After the Tarawera eruption had swept way the homes and livelihood of the local Tuhourangi tribe, the Nagti Wahiao people of Rotorua gifted the survivors a part of their traditional lands at Whakarewarewa, on the southern side of Rotorua.
Whakarewarewatanga o te ope taua o Wahiao (the gathering place of the army of Wahiao) was a landscape of shooting geysers, scalding thermal springs and boiling mud pools – a seemingly inhospitable wasteland. Yet Tuhourangi quickly turned it to their advantage. They built their houses astride steaming crevasses and profited from natural (if somewhat dangerous) central heating. The hot pools served as instant hangis, or earth ovens for cooking. Thermal water from some pools was channelled into baths both for hygienic and therapeutic purposes. Others were used as laundries. Before long, the famous Tuhourangi Guides were showing tourists around their new home, posing for photographs with them and entertaining them with traditional Maori concerts. Whakarewarewa, as we know it today, with its unique way of life, its many incredible attractions and its wealth of fascinating stories was born.
Whakarewarewa is a great place to linger, potter and explore, so set aside a generous amount of time. Be sure, however, to stick to the beaten track. Treading uncharted paths here is a risky business. Remember too, that these quaint little whare and tiny squares of lawn are people’s homes and backyards, so don’t intrude. But, at the same time keep your eyes peeled for amazing sights; like the angrily bubbling pools with names like “murderous ripples” and “grumpy man”, the wharepuni, or sleeping quarters, half sunk in the steaming earth, the baths, the steam box hangi, the minute churches (Anglican and Catholic) the urupa, or cemetery, with its raised stone graves, the carved houses, the carver’s workshop and the ancestral meeting house, Wahiao. Don’t miss the cultural performance or the village kids who dive for coins in the warm waters of the Te Puarenga stream, and do, definitely, sample a Hangi pie at Ned’s cafe.
To get the really good oil on Whakarewarewa, join a tour. Your guide will almost certainly be a descendant of one those great ladies who rowed tourists across Lake Tarawera to the Pink and White Terraces.