the villagers religion is left in the church, in the meeting house it is all about family and community. Today the bell from the old church at Te Wairoa stands outside the village meeting house.
There were lots of unexplored parts of Rotorua. We really needed another 4 to 5 days to do it justice. Unfortunately we had to move on. So late in the afternoon we made the 80km drive south to Lake Taupo. Hopefully we’ll be back again soon.