Rotorua and environs, part 2

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.


  1. Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Surely a wet day is the perfect time to sit in a warm pool?! It would be amusing to see PCC[E] covered in a mud-pack…

  2. rickflick
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I saw a warenui when visiting New Zealand and enjoyed a demonstration of the Māori greeting ceremony. The participants danced with spears, sang, and chanted. Very impressive.

    • James Walker
      Posted April 7, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I think I was at the same wharenui when I was there a few years ago. In addition to the greeting ceremony performed by women, the men performed a haka. I also went on a tour of the cultural centre, where some young men were practising.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Some really nice photos. One wonders if they are able to harness any of the geothermal activity in NZ. One of the things I recall from Hawaii was the very high cost of electricity.

    • MKray
      Posted April 7, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      NZ was a pioneer of geothermal electricty back around 1960 and still providing a useful part of North Island power, I believe. Many technocal problems relating to chenicals in the steam had to be overcome.

      • MKray
        Posted April 7, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        sGoogle NZ geothermal.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 7, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Yes, just north of Taupo on the way to Rotorua is Wairakei, where there is a valley full of bores and stainless-steel-clad pipes leading to the powerhouse. And another one at Ohaaki a bit further up the road with a huge cooling tower.

      But nationally we get a lot more power from hydro (mainly South Island dams) and wind power (I don’t know if wind power has passed geothermal yet)


  4. BobTerrace
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Sulphur and carvings and mud; no wonder you were attracted to that magical place 🙂

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Very good. I did not know that the black swan was used for another philosophical issue. I was familiar with their use in
    deductive versus inductive reasoning.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    That one grave sort of freaked me out as I knew a Tamati who lived across from my nana in Waihi.

    I hope you saw a haka in Rototrua, Jerry! I love seeing a good haka.

  7. Glenda
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photos and notes. Thank you. Hope the weather improves for you.

  8. Posted April 7, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    The mud pool patterns remind me of a hot chocolate I had once!

  9. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    If that’s a triple twist, what does a single twist look like?

  10. Vik Baron
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t you fancy a quick trip to Middle Earth (Hobbiton) – its just up the road from Rotorua?

    • Posted April 7, 2017 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Naaah. I loved Tolkien’s books, but haven’t seen any of the movies.

  11. Posted April 7, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful photos. And thank you for snapping a few of the local gulls! 🙂

    They both look like Red-billed Gulls to me (the bill colour will change a bit in autumn and winter). Black-billed Gulls have noticeably thinner and longer bills. Beautiful individuals though!

  12. bluemaas
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    O my, my ! I am sorry, Dr Coyne, that the weather did not provide a scenario for you on your last day there to relish a hot springs’ languor !

    In addition to Havelock, now, with its mussels’ and oysters’ noms ! and because of the promise of such spa – languishings, I am definitely putting Rotorua on my To – Get – Done list, too ! In fact, this .alone. may be a solid reason for permanent retiring relocation !

    Since leaving a whole day spent here ( over 20 years ago, I have been meaning, time and time again, to climb into Truckie, put three days’ haul on the backroads and … … return. When there then in July y1997, on my solo pilgrimage eventually in to Tok ? I met two 90+ Oldest Olds’ brothers who stated to me thus, “O, every three, four months’ time, Dolly, we just gets in the car and totes on over here from Grand Prairie [Alberta: ~480 miles or 775 kilometers away !] for a coupla days or so’s soakin’ ! Then we goes back. And farms till … … Our Next Time. There’s nothin’ like this that relieves the rheumaTIZ. Nothin’ !”


  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    The mud pools fascinate me. They bubble, but with a sort of slow gloop – gloop – gloop (depending on the water content – hence the thickness – of the mud). I could watch them for hours.

    Here’s a link:


  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Re your mention of hot pools (suitable for swimming in), there used to be natural hot pools all over North Island – for example, at Ngawha Springs, Waiwera, Parakai, Miranda, Waingaro Springs, Okauia Springs, Okoroire Springs, Rotorua (of course!), Wairakei, Taupo, Tokaanu, Morere (way over towards Gisborne) – and those are only the ones I know off the top of my head. There are doubtless dozens more only known locally.

    Some of them used to be delightful places, often in the bush in a little valley by a stream, with a sandy bottom. Then it was discovered that amoebic meningitis (which lurks in the soil) could be contracted so they all have to have concrete surroundings like a conventional swimming pool, which detracts from the atmosphere somewhat.


  15. hugh7
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    “This house was closed (pākehā, or non-Maori, aren’t allowed in at all without an invitation)”
    Please! There is NO formalised racial discrimination in NZ. We have a Human Rights Act and a Race Relations Commisioner to prevent it. Yes, there can be prejudice, in both directions – but in the other direction was much worse.
    Nobody except the people attached to the house are ever allowed in without an invitation, any more than into any other house. A marae is an iwi’s or hapū’s (subtribe’s) home.

    The truth from which this statement derives is that use of the marae and the wharenui (sp) have a formal significance, and must begin with a ritual of encounter, a formal welcome involving a call to come in (karanga), incantations (karakia), speeches (whaikōrero), songs (waiata), then personal greetings (mihimihi) comprising hongi (nose-pressing) and/or harirū (handshakes, from “How d’you do”) followed by food. After that, visitors may make themselves at home, and marae are the most welcoming places in the world. They are proving invaluable after natural disasters, such as the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011, last November’s earthquake in Kaikōura, and this weeks flooding in the eastern Bay of Plenty. One in South Auckland has opened its doors to people made homeless by Auckland’s housing shortage.

    A pity if your only contact with Māori culture was in Rotorua, which has peculiarities of its own (the above-ground tombs, because of the thermal activity) and which has long adapted Māori culture for tourist purposes. Your experience there is akin to the hula lessons for tourists in Honolulu.

    That double twist carving, by the way, is modern and has nothing to do with Māori culture.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      I’d echo that.

      I’d also note that Maori and I think other Polynesians are often very strongly bound by protocol and formality. (The sort of thing I personally can never see the point of in my own society, but that’s just me).

      Kids seem to be exempt (certainly in Rarotongan society, probably in Maori too) – which is to say, in any fairly formal event like e.g. a wedding reception, the kids just run around ignored by all in a way that would result in instant ‘shushing’ in a European setting. I mention it because the mixture of formality and juvenile interruptions seems strange on first acquaintance.

      The personalised tombstones are a widespread Polynesian custom, not just peculiar to Maori, as a visit to e.g. Waikumete cemetery in Auckland will attest.

      Note also the dark red and black paintwork – this seems to be a universal Maori tradition on decorative architecture.


      • hugh7
        Posted April 9, 2017 at 2:32 am | Permalink

        The personalised tombstones are widespread among Pākehā, too. It hadn’t occurred to me that they aren’t worldwide.

        Writing in the names of relatives is not always benign. A gay acquaintance who died in 1988, disowned by his family, had all their names written on his headstone – but not that of his partner, the only one he would have wanted.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 9, 2017 at 3:30 am | Permalink

          Re tombstones, my only comparison is old English churchyards, where the old stones tend to be fairly brief. Probably in those days when engraving was by hand, words were expensive. Of course, those old stones are still just legible after centuries, I have my doubts about the modern ones.


    • Posted April 7, 2017 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

      I’ve had other contacts with Maori culture, like here in Tamarunui, where I’ve met Maori and was given permission to roam around the local marae by a member of the local subtribe.

      Before you tut-tut at me, Shuggy, you might ask. Read the Roolz again about being civil. I’m doing the best I can with these posts, and if I err, I expect to be corrected politely, which you haven’t done.

      • hugh7
        Posted April 9, 2017 at 2:19 am | Permalink

        Sorry, Jerry, for saying “Please!” and emphasising “Nobody”.

        In my defence, you did imply that there is racial discrimination in my country, by Māori against Pākehā. That is a very sensitive topic here, where we pride ourselves on our race relations, sometimes unjustifiably, but not in this case.

        And to your other contact with Māori culture, I did say “if”. I’m glad to hear you did see (I assume) Te Tokanganui-a-Noho (the big foodbasket of the stay-at-home*), which has a rich history. (I was there in 1973 when I learnt that James K Baxter had died – this is a little like the JFK thing for us. I remember lying on my back by an elder who explained the roof patterns.)

        I’m impressed that you are writing so much about us while you’re here.

        *Contrasted with te rourou iti o haere, the small foodbasket of the traveller, a reference to the hospitality shown by Ngāri Maniapoto to Te Kooti (Arikirangi Te Turuki) when he was fleeing his foes in 1873. He had this house built in thanks.

        • hugh7
          Posted April 9, 2017 at 2:34 am | Permalink

          ^Ngāti Maniapoto

        • hugh7
          Posted April 9, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          Where’s the Delete button? Te Tokanganui-a-Noho is in Te Kuiti, not Taumarunui, 80 km away. Apologies for wasting your time.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 9, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

            Ain’t one. One of the charming features of WordPress (along with no preview and its idiosyncratic approach to imbedding links).

            Your mistakes are preserved for eternity and pubic inspection.



            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted April 9, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

              Aaargh! Freudian or what? 😦


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