Saturday, 21 July 2012

I love the smell of sulphur in the morning!

I don't really, I was just paraphrasing a famous film (it's Apocalypse Now for the uneducated) - I actually can't stand it but hey this Rotorua, they don't call it "Sulphur City" for nothing! Rotorua is famous for all it's eggy smells due a huge amount of geothermal activity happening in the Taupō Volanic Zone, as a result hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gas is transported to the surface of the earth's crust causing the air to smell like rotten eggs, which from time to time can be a little overwhelming!

Compared to the Bay of Islands, it definitely felt a lot colder down here than in Kerikeri, where we were spoilt with an extended run of warmer weather compared to the rest of New Zealand, but that wasn't going to stop us enjoying Rotorua as we've been hearing that the South Island is even colder still!

To refamiliarise ourselves with the city centre we took a brief walk around the somewhat featureless grid system before heading over to the Government Gardens (originally known as Paepaekumana), east of the Central Business District. The CBD seemed a lot more run down than how I remembered it, however, I can't quite put my finger on it. I'm not sure if I'm just remembering Rotorua with rose tinted glasses or if we've been to some nicer places on our second time round in NZ...

The Government Gardens is a site of legendary and historical importance to local Māori people, as numerous significant battles have taken place there. In the late 1800s, the Māori gifted 50 acres of this land to the British Crown from the Te Arawa tribe, however, the scrub-covered land was cleared and formal gardens planted in its place. Several large trees from those early days remain, including multi-trunked Japanese firs and an unusual Californian weeping redwood. The Government of the day also had a grand vision for the area. As early as the late 1870s it was viewed and developed by the Crown as an antipodean version of a great European spa town. Today, the centre piece of the Government Gardens is the grand mock-Tudor museum which was originally constructed as a spa retreat in 1908.

The ancestral tōtara carvings around the gardens were presented by the Ngāti Whakaue people 

The timber-framed Rotorua Museum used to be the old Bath House 

The Blue Baths building is a rare example of a Spanish Mission-style bath house 

Nice impression Lizzie!
One of our favourite lakeside walks so far is down by the edge of Lake Rotorua, round to Motutara Point and Sulphur Bay. Unlike at Lake Taupō you can actually get down to the water's edge. The lake is in fact a partially filled part of the volcano caldera, which was formed 230,000 years ago by a huge ignimbrite eruption! There's an island in the middle of the lake called Mokoia Island, which was the romantic setting for the Māori tale of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, an old local love story.

The Lakeland Queen paddle steamer

Mokoia Island is possibly New Zealand's best-known lake island

Pied shags (Phalacrocorax varius) in the trees at Motutara Point

Tutanekai lived on Mokoia Island many generations ago, and was the stepson of a great rangatira (chief). Hinemoa lived on the mainland and was the sacred daughter of two rangatira (Te Umukaria and his wife, Hinemaru). She lived in a special house in Owhata, on the eastern shore of the lake and was guarded by female attendants. During an annual meeting of the iwi (tribes), Tutanekai and Hinemoa met and fell in love, but they kept it a secret as they knew it would be forbidden. After the meeting, Tutanekai returned to Mokoia Island, but the music from his flute drifted across the lake to where Hinemoa waited. Hinemoa's people had become suspicious, so they dragged the waka (canoes) high up onto the beach each night to prevent her from rowing across the lake. However, Hinemoa was so determined to be with her love that despite the distance, she decided to swim the lake. She tied three empty gourds under each arm and set off through the cold, dark water using the sound of Tutanekai's flute to guide her. When she reached Mokoia Island, she was cold and tired so she rested in a hot pool. When one of Tutanekai's slaves came to fetch water, she demanded the gourd he carried, drank from it and then smashed it on the rocks. She did this twice, before Tutanekai stormed down to the hot pool to see who had insulted him in this way. But when he saw it was Hinemoa, he pulled her from the pool, put a cloak around her and took her back to his whare (house). In the morning, when four feet where seen in the whare instead of two (!), news spread that Tutanekai and Hinemoa had been wed. Their families made peace, and they lived happily together and had many distinguished descendants.

The lake and Mokoia Island are an outstanding habitat for water birds

At the west of the lakefront is Ohinemutu village, which is a suburb of Rotorua but very much retains a sense of importance. Ohinemutu was the region's original Ngāti Whakaue settlement, however, today you can see how Māori and European cultures have collaborated. Towards the lake's edge is the magnificently decorated St. Faith's Anglican Church. Inside the church, Māori design stained glass windows and carvings plus tukutuku (woven panels) add a unique dimension to the European Tudor-style architecture. An imaginative etched window has Jesus in a traditional Māori cloak, positioned in such a way that he appears to be walking on the water of the lake.

St. Faith's Anglican Church seamlessly blends Māori and European cultures

Two of the best free places in Rotorua to see boiling mud pools, sulphur vents and fumeroles as well as barren landscapes are at Sulphur Point (Te Kauanga) and Kuirau Park, which is right next to the city centre. Sulphur Bay is the southern most bay on Lake Rotorua, which is a warm sulpherous area lying on top of an active geothermal field. In particular, the thin crust around Sulphur Point makes it quite a dangerous place to be if you don't stick to the footpaths.

Many of the best geothermal attractions in the area lie outside of Rotorua and we're hoping to see some of the more dramatic volcanic areas, especially now have our own transport to get around as we were limited to how far we could travel the last time we stayed here.

Cameron's laughing gas pool at Sulphur Point  (Te Kauanga)

The milky colour of the water is due to suspended sulphur particles

A section of the Te Arikiroa walk round from Sulphur Bay

On a separate day we drove out to the Whakarewarewa Forest 3km southeast of the city centre to walk along the Pohaturoa Track up to the Trig (upper) and Whaka (lower) lookouts, where we could lookout over Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve (or Te Whakarewarewa o te Ope Taua a Wahiao as the area is fully known!). At one point we were able to watch the Pohutu Geyser ("big splash") spouting steaming water  30m into the air.

The view gives you a better sense that the city is built on an old lake bed

A free show of the Pohutu Geyser from the Whaka lookout

Steam rising across the Te Whakarewarewa thermal field

Within the forest there is an impressive Redwood Grove, which was planted in 1899 as an experiment to see which exotic species could be grown successfully in New Zealand for timber. Not many of the 170 tree species survived, but the redwoods were found to grow three times faster than in their native California and some of the tallest trees now reach the heights of around 60m.

California coastal redwood towering above the forest

A naturally occurring thermal pond, the sulphur content turns any vegetation a powdery white colour
A whekī or rough tree fern under the canopy of the redwoods
Sunset in the Redwood Grove

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