Waking on our second day in Rotorua, a geologically active area of New Zealand known for its volcanoes, geysers and adventure activities, we decided to take in a bit of our surroundings as well as local Maori culture. Gina had diligently studied the Lonely Planet New Zealand
the night before and determined we should visit the Buried Village of Te Wairoa
(New Zealand’s Pompeii) as well as the Geyser Village of Te Whakarewarewa
where local Maoris have lived amongst the geysers and boiling mud pits for hundreds of years. So after a quick shower and perfunctory breakfast, we set out on our daily adventure.
With Gina navigating and me at the helm, we began a steady climb out of the Lake Rotorua valley towards the Buried Village
. As the incline increased, I downshifted the Nissan and hesitantly listened to the engine groan as it began transferring more energy to the drive train - I could only imagine how we’d fare on the South Island. We continued on to an eventual summit that once crested revealed the first of many lakes formed by volcanic activity over the past several thousand years. A sign passed indicating an upcoming ‘scenic lookout’ turn-off; we
felt daring and stopped. Pulling into a secluded parking lot, we saw neither a directional sign nor scenic view but got out of the car anyway, cameras in tow. We hiked about a half kilometer through dense fern and pine trees before losing interest in whatever view may have lied beyond the next bend, so we returned to the car empty handed.
A few kilometers down the road we arrived at the Buried Village
. Paying what seems to be the standard rate ($25 NZD/p) for activities in New Zealand, we entered a small museum that documented the before and after of Mt. Tarawera’s eruption and its effects on the local community which has since be excavated and turned into a tourist attraction.
Prior to the volcano’s eruption in 1886, the local community thrived on tourism of the white and pink terraces, essentially mineral formations that resembled terraces and sported individually sized pools of hot geyser-fed water. As we continued through the museum’s timeline, we came upon the story of how one of the guides was out with tourists a few days prior to the eruption and noticed increased tidal changes on the adjacent lake as well as steam
activity at the terraces. Having returned that day to the village with the tourists, she relayed her experience to the local Maoris, one of whom predicted vast devastation for the valley in the following days. The locals, disregarding the old Maori priest, carried on with daily life until the June 6th eruption that covered the surrounding area in mud, fireballs and ash - killing 200 people and leaving the village in ruins.
Having satiated our minds with the history of the eruption, we continued on to the village excavations which several archeologists had conducted over the past 100 years. Each excavation had a map of the building, the contents discovered inside and a story where applicable. An hour passed and we finished the walking tour, concluding at a 20m high waterfall. Unfortunately, the fellow tourists I inconvenienced with taking Gina and my photo by the waterfall fumbled with the camera and took two unconvincing shots.
Leaving the volcanic ruins, we headed back towards Rotorua and the Geyser Village. A short time later, I found myself paying the compulsory $25 NZD/p and was instructed by the guide to walk up a path to join the in-progress Maori concert prior
to touring the village. We were drawn in by chanting as we approached the concert’s location.
To our delight, we watched as 3 men and 3 women pounded their feet and clapped their hands, creating a tribal beat. The men performed a traditional Maori war dance, protruding their eyes and tongues from their faces while making grunting and Aaaaaaahhhhh
noises. Supposedly, these dances were performed as the enemy approached with the hopes that the ugly faces and noises would scare them from battle. We wondered how often that worked.
As the concert concluded we were directed to meet-up with a local villager who would serve as our guide. He introduced himself with a 6 syllable name comprised of mostly vowels and then cracked a smile and said we could call him ‘Shane.’ As the 10-some paraded through the narrow streets, Shane informed us of Maori culture and how the village has subsisted even as the greater Rotorua area has grown. It became very apparent that the thermal vents and surrounding geysers were an integral part of village life. We were shown steam boxes adjacent to a thermal pool where villagers cooked meals - often taking six to eight
hours to finish. Then we were shown bathing tubs fed by hot geyser water. Shane mentioned that villagers only bathed before and after tourist hours; we all chuckled at the thought. After a barrage of questions and several photo opportunities, Shane concluded our tour at a geyser vantage point. “An eruption should happen in about twenty minutes.”
Gina and I sat tinkering with our cameras and laughing about our daily adventure until the eruption. With the force of a cannon, it didn’t disappoint.
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