Day 103: Living on a volcano – geothermal village

Before leaving Rotorua, we headed to Whakarewarewa… which is actually a shortened version of the village’s full name: Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao.

You thought I was making that up, didn’t you?

Maori people have lived in the village since 1325, when it was founded as a fortress, and it is now a tourist attraction (at 45 NZD for adults) though it isn’t a museum, as people live and work here.

As we passed the village nursery the kids had clearly discovered that great game of ‘throw your toys away until passers by pick them up for you‘. It was going to be a long day for the woman running the playgroup.

The children seemed quite pleased as we waved to them from the path below their balcony.

On entry to the village through the archway commemorating the wartime service of men from the village, we heard shouts from the Penny Divers waiting below the bridge. The boys were waiting for visitors to throw coins into the river for them to dive for.

These days, dollars rather than pennies are expected.

Living in this village comes with considerable advantages – the geothermal pools, many of which are used for bathing or cooking.

We saw lunch being cooked with metal tubs being lowered into the main pool used for this purpose – the contents of the tins would be boiled.

The village has around 500 pools, most of which are alkaline chloride hot springs, and at least 65 geyser vents, each with their own name. The heat and humidity given off by the pools and vents, year round, also makes this an attractive place to live, though the smell can be somewhat pungent.

The other reason for visiting was to see the geysers.

Prince of Wales Feathers

According to the self-guided walk (though ticket price includes a tour) most of the currently active geysers at Whakarewarewa are located on Geyser Flat and aligned on a common fissure. It’s a highly complex system, with the activity of one geyser affecting another.

The larger geysers erupt approximately every 45-60 minutes an while we were there, one of them fountained for around 30 minutes – jets of water and steam.

One of the issues we had been pondering was why we couldn’t see a greater reliance on geothermal energy. We were surprised at the Huntly Power Station which is the country’s largest and is fuelled by coal and natural gas.

New Zealand was created by a chain of volcanic eruptions, after all.

Reportedly, the thermal features at Whakarewarewa have been adversely affected by Rotorua residents taking advantage of the underlying geothermal waters and mudslides, by drawing shallow wells (20–200m deep) to extract hot water for both domestic and commercial heating.

A bore closure programme in 1987–1988 resulted in 106 wells within 1.5 km (0.93 mi) of Pohutu Geyser being cemented shut.

The village has a small but informative earth science museum focused on geothermal activity and displaying the types of rocks found in the area.

We also visited the cemetery where there is a memorial to Maggie Papakuri.

In 1901, Papakura was the guide for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (aka George V and the Queen Mother) on their visit to Whakarewarewa.

Fame followed and two years later she published her own guide book, Maggie’s Guide to the Hot Lakes, which was a great success.

She was also a skilled entertainer and in the early 1900s established the Rotorua Maori Choir, which she took to Sydney on tour in 1910.

The tour was so successful that she was asked to organise a show for the 1911 Festival of Empire in England.

She married an Englishman in 1912 (whom she had met in 1907) and settled in Oxfordshire.

In 1924, Papakura moved into Oxford and enrolled at the University to study anthropology. She wrote a thesis on Maori culture, which she took to the elders at Whakarewarewa for approval before submitting it.

However she suddenly died three weeks before her thesis examination, on 16 April 1930, from a ruptured aortic artery, and was buried, according to her wishes, in Oddington cemetery.

Her family in Whakarewarewa erected a memorial to her in the village the following year.

Categories: Nature/Landscapes, New Zealand, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This was an absolutely fascinating read Fiona. Thank you!


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