The city of Rotorua is a hotbed (literally) of geothermal activity in New Zealand. It’s replete with hot springs, geysers, bubbling hot mud pools, and a distinct hint of sulphur in the air. Steam is everywhere in the parks. Here’s a hot-water stream running by an Anglican church in town:
The city park is filled with hot water pools and mud springs, many of them far too hot to put your hand in. Geoffrey told me that a depressed woman jumped into a boiling mud pool a while back to commit suicide, which must be one of the most painful ways to kill yourself. She screamed, of course, tried to get out, and a passerby tried to help; but there was no way he could enter the pool, and the woman boiled to death.
A large hot pool; I could put my hand in this one. We were going to take a dip in a hot pool on my last day in Rotorua, but the weather was dire, with rain pouring down in sheets.
The patterns in the surface of the mud pools were quite lovely. I think this is the pool in which the woman committed suicide.
Every Māori tribe and subtribe have a communal meeting house, called a wharenui (“big house”), where people meet and, sometimes, entertain non-local Māori or non-Māori. The houses are often elaborately carved and are part of a large ceremonial complex. Here’s a description from Wikipedia:
Also called a whare rūnanga (“meeting house”) or whare whakairo (literally “carved house”), the present style of wharenui originated in the early to middle nineteenth century. The houses are often carved inside and out with stylized images of the iwi‘s (or tribe’s) ancestors, with the style used for the carvings varying from tribe to tribe. Modern meeting houses are built to regular building standards. Photographs of recent ancestors may be used as well as carvings. The houses always have names, sometimes the name of a famous ancestor or sometimes a figure from Māori mythology. Some meeting houses are built where many Māori are present, even though it is not the location of a tribe; typically, a school or tertiary institution with many Māori students. While a meeting house is considered sacred, it is not a church or house of worship, but religious rituals may take place in front of or inside a meeting house. On most marae, no food may be taken into the meeting house.
This photo of the a typical wharenui in Rotorua shows the carved entrance gate, the wharenui itself (left) and the eating house (wharekai), where people gather to share meals, There is also a communal kitchen and often a bathhouse. The entire complex is called a marae.
Below is the largest and most elaborate marae in Rotorua, with a carved warrior on top of the wharenui . These often sit in the middle of Maori communities, which can be neighborhoods of rather small and shabby houses, for many Maori are poor. I was told that the marae enable many Maori to escape their houses (much like Victorian pubs), and have a nice big place to socialize and eat.
The roof ornament—a Māori warrior:
This house was closed (pākehā, or non-Maori, aren’t allowed in at all without an invitation), but I took a photograph through the window. The open space is used for meetings, ceremonies, and to lodge visiting Maori. People hang around the eating house, which is less formal, to schmooze, chat, and watch television.
This is the communal cooking facility, in which food is cooked by geothermal steam piped in. The stainless steel cabinet to the rear is actually a stove where the food is cooked.
This is a smaller individual cooking “stove” in which food is placed on geothermally heated rocks. Note the gloves to prevent burns!
The communal bathhouse where, I was told, males and females bathe together (I can’t verify this firsthand). Note the carving over the door.
Geoffrey took me to a really cool place that tourists in Rotorua don’t know about. It’s 0n a small ledge of rock that extends into Lake Rotorua. Here is where, before Europeans came in the 18th century, the Maori sharpened their rock adzes and weapons, made of greenstone (jade), blackstone, and obsidian. The water helped with the sharpening process, You can see both the grooves in the rock that were used for sharpening as well as the flat area to the left where the flat bits of weapons and tools were ground.
A Maori cemetery. Custom dictates that, once dead, a Maori must be moved to the wharenui within 24 hours, there to lie for three days, always attended by friends and relatives. (There is sometimes wailing and chanting.) The body is then buried, and many of the epitaphs are touching.
The carving on this man’s tombstone is a “triple twist crossover” design, which, when made of greenstone, symbolizes bonding between people for eternity, with “tw0 souls growing as one.”
Near Lake Tarawera, Geoffrey showed me this rare example of Maori painting, one of indeterminate age. It was behind a barred cage, and depicts the long canoes the Polynesians (the ancestors of the Maori) used to cross the vast expanses of the Pacific. They housed about 70 people in each canoe (two tandem ones were used for sea voyages, with oar and sail). On the long voyage to New Zealand by the first Polynesians (probably from an island like Tonga), they would have carried food, water, and animals like pigs. And, of course, they had no assurance where they’d wind up.
The story of Polynesian colonization of islands is one of bravery (how many didn’t make it?), superb feats of navigation using stars, fists, and signs of land (bird migration, clouds, etc.), and ingenuity. I can’t begin to recount it here, but you can start at the link in the preceding sentence.
Here’s a modern double-hulled canoe sailing off Hawaii; it must resemble the vessels used by Polynesians hundreds of years ago:
Here’s an 1781-ish print of a smaller double-hulled canoe from Hawaii:
Finally, some wildlife. This is one of the famous black swans of Australia and New Zealand (Cygnus atratus; the bird is often used as a famous philosophical metaphor). It’s said to have been introduced to New Zealand from eastern Australia in the 1860’s, but it’s possible, I suppose, that it was introduced to Australia from New Zealand earlier than that, and went extinct here. Either way, it’s a lovely bird, and has now been introduced to other places.
Here are two endemic gulls in New Zealand. I may get these wrong, as they’re often confused because the beak colors change from juvenile to adult. I’m sure readers will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is a red-billed gull (Chroicocephalus scopulinus), perhaps a juvenile. They’re much smaller than herring gulls, and are quite cute.
And this, I think, is a black-billed gull (Chroicocephalus bulleri), certainly a juvenile if I’m right, as their black bills start out as bills that are black and red. However, this could be the same species as the picture above, so check the links for accurate photos. These were taken in Rotorua beside the lake.