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Whakarewarewa Maori carving school where young men learn traditional carving techniques and styles in Rotorua. | by denisbin
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Whakarewarewa Maori carving school where young men learn traditional carving techniques and styles in Rotorua.


The city lies on the edge of a volcanic lake which is 12 kms long and 10 kms wide. Rotorua’s population is around 65,000 with outlying districts. About 15% of the population of NZ are Maori but Rotorua is a traditional Maori centre and the Maori population of Rotorua is over 35%. Roughly 28% of Maori people in Rotorua speak Maori. Despite tourism the unemployment rate for the Maoris is higher than the average for white New Zealanders. Rotorua is 950 feet or nearly 300 metres above sea level. It has a mild climate and snowfall is rare. It receives 1,440 mms of a rain a year or 58 inches, spread evenly across all months. It is an ideal climate for gardening! Rotorua means “second lake” in Maori but the term for the area by the lake is less flattering – “evil smelling place.” Apart from the thermal sights the town tried to emulate the European spa towns of old so the original Rotorua Bath House is Tudoresque in style. It was built in 1906-7 by the government as health resort. The formal gardens surrounding it include a war memorial (built in 1927) for the local Maori soldiers who had been in conflict with the Pakeha in the 19th century. St. Faith’s Anglican Church was also built in the Tudor style in 1910. Near the church is a bust of Queen Victoria given by the Queen herself in 1870 to the Arawa Maori people because they supported the government during the Maori Land Wars. The gardens themselves are a gift of the Maori people to the city of Rotorua given in 1883. The government took control of the gardens after 1898. Over 420,000 bedding plants are used in the floral displays annually in addition to orchids, roses and shrubs. Over 1.3 million people visit Rotorua annually with two thirds of them being international visitors.


Some Geography of the Rotorua Area.

Rotorua’s hot springs and mud pools and geysers are powered by the collision between two immense tectonic plates. Just east of the North Island the sea floor of the Pacific plate slides under the lighter continental crust of the Indo-Australian plate and continues to push forward while sinking at an angle underneath the North Island. When the sinking Pacific plate reaches a depth of about 80 kms it melts and great streams of hot lava come pushing their way up to the surface. A particular feature of Rotorua is that this part of the crust of the Indo-Australian plate is not very thick at this point only 15-20 kms instead of the more usual 35-45 kms of thickness. This means the effects of the molten lava or magma is intensified around Rotorua. The Taupo Volcanic Zone follows the line where the descending plate hits 80 kms beneath and the hot lava rises to near the surface. This line actually extends under the sea all the way past Tonga then north to the equator and it is part of the “Ring of Fire” that encircles the Pacific Ocean. The volcanoes of the Philippines, Japan, and Alaska and Washington State in the US are all part of this ring. The fault lines of California are also part of this ring.


Most houses and business of Rotorua have bores going down to tap the hot water from the mineral pools for their hot water supplies. There were so many bores that at one time the water table started to drop and thermal features of geysers at Whakarewarewa became less active. Since then the City limits the number of new bores. The geysers and bubbling pools of mud found at Whakarewarewa (the main geyser is Pohutu) can also emerge overnight in suburban lawns and city parks with spectacular results. Most of Rotorua smells strongly of hydrogen sulphide the gas given off by the springs and mud. It is harmless to tourists. Not far from Rotorua are three major active volcanoes- Ruapehu (the highest in the North Island) Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. The zone of active volcanoes extends across to the east coast and the most recent volcano is White Island, 50 kms from Whakatane. It is still being formed and grows in size most years. In this central volcanic zone there are 130 volcanic cones or domes. In the past there have been at least seven major explosions. When pressure builds up too quickly as the plates move a volcanic explosion is usually the result. The hydrothermal zones near Rotorua are used for electricity generation. Water temperatures within these fields can be as high as 320 degrees centigrade and in places the thermal pools are only half a km underground. On some pools sulphur crusts form on the edge of lakes to produce vibrant orange-yellow lines and stains. This thermal zone has been active for more than 100,000 years.


The biggest disaster known to man in NZ happened in 1886 with the eruption of Mt Tarawera just 24 kms from Rotorua. The volcano had about three main domes, numerous lakes and a mighty river flowing from one of the lakes. On 10 June 1886 about 30 large earthquakes rocked Rotorua and lightening was seen around the cone of Mt Tarawera. At 2:30 am the next day the three cones all exploded at the same time, villages and land was destroyed within 6 kms, the river terraces were destroyed and water gushed down the Tarawera River valley. The explosions were heard in Auckland and ash was seen in Christchurch. 120 people were known to have died but the death toll could have been higher. Much later a similar kind of disaster happened in this region. A small crater on the side of Mt Ruapehu (2,800 metre high) exploded in 1953 send a mud slide down the mountain side which flowed into the Whangaehu River. This was on Christmas Eve 1953. Unfortunately the flood washed away the rail bridge on the main Wellington to Auckland railway line. The first six carriages of the overnight sleeper train along with the train engine plunged into the swollen river. The Tangiwai disaster claimed the lives of 151 of the 285 people on board the train that night. Almost all those who perished were in second class carriages at the front of the train. In those days leading politicians did not rely on experts. The NZ Prime Minster sped down for Auckland by car during the night and coordinated rescue operations himself on site! He coordinated the rescue work of railway, army, police, navy, local farmers and undertakers!


Te Puia Valley and Pohutu.

Pohutu geyser, the most famous of the 65 geysers found in the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley means big splash or explosion. Pohutu erupts up to 30 metres (100 foot), depending on her mood, up to 20 times each day.

Maori regarded geysers and thermal activity as gifts from the gods when the Goddess of Fire emerged from the earth’s core. There are over 500 mud pools at Whakarewarewa.


The Maori Land Wars around Rotorua.

In the 1830s white missionaries were the first Europeans to see the Volcanic Plateau around Taupo and Rotorua. The Te Arawa people welcomed the missionaries as a way of gaining Pakeha knowledge and goods. Missionaries encouraged the tribes of the area to turn from war to peace with each other rather than war. But war began again when the Pakeha arrived. When war came with the whites, the Te Arawa Maori aligned themselves with the government against their old enemies the Ngati Tuwharetoa from Waikato and the East Coast. The whites had taken control of Rotorua district by 1870.


Armed battles between Maoris and British troops and white settlers were common in several areas of the North Island especially around New Plymouth. Whites “bought” land from various Maori tribes and then evicted the Maori residents. There were three main phases to the wars- 1845-47; a second phase from 1860-64; and a final phase from 1866-72. After the first phase Maori chiefs from the New Plymouth area fled to the Waikato River area to recover and built strength. When the government decided to build a military road from Auckland to the Waikato River district the Maoris started a second phase of wars. More conflict ensued later from 1866 as some Maoris tribes used the wars as a means to inflict vengeance on former Maori foes. Eventually the only victors were the whites. The government confiscated 3 million acres of Maori land as punishment for their involvement in the wars in the North Island. Formal peace treaties were signed with the militant Maoris. The British withdrew all troops from NZ in 1868 and for the last few years of the wars the white settlers were on their own. The last major battle was 1881 which led to the imprisonment of a Maori leader.

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Taken on January 4, 2012