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  • Writer's pictureClaire

03/04/24 Whakatane to Waikite Springs via Rotorua

A great deal of rain fell overnight so it was all a bit damp and chilly this morning. That being the case we decided we’d warm up in the kitchen have a drink and get going, lots to see and do today and because of the long driving day yesterday, not so many miles to drive today.  Which is good for poor Si, despite him saying he doesn’t mind the driving, it does worry me a bit that he’s not had a break.  I mean, I know I’m practically driving as well, the muscles I have built up in my right leg from vicious braking are borderline spectacular it has to be said. 

We got to Rotorua and found a parking space, but we couldn’t get over how quiet it was, it was absolutely dead, the streets were empty, the roads hardly any traffic, very strange for such a popular place to visit we thought.  Parking up was no problem and we went to have a rumble around and see what we could find around the town. There wasn’t a huge amount besides some gorgeous autumnal trees in stunning shades of ochre and rust providing a colourful canopy to walk beneath and 5 tattoo parlours along the two streets. There was a nice looking cafe, accessible and very clean and shiny, so we did what we always do when we see a cafe …, we went in and had a scooby snack!! 

Rotorua is as much a sensory experience as it is a place. We could smell its pungent, sulphur-rich (ok, actually a farty rotten eggs) aroma and we saw steam blasting out of roadside drains. Initially it presents itself like any other New Zealand town, but it is in fact utterly unique. I would say it’s definitely the southern hemisphere’s version of Yellowstone. The Māori revered Rotorua and around 40% of the population today is Māori. 

In the early 1870s, word spread of scenic wonders, miraculous landscapes and watery cures for all manner of ailments. Rotorua exploded,  Its main attraction was the fabulous Pink and White Terraces, formed by volcanic silica deposits, and, at the time it was claimed as the eighth natural wonder of the world. Sadly they were destroyed in 1886 when Mt Tarawera erupted. 

After our little scooby snack we loaded back into Ismene and set off to locate the Whakarewarewa Redwood forest, just a few minutes out of town and completely worth going to just for the toilets! They are so cool, all individually laid out wrapped in steel and laser carved with traditional things.  There is a huge range of exotic tree species, mix of native undergrowth, and panoramic views on offer if you chose to do the treetop walk which we didn’t do, that you can do both daytime and night time. I had a look at some of the reviews of the night time one and it sounded really good, the forest is subtly lit by fairy lights and other. Lights which highlighted the trees just subtly. As I say we didn’t do that.  There are several walks that you can take or different lengths and difficulty, obviously we kept to the easy one! At over 5600 hectares, The Redwoods and Whakarewarewa Forest  are one of Rotorua’s most spectacular natural assets and another of the city’s treasures.

After a short rumble along the easiest path through  the towering redwoods, we decided we had spent enough time there and  moved on to our third stop of the day, the Blue and Green lakes. 

These two lakes are directly next to each other separated by just a narrow piece of land. The first is called Lake Tikitapu, known as the Blue Lake and the second is called Lake Rotokakahi, known as the Green Lake.

The Blue Lake is “turquoise blue from above due to reflection from white rhyolite and pumice bottom” while the Green Lake is “emerald green from above due to shallow, sandy bottom”.

water activities are only permitted on the Blue Lake. The Green Lake is privately owned by the local Maori and is considered a sacred lake. Due to this no boating, swimming or fishing is allowed

The Blue Lake is the place where the daughter of a high chief lost her scared greenstone neck ornament (Tikitapu) it is 150 hectares in size, and its deepest point is 27.5 metres and drains underground to Lake Rotokakah. It was formed approximately 13,500 years ago. The lake was traditionally used in ceremonies to cleanse the bones and release the spirits of the dead, so they could begin their journey to Hawaki, and the Māori regard its waters as sacred. Blue Lake was used only for males; Lake Constance was used for females. Its Māori name, Rotomairewhenua, means "the lake of peaceful lands".

Lake Rotokakahi was named lake of the shellfish (kakahi) and is  440 hectares in size, and at it’s deepest point is 32 metres deep. It Flows to Lake Tarawera via Te Wairoa stream and was formed approximately 13,300 years ago. 

There is a lookout point from which you can view both the Blue and Green Lakes. On a nice, clear sunny day like today you can really see the beauty and color difference of the two lakes from the lookout. We stopped at the Blue Lake for a while and the water is the clearest I’ve ever seen I think in a lake. I’m much more used to lakes with murky depths! This was something else indeed. There was a kid brave enough to go in, but boy was he huffing and puffing bless him. A group of men were stood in the shallows drinking beers shooting the breeze in the sunshine. Not even Bob wanted to dip his toe in. Sensible Bob, you sit on the side and watch the kid huffing! 

From the lakes we travelled a little further and came to The Buried village of Te Wairoa. The Village was once the main staging post for Victorian-era tourists coming to visit the famous Pink and White Terraces. Of the 153 people killed by the eruption, 17 died at Te Wairoa. That number would have been much greater if it weren't for the actions of famed tour guide Sophia Hinerangi, who sheltered 62 people in her small whare (traditional slope-roofed house). The Pink and White Terraces, considered a wonder of the world, vanished without a trace; some scientists believe they may still lie buried near Lake Rotomahana.

The village of Te Wairoa was established in 1848 by Christian missionaries as a model village. Sixty years after the eruption of Tarawera which left the village covered in over 2m of mud,, the Smith family purchased the land and began excavating, looking for the remains of the lost village. The excavated village, museum, and a reconstruction of a pioneer era cottage are on a 12 acre site, and it’s incredible to see something that has been literally frozen in time not dissimilar to Pompei. There is a room that mimics the eruption and how a British man whose name I’ve forgotten, coped with it at the time. It was pretty eerie, but also fabulous that they were able to make the film based on what he had Written in his journal that was found, amazingly intact. His story was really sad, and he was only a young lad. The journal described the noise of the volcanic rock raining down on the hotel roof, the smell, his fear, but also his tremendous faith that God would protect him and everyone else trapped.  Miraculously, the meeting house known as Hinemihi survived along with those who took shelter beneath its roof. In 1891 the meeting house was purchased for £50 and transported to England, where it remains at Clandon Park in Surrey to this day.

The whole experience was amazing. To see so many ancient pieces of crockery , some smashed, others preserved, cooking utensils, glass bottles, the remains of shoes, clothing, belonging to villagers in the museum, They had also managed to replicate behind glass the way that the one building was excavated and placed all the items exactly as they had been found, a bedstead in the kitchen area from where it had crashed through the ceiling. 

Rumbling around the site, we could see the blacksmith's anvil and tools, the remains of a canoe, and read about the ghost canoe that was seen on Lake Tarawera prior to the eruption. Māori believe the ghost ship to be warning of upcoming danger, with the ghost canoe being manned by long gone family members. Also at the location is the most impressive 30m-high Wairere Falls. It’s not easy to get to and indeed we found it challenging, but well worth the effort it required. I was kept going by the promise of a nice cup of tea and potentially a cake in the coffee shop. Imagine my dismay when on reaching said coffee shop it was closed. It was only 1530hours! Goddamit, I was cross about that! 

Being deprived of tea isn’t good for my constitution so we decided that maybe it was time to make for our final destination, the rather splendid and mighty Waikite hot Pools. This was somewhere Morg and I had visited when we were there in the midst of a cold New Zealand winter. It was my saviour then as it was today.  It’s been done up and modernised somewhat since we were there and now has a nice cafe. As we were camping there we were able to use the pools after it closed to the public and up to1900hours, and also from 0600hours before it opened to the public. Oh my goodness it was blissful and I stayed until I was floppier than a floppy thing, Si stayed too, although he did get out and sit on the side for a while. The pools, although man made, are fed from a natural hot spring and as a result the one that the spring water flows into is the hottest and they get cooler as the water flows from one to the other. Every night the pools are drained and refilled, so it’s clean.  They are suitable for all, and there was a small baby in the one we were in. I was a bit concerned about her drinking it but her parents didn’t seem to mind. I later read that drinking it isn’t advisable due to the risk of meningitis. WTF?! Not that I had any intention of drinking it but the baby had been!  There is a table that tells you the mineral content of the water and guess what it has traces of arsenic, I’m sure it’s not harmful levels or they wouldn’t allow people to soak in there but anyway, arsenic! 

The sunset was absolutely beautiful, the most gorgeous colours of yellow orange pink purple and red, and so vibrant, it was just incredible. The clouds creating patterns that only nature can produce.  New Zealand has so far given us the best sunsets, rich, vibrant and plentiful. Tonight’s is the best yet and I think it will take some beating. 

The long soak in the pools has eased out the aches and pains that have been building but now making me feel like a wet lettuce and rather unwell, so much so I decided after the absolutely incredible sunset it was time for bed, before I couldn’t actually keep my eyes open, 

Much Love


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