Today is a full day in Tauranga, New Zealand, a favorite holiday spot for those from Auckland and Wellington. Monday is a local holiday in Auckland, so people have come in early for a long holiday weekend. In the Bay of Plenty, people were already out early staking their claim on the beach, while others breakfasted at the cafes across the street. The Bay boasts a beach over 12 miles long and this morning there are both volleyball and kayak tournaments taking place at Mount Maungaui Beach Park. The Bay is also popular with surfers.
The biggest impact on population growth for Tauranga came in the 1950s when the city was chosen as the primary port for the Bay of Plenty. It is now one of the country’s fastest growing metropolitan areas. Our tour takes us outside the city on new multi-lane roads and tollways. They have installed new cycleways along side these roads to keep bicycles off the highways.
We are headed to Lake Rotorua and the city of the same name. Rotorua is filled with private thermal bath resorts and a single public thermal bath. Our first stop is the Blue Baths in the Government Gardens. The gardens were originally known at Paepaekumana and were gifted to the public by the Maori people. The Blue Baths Building was constructed in 1933 in the Spanish Mission style. We are having tea in what was originally the indoor pool. There is a slight step down, but the bottom has been raised and the facility now hosts corporate events, weddings, and theater and concert series. It was closed from 1982 to 1999.
When originally opened the purpose of the blue baths was recreational rather than medicinal. They offered instruction in “fancy and scientific swimming” to both men and women in the same facility. Built during the depression, the baths represented movie star glamour. Their construction has been called “the last gasp of New Zealand’s large scale spa development[.]” You are still able to swim in the heated outdoor pool, but this is fresh rather than mineral water.
After our English Tea of water, coffee, hot tea, scones, butter, jam, cream, and finger sandwiches, we had the opportunity to briefly walk in the Government Gardens, the beautiful park where the Blue Baths are located. The large wood frame bath house, now the Rotorua Art Gallery and Museum, dominates one end of the quad with bowling lawns running in front of it. The Blue Baths are to the side of the lawns.
The Bath House was built at the height of the New Zealand government’s first tourism push attempting to draw visitors from all over the world to a Great South Seas Spa which offered therapeutic treatments. “Water from nearby thermal springs was piped to private bathrooms and larger Aix-douche massage rooms. There were also a number of deep pools where chronic disorders were treated. The north wing accommodated male patients, while women were treated in the south wing.”
©Jean Janssen Government Gardens, Rotorua, New Zealand
In the time we had, I wandered around taking pictures of the gardens and the strange birds that inhabit it. I also spotted my first mineral springs of the day. There were lots of tour buses in the park.
The oldest Maori settlement in New Zealand is found in Rotorua and we passed by the tribe buildings still used today. Leaving Rotorua, we passed their golf course, probably the only one in the world to have active thermal activity on the course. We are headed to the Maori Thermal Reserve at Te Puia in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley.
Te Puia continues to add to its offerings, beyond the natural geothermal activity that originally drew the Maori people to this area. The front of the park is devoted to exhibits and demonstrations related to Maori culture. To participate in the weaving or carving schools you must be able to document your Maori ancestry. We were met at the gate by one of tour guides who took us first to the weaving demonstration and then to see the carving.
Against the wall were totem poles and tall plaques. These are created by the students and are going to particular tribes. They often depict ancestors or are a trophy. Some sports teams also request them.
We had a nice guide, but not one good at time management, so we missed the geyser’s eruption. We moved next to the kiwi house. The kiwi is New Zealand’s national, although flightless, bird. There were so many people in the park, especially at the kiwi house that it felt like a holiday at Walt Disney World. We skipped the kiwi house and headed off to see the mud pools.
The mud pools may have been my favorite thing in Te Puia, although it is impossible to capture their charm on a still frame. The pools boiled and spit and made the most wonderful sounds. Some mud pools are cool enough to experience. These are so hot they reach 203 decrees Fahrenheit would be fatal if you fell in.
Next we stopped by the various viewing platforms for the geyser. It erupts regularly, giving a warming of 12-15 minutes with a release from a nearby opening. When our guide realized that it was not going to erupt anytime soon she took the group back to the kiwi house. It was about a 20 minute walk back to the bus and I knew what time we were leaving, so I left the tour group and stuck it out to see the geyser.
The geyser flats are quite thin. The Maori chief Wahiao, in his attempt to intimidate neighboring tribes, would lead his warriors in a haka, a fierce war dance, on the flats. The stomping on the thin surface made 300 warriors sound like three thousand and could be heard on the other side of the near mountain range.
I was able to stay in the area long enough to see the “alert” geyser begin its eruption. I headed back to make the bus. I did the route in 10 minutes instead of 20, I stuck my head in the kiwi house (there were only 3 people there now) and saw the bird in the darkness in a box. Boris told me later he was able to see both the kiwi birds in the enclosure which is kept dark as these are nocturnal animals. I also made a “necessary”stop. I came out with 5 minutes to spare and the crowd’s reaction. I knew that the geyser was going off. I found a spot where I could see it near the entrance, snapped some pictures, and made it to the bus on time.
We drove back to the ship and saw a little bit of the other side of Tauranga. With temperatures over 100 degrees farenheit outside, neither Boris or I were too keen on walking around or sitting on the beach. I almost gave in when the driver mentioned a good fish and chips shop, but it was too far to walk back to the ship. We decided to go back and maybe get a little packing done. We disembark the ship in the morning in Auckland.